In the last week of February 2020, Marcus Norris
was ready to make history. Norris had created his own orchestra named the South Side Symphony, which proudly owns the fact that they are the only orchestra that would perform "Back That Thang Up" in the same concert as Beethoven. At the WACO Theater Center in North Hollywood, this tradition-shattering ensemble opened its first show to a fully packed house, only to shut down a few weeks later because of COVID-19 restrictions. However, the Michigan-born, hip-hop producer turned classical composer expects to pick up right where he left off. Composium recently sat down with Marcus to discuss his musical journey and career path.
Growing up on the south side of Jackson, Marcus began his exploration of music by experimenting with hip-hop beats around the age of 13. His uncle, Dre Norris, first introduced him to this world and Marcus was "fascinated by the idea that [he] could be the whole band with [producing], [he] could be creative and play all the different parts." By high school, he continued to make beats and rap with his friends, and eventually earned a scholarship to attend a two-year music recording technology program at a Detroit craft college.
While attending this program, he was also exposed to the fundamentals of music theory, jazz theory, and counterpoint, and eventually found himself dabbling in classical composition. "I think the first one that blew my mind was Bach...I was like, 'How is he thinking about [counterpoint] like this, I've never heard anybody thinking about music in that way,'" he shared.
He soon transferred to Columbia College Chicago with the intention of entering the audio engineering program, but switched last minute to enter the music school instead of the engineering school, as "[he loved] the music part more than the science part." After continuing to both compose classical music and produce R&B records, he scored a full ride assistantship at Florida International University in Miami for his master's degree.