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Subject: Constance Demby, New Age composer

Dead at 82
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Date Posted: Friday, March 26, 12:21:33pm

Constance Demby, 81, New Age composer


Constance Demby, New Age innovator who made it big in ambient music, dies at 81
Sam Whiting March 25, 2021

Constance Demby, a San Anselmo-based innovator in New Age, ambient and electronic music, was already an international name as a recording artist when she was tracked down by a nephew she¡¯d never met, aspiring writer Dave Eggers. It was 1992 and Eggers had just driven west with his little brother in a Honda Civic, looking for a new life.

¡°Aunt Connie welcomed us to California wearing a flowing ruby red robe of linen, her curly hair piled high, her neck heavy with crystal-laded necklaces,¡± recalled Eggers of their first meeting over dinner in Berkeley.

Next, Demby showed him her music studio, ¡°which was a wall of digital tools that looked like a NASA control center. She was utterly magic.¡±

The elusive Aunt Connie eventually left to live in Spain and later in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. But her magic lived on, and Eggers was in communication with Demby via video conferencing until she died Saturday, March 20, at a Pasadena hospital. She was 81.

Cause of death was a massive heart attack, said her son Joshua Demby, a long-range trucker based in Indiana.

¡°She was a brilliant multi-instrumentalist who played every instrument on every album she created ¡ª including the one-of-a-kind instruments she created herself, out of sheet metal. The sounds they make are otherworldly,¡± Eggers told The Chronicle. ¡°Aunt Connie was intriguing for sure. Fascinating, supremely gifted, driven, and very funny.¡±

Constance Mary Eggers was born May 9, 1939 in Oakland and grew up mostly on the East Coast. Classically trained on the piano, she mastered hammered dulcimer and Japanese koto which she played in a synthesizer-heavy, avant-garde music consortium called Central Maine Power. At the end of each concert, the audience was invited onstage to play percussion in a long cacophonous finale of improvisation.

¡°Connie was openhearted and connected with the audience, and also extremely unpretentious and even silly as a stage presence,¡± said Bob Arnett, who played guitar and electric piano in the act. ¡°The audience loved her.¡±

Demby became a disciple of the Sikh guru Sant Ji, and veered toward a spiritual and meditative side when she moved to Marin County. ¡°This was really pre-New Age,¡± said Arnett. ¡°She started introducing spiritual concepts and Eastern instrumentation into her music.¡±

She settled in Mill Valley with her son from her former marriage to David Demby, before moving on to San Anselmo.

Eleni Rose-Collard, a classical vocalist, first heard the unique sound of Demby on hammered dulcimer at the Marin County Fair.

¡°I was mesmerized and I walked up to the stage and said, ¡®I don¡¯t know who you are but I think I love you,¡¯ ¡± recalled Rose-Collard. ¡°We were friends from that moment forward.¡±

Friendship meant sitting at a card table with Demby to help sell her cassette tapes on street corners in the Castro District in San Francisco. Rose-Collard also sold tapes at Demby¡¯s shows, which were most often at progressive churches in Sausalito, Mill Valley and San Francisco.

Demby was among the first to perform home concerts, but she also played venues as large as the Marin County Civic Center.

¡°Her concerts were immersive and transcendent,¡± said Rose-Collard. ¡°It is hard to find human words to describe it.¡±

Demby¡¯s commercial breakthrough was the 1986 album ¡°Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate,¡± a single track written in two parts that she composed at her home studio. It ran 45 minutes, taking New Age instruments and elevating them with full classical orchestration.

¡°Novus Magnificat¡± was powerful and explosive, and sold more than 200,000 copies. It continues to be listed among the most influential New Age and ambient albums of all time.

¡°I look at Connie as a mad genius,¡± said Warren Kahn, who engineered ¡°Novus Magnificat¡± at Banquet Studios in Santa Rosa, along with a dozen of her other albums. ¡°She was plugged into a spiritual plane of musical resonance and composition that was very uplifting. Her music takes you on a journey.¡±

Demby called her sound ¡°sacred space music¡± and she performed in sacred spaces like Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza. She also played with Todd Rundgren, collaborated with Grateful Dead¡¯s Mickey Hart and performed at events with the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra.

Demby returned from Spain 15 years ago and settled in Sierra Madre, a Los Angeles suburb. Last October, she suffered the first of a series of falls that caused her to move into a care facility. She was there when she suffered her heart attack March 17.

¡°Much of her music is concerned with other worlds, spiritual planes. Quite ethereal,¡± said Eggers. ¡°It¡¯s as if she created the soundtrack for the next world. If there is a heaven, she composed the soundtrack.¡±

Survivors include her son, Joshua Demby of Elkart, Ind.; nephews Bill Eggers of Washington, D.C., Dave Eggers of San Francisco and Christopher Eggers of Los Angeles; and a grandson, Jonah Demby of Bridgeport, CT.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Instruments for Good Foundation in Sierra Madre.

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