Music Graduate Awarded Prestigious Cota-Robles Doctoral Fellowship at UCLA


Recent School of Music graduate, Marcus Norris (17’), has been awarded the prestigious Eugene Cota-Robles (ECR) Fellowship at UCLA where he will receive a full scholarship and a $100,000 fellowship to pursue his doctorate in music composition.

He applied using his master’s thesis- a 12-minute work for chamber orchestra entitled Brown Eyes, Black Magic in which Norris “tries to create a mysterious sound world where the listener focuses on the beauty of ever-shifting sonic colors.” It pays homage to the “Black Girl Magic” campaign that CaShawn Thompson founded in 2013 used to empower women of color by highlighting their achievements in different fields.

He has formerly studied music technology recording in addition to earning his Master of Music in Composition at FIU. As part of FIU’s New Music Miami ISCM Festival, he was able to further hone his skills as a musician by participating in masterclasses with cutting-edge composers such as Augusta Reed Thomas, initiated by his professor and FIU Composer-in-Residence Orlando Jacinto Garcia.

“Dr. Garcia is unapologetic about demanding a lot from his composition students,” he said. “It’s a demanding program with a great deal of composing, performances, writing, and deadlines, but if you’re able to work harder and meet these high standards then you are more than adequately prepared to succeed going forward.”

It was through hard work and guidance from Dr. Garcia that Norris was able to win first prize in the 2017 Southeastern Composers League’s Philip Slates Memorial Competition for Graduate Students last March with his instrumental work, “You haven’t Said a Word” for cello quartet.

It will premiere this fall in Havana, Cuba, but it has been released on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube and other major retailers under the name Marcus Norris Orchestra.

He has plans to start his own production company and record label, South Side Sound, releasing the first song from his Orchestral/R&B/Neo-Soul fusion project.

“I’m going to use my cash prize from the composition competition to help build my record label. Starting