For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 14: Marcus Norris
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In this week’s episode, we talk to Marcus Norris about his musical journey from producing rap beats to expanding into a diverse range of compositional and arrangement styles and also founding and directing the South Side Symphony. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Marcus Norris, check him out here: www.marcusnorris.com . Parts of this episode originally premiered on Aug. 2021, found on Youtube, click here.
This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!
Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021
Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.
Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, artistic executive director of Ensemble For These Times. In this week's episode, we're joined by Marcus Norris, who we spoke to in August 2021. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS] Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. How did rap music and producing beats pave the way for your passion for composing?Marcus Norris:
So when I first started getting into making beats, I was like around 13 years old. And for me, like at that point, it was just super personal and super introspective. Like, I didn't even I didn't even show it to anybody. It was purely for me purely to process what was going on in my life and the things around me. And I feel like as I've grown, and I've added in more musical styles into my like, my language, I've kept on to that, like, I never let go of it. And I think that's benefited me a lot. It just, it's still so personal, it's still so introspective for me. And it's still my way of like processing the world. And I don't know, if I would have gotten that if I started with, like, learned concert music, you know what I mean? There's a lot more of a barrier to entry, and a lot more like formal training regimen in place. Whereas, you know, with with making beats or rap, it's like, you make your own way, you know what I mean? That outsider art type of thing.Nanette McGuinness:
Your arrangements and compositions range from pop to jazz to classical? Do you love all musical genres and styles equally? Or is there one that resonates with you more deeply?Marcus Norris:
I think I like them for different reasons. Maybe it kind of like showed in my last answer. But I like all of these genres. In different ways, they do different things for me. Like with concert music, I just there's like a craft to it. And it can be so complex and so nuanced, and so many layers. And it does something different for me, I love it for these, like, allow me to work through like really complex things. You can go on longer, or further journeys, while writing concert music. But at the same time is like I don't know of any music that can like, hit on more profound things and like, straight to the core the way like gospel or soul music does. And, and if there's a genre that speaks more directly to just exactly how you feel than rap music, and I don't know if you know what I mean. So it's like, I love all these things differently for different reasons. I wouldn't say like one more or the other. I have more nostalgia associated with like rap and r&b. Just because that's what I grew up on. And that might always be like my first loves. But But yeah, I do love them all differently.Nanette McGuinness:
story seems part of the subtext in so many of your works, and taught lyrical beauty is especially characteristic of your string music. Could you talk about where or who you get your inspiration from?Marcus Norris:
First off, thank you. I mean, that's a really appreciate that. As far as like, where I get my inspiration, I've just always tried to write things that the people I came up with, would be proud of me for. I think my parents and my OGS for kind of like given me this concept Young. That is like no whose opinions matter is like because people are going to talk or like sometimes people like you. Sometimes people love you. Sometimes they hate you. Sometimes people understand sometimes they don't. But just know whose opinion matters. And for me, it's always been like, my community. My family. My friends always want to write things that's like, I don't have to explain this to them. I can just put it on and they'll get it. So I don't know. I try to tell our stories and things that will make sense to us.Nanette McGuinness:
You found it in direct the Southside Symphony which has a mission of our music in our time, something near and dear to our hearts given our own name and mission. How does identity and heritage inform your music making and composing? What are your artistic goals for the symphony?Marcus Norris:
So there's two parts to that. There's our music and our time and for our music It's like I was kind of talking about with the community in the last question is like, I want to be as authentic to us as I can. And I don't want to have to water that down. I don't want to act like it needs concert music to elevate it, or I don't want to, I don't want to, like, I just want to be us, I just want to make things that like people from where I'm from, will love when they hear it. And they'll recognize when they hear it, you know what I'm saying. And our time means like, I don't want to wait till I'm dead for, you know what I mean, for this for this to happen. As I right now, we're seeing a surge in the performances of black composers of the past who have passed away. And I'm super happy about that, like, ecstatic to see these performances