JACKSON, Mich. — Composer and Jackson native Marcus Norris is coming back to Jackson this weekend for a performance of his piece, “There Can Be No More Kings: A Hood Fantasy" by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra.
“Folks from my community only get to see themselves represented in traumatic things and traumatic art, but I wanted to make something that was inspirational and something that was mystic and magical because I feel like people from our community deserve that,” said Norris, a 2009 Jackson High School graduate.
Norris’ inspiration for the piece was thinking back to his childhood and watching movies such as "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
“Both of these deal with an escapism of some sort. Where you want to go or what you want to do isn’t determined by your past surroundings,” he said.
Jackson Symphony Orchestra Music Director Matthew Aubin said after meeting Norris a few years ago, he knew he had to give him an opportunity to showcase his talent.
“I instantly realized that he was a special kid, special talent,” Aubin said. “When you’re young, starting out you need some folks to basically invest in you and give you opportunities and as a young composer your dream is to write for an orchestra. For me, I listen to his music and I felt like there was a lot of quality in it and a lot of promise.”
Aubin would give Norris the opportunity to have a composition performed by the Jackson Symphony.
“It was really well received by our audience and our musicians and then, during the pandemic, we actually performed a work for his strings and now I wanted to have him back for a third time,” he said.
Norris says he doesn’t want people to take this for granted.
“This is not a normal thing where you’re getting composers that look and talk like me, celebrated in this way and not in any type of novelty way,” he said.
Norris’ interest in music composition was sparked by a familiar face in Jackson and Norris’ neighbor, Benny Poole. People in Jackson may know Poole from his days performing Jazz at venues across the city and the world up until his death in 2020 at the age of 91.
“I would see him when I was a teenager, maybe like 15 or 16 and he would come back late at night like three in the morning from playing this gig or something just happy. His wife was with him by his side and he was coming home after partying all night and I was like that’s got to be my life,” Norris said.
Norris who lives in Los Angeles was drawn there after receiving a fellowship to get his Ph.D. in music composition at the University of California, Los Angeles. He started his own chamber orchestra in Los Angeles called the Southside Symphony.
“I’m really afraid he’s going to hit it big and that we’re not going to be able to afford him anymore,” Aubin said.
Norris’ piece will be performed by the orchestra this weekend alongside work from classical composers Frederic Chopin and Florence Price – who was also black.
“I like that this program has more music on it by black composers than white composers and more music by a woman then men on it,” Aubin said. “I think that’s important for us to know that it’s not just three dead white guys that write music.”
According to orchestra officials, Norris laughed while comparing hearing his music performed for the first time for a live audience by a symphony to having your journal read by a stranger to a crowd.
“When you’re a kid, people tell you that you can be whatever you want to be,” Norris said. “When you grow up you learn kings don’t really exist anymore. Similarly, for many people from our communities, the odds are also stacked against you for the other seemingly more reasonable aspirations just the same.”
This weekend marks the end of the concert season at the symphony orchestra.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“I just think that in Jackson we have this special professional orchestra and in a city that’s relatively small we have this group of paid musicians that come together for three nights and prepare this music and perform these great concerts,” Aubin said. “We own our own building. I say that we kind of punch above our weight class and on top of that we have this guy from our town who doing great things in L.A. and is coming back home to share some of those great things with our community.”
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