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April 16, 2014

Marcus Norris: A New Musical Talent In Our Midst

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The Windy City is about to see the launching of a seriously talented young brother in Marcus Norris, who is openly publicizing his senior recital this Friday, April 18 and inviting all of Chicago to attend to hear his music for free!

Scheduled to graduate May 18 from Columbia College with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Composition, Norris is adding an Unplugged touch to his recital, which he has themed, “When Composers Lose Composure.”

The set of acoustic performances will take place at 1014 South Michigan Avenue in the Columbia College Music Center. The free entry, non-ticketed music gala for all ages is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., with a meet and greet reception following the performances at the same location.

What’s cool about this young talent is his musical range and diversity.  If you visit his website, wwwmarcusnorris.com, you can not only hear Norris’s smooth accapella R&B cover of rapper Big Sean’s Guap, where he nicely cleans up the lyrics, to boot, but also Marcus’ arrangement of Schumann’s Echoes From the Theatre from Schumann’s Album for the Young, which was composed in the year 1848.

“That’s originally a piano solo piece, but I arranged it for bassoon, clarinet/bass clarinet, oboe, flute/piccolo, trumpet, french horn, trombone, and tuba,” Norris says.

Or you can hear his string orchestra arrangement of Debussy’s (no Family Guy references here, please!) Girl With The Flaxen Hair or la fille aux cheveux de lin, which was performed by 15 members of the Chicago Composer’s Orchestra in December of last year.

“I was surprised at how good it came out!” Norris says.  “It was a new experience to hear my voice come back to me in a way that big. I had the realization that there is nothing like live strings. Computer and sample-based strings are improving drastically, but at least at this point in time, there is nothing that even comes close. I am going to start using live strings on my records every chance I get!”

It’s that kind of musical diversity that Marcus is bringing to his recital, which will feature a fusion of classical, R&B, jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop, and every piece performed will be unreleased music composed and arranged by Marcus Norris.

“I chose the title, ‘When Composers Lose Composure,’ because the songs involve being out of your element mentally, but in very different situations and from very different perspectives,” Marcus says.  “I think in moments like those we are the most genuine, the most alive, and the most human. More importantly, we make the best music.”

The lineup of performers for the one-hour show includes Jean Deaux, Justin Ruff, Yunoka Berry and Adrian Dunn of “Hopera: A Hip Hop Opera.” There will also be a special performance from Grammy Award-winning songwriter Rhymefest. All performers will be accompanied by a live band and string quartet, which additionally will be performing original instrumental compositions.

“This concert will feature some of my instrumental compositions as well as some live arrangements of songs I’ve done for other artists, performed in an ‘Unplugged’ style with live band and string section. I’m really excited about the arrangements and performers,” Marcus says.

Immersed In Music

Originally hailing from Jackson, Michigan, Norris relocated to Chicago to complete his Bachelors of Music at Columbia College on a music department scholarship, and since he’s been here, Marcus has shared his musical wealth throughout the community.

Recently, the young artist who bears a striking resemblance to the Bulls’ Joakim Noah – “I get that a lot,” he smiles – worked as a teaching assistant for a music production class at the University of Chicago, where he had the students produce a video.

“It was an experiment I randomly decided to do, where I had the students each record a noise, and then I chopped them up and made this track in a very short amount of time,” Marcus explains.  “I just wanted to give them something that they could take with them, and hopefully inspire them to stay interested in music.

“I had a great time and could definitely see myself teaching again in the future. I’ll probably end up staying in touch with some of the students. I really hope I inspired them to keep on it.”

event flyerThat’s not the only occasion in which he’s worked with local youth – for about 12 weeks last fall, he worked as the studio engineer and assistant for Donda’s House, Inc., which is Kanye West’s youth development program named after his late mother.  Donda’s House attempts to assist inner-city Chicago youth who are interested in pursuing a career in music, and Marcus worked there alongside Rhymefest and T.L. Williams.

“This program was created as a way to help transform young people’s lives through music, writing, and wellness,” Marcus says.  “I was able to work with, and help develop, some really great artists. The finale was a concert with all the students performing back in November. People always talk about how bad Chicago is, but I think that it’s even more important to support and reward people doing positive things as well.”

November of last year was a pivotal month for Marcus.  Not only did he participate in the finale concert for Donda’s House, but he also had a chance to meet his idol, the producer No ID at a conference at Columbia College.

“I was blessed to be able to attend,” Norris said. “He is one of my biggest idols as a producer, and just as a person. It was an honor to hear him. I’m beyond motivated. It’s dope to see someone so accomplished be so humble. As a young producer, I just want to model my career after his.”

Some of the key points Marcus remembers from No ID’s appearance are:

• “He who takes the stairs is in shape, he who takes the elevator gets there faster. Which would you rather be?” This was while on the subject of working hard and perfecting your craft.

• Don’t worry about trying to get discovered. The people like No ID who do the discovering aren’t looking for people who are waiting to be discovered.  You keep focusing on doing what you love at an extraordinary level and it will happen.

• “Speakers never lie.” All the talking about your music is useless when it really comes down to it. When it’s played for people, do they react, or do they not really care? If it’s the latter, it’s not the end of the world, but you need to get back in the lab until you have it right. You’re not ready yet.

• “It gave me a different perspective hearing him talk about signing people as A&R of Def Jam Records,” Marcus says.  “It’s less of a million dollar ticket, and more of ‘You’re doing a lot, and I like what you’re doing. Let me reward you, and the people around you, with a lot more resources to keep doing what you’re doing on a new level.’”

• Be of service!  “He said this so many times, so I know it is very important,” Marcus recalls.  “Rather than be that person trying to brag to someone how good you are and worrying about being discovered, be at the level where you can be of service to people.

“These people get a lot further into relationships. Performance is a service, producing is a service, arranging is a service, playing piano is a service, these are just examples. When meeting someone in the business, ask yourself, how can I be of service to them?”

• Don’t just be an Internet artist. Tour and work with people in person! “He talked a lot about how people live in their phones these days and how the internet can fool you into thinking that someone is a hot performer, when they really aren’t,” Marcus notes.

“The further we get into the digital age, the farther away we get from what made us like some of the classic music. He said Michael Jackson probably would have never had Thriller success the same way if he were coming up today. He probably would have recorded his demos in Pro Tools, and released them on Soundcloud. He never would have linked with Quincy Jones and gained the 50 years of experience and knowledge that came with him.”

While finding his niche in composition, recording and production, after his graduation, Norris hopes to bring more unity and musicality to Chicago’s music scene by working with more local artists as well as mainstream musicians in a variety of fields.

For additional information on “When Composers Lose Composure” and to hear music by Marcus Norris, visit www.MarcusNorris.com.



About the Author

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David Smallwood





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