happening. And I pray that they keep going and like even more, but my thing is like, I just don't want to wait till I'm dead for that to happen for me, you know what I mean? And I feel like if I sit passively on these things, then that have happened. And it's not just for me, it's for my contemporaries. Like we did a Southside symphony concert in February 2020. Right before COVID, shut everything down. And as soon as I knew this concert was happening, I reached out to like, four or five, like black and Latinx musicians and artists and was like, you know, let's showcase some of your work. You know what I mean? Because I'm big on this, I think I think we need to give these people that we love their flowers while they can still smell them, you know what I mean? And so that's what we're trying to do. And we try to incorporate that in everything we do. I think that people need to be committed to telling their stories, because when you don't, there's like two things that could really happen. Either one, those stories don't get told. Or two, you can have people from outside those communities telling the stories in a way that might not be authentic, you know what I mean? Which has happened many, many, many times in history. And as for like, our artistic goals and aspirations for Southside symphony, this one's exciting. Um, there's a couple of things. That one big one is that like, like everybody, when this pandemic is over, I really want to get back to doing concerts. We have so much fun, we did like what we call a kickback concert. Back in February 2020, it was like, we tried to keep this like familial vibe. And like, how do we scale this up to include, you know, hundreds of people. And I think we were really successful with that, like how I describe it is like, I want you to feel like you're just kind of hanging out at like a family get together. And then at some point in time, your Uncle Mark is hops, hops on keys and start playing your cousin hops up, picks up the violin and starts playing and you know what I mean? And then your auntie gets up there. And she sings one of her favorite songs type of thing, you know what I mean? It just feels like, like a family. So what I like to do, whenever we can do so safely, is take this all over the country, because I'm so big on community, I'm really big on community partnerships. So I would love to, like partner with organizations and ensembles and event spaces all across the country, and kind of have like, a Southside symphony, kickback tour. You know what I mean? Where we go all around, and we hang out in these communities for a few days, culminating, you know, maybe there's like some education part to it. And then it culminates in like this, this kickback concert where we all have this exchange of music and love and vibes. So yeah, that's one of my goals, whenever we can get back to doing so safely. And secondly, but also very important to me is I'm working on starting like an education side of South Side symphony. Because I think that's important when you're talking about these cultures. People need to be able to be the storytellers, for their culture and their techniques. And for preserving all of these things, like I said, because what happens is either a, these things don't get preserved, the stories don't get told, or be people outside of the cultures do it. And it might not be exactly right. You know what I mean? Last question is, what would you tell young composers, or musicians of color, particularly in this time? I love this question. This was one of the questions that made me excited to do this interview, because I wish I had this year. I mean, so the biggest thing that I think young composers and musicians of color should keep in mind right now is play your game. Don't play anyone else's game because they don't know what they're doing really, or they don't know what you should do, I should say, like, for example, if say you're a musician, you're a composer in going through academia is like, they will try to encourage you to write in a specific style or a certain way. Or they'll tell you that you need to like focus on XYZ, and they'll keep you so so busy. And they'll make the make academia seem like the world. And it's not, it's not the world. And it's like, as soon as like you leave the academic space is like, none of that work, you are doing matters. I really am thankful for like my Oh, geez for this because they like, I don't know, I just, it's always been inherent in me. And like, when I was an undergrad I was still doing, I was doing way more like outside of school because I understood this. This is not to say that your professors are brilliant, and don't make great music or anything. It's just the world that existed when they were coming up, doesn't exist anymore. Like that's not the world that you're coming up in. You know what I mean? I love my professors like flat out they changed my life. This is this is not to disparage academia at all. It's just, it's just it's an old model, and it takes a long time to adjust. So I guess my advice is like, don't let them get in your head and do a lot of research on what you would like to do write what you like to write, and just produce a lot however much you're writing, write three times as much because it compounds over time.Nanette McGuinness:
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure, and a special thank you to our guests, Marcus Norris for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT Our concert season online and in the Bay Area where to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]