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Like many, it started at a very young age that classical composer Marcus Norris fell in love with music, but it might not have been classical music that started his pursuit of the artistic career he has today, “Benny Poole, a jazz legend, lived in my neighborhood and I remember seeing him as a teenager coming home after making music all night,” and he thought to himself, “he gets paid to do this? That has to be my life.”
For Norris, his artistic journey began my making beats in rap, hip hop and R&B. “I started making beats when I was 13, completely self-taught, doing it on my own, and on a computer I built with spare parts from a Windows 98.” He started by making the beats for himself, but it only took a couple years before he would begin playing for others.
While he had a love and passion for creating music, he wasn’t certain he would go to college, but with a scholarship to support his future endeavors, he searched the internet for a community college with a music recording program – which led him to Schoolcraft College. “I wanted to get better at what I had taught myself, take music theory and history classes, and participating in independent studies for jazz theory.”
Today, Norris has been called a “New Musical Talent in our Midst” by Chicago’s N’digo Magazine, and has made a number of achievements, including being selected as an inaugural Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Philharmonic from 2021-24, earning a commission from the Atlanta Opera as prize for winning their inaugural 96-hour Opera Project, making his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut in 2022 with his piece “MERCY” as part of the LA Phil’s National Composers Intensive, and being awarded the prestigious Cota-Robles fellowship for pursuing his PhD in Music Composition at UCLA.
His violin concerto “GLORY” opened to three sold-out performances when premiered by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in 2019, and then was subsequently performed in Guangzhou, China later that year. His Dance Suite “I Tried So Hard for You” premiered in Havana in 2018, closely following the Russian String Orchestra premiere of “My Idols Are Dead” in Moscow
He has also developed an ensemble called South Side Symphony, “our motto is our music and our time.” The ensemble was developed so that the music he loved the most could be celebrated in his lifetime. “I started it after imagining ‘what if the orchestra didn’t exist, and what if it was established by a young man in his 20s today? What would they play? Where would they play?’” Norris described this concept as a way to explore music in a system that wasn’t designed for him in mind as a Black man.
“This ensemble is one of the things I’m most proud of, and I’m excited about some of the things I’ve got planned.”
So, for this Jackson, Michigan native, he has found a passion working with local schools and student to inspire them to ask not just what want to do with their career, instead, empower to believe that they can do anything they wish to accomplish. “The lesson from me is not specifically that you will be a composer, rather whatever it is that you want to do, even if it’s unlikely or there are systems built to keep you out, I want to show kids that there are options for them.” It’s more than just encouraging the next generation of composers, and inspiring the next generation to be whatever they want to be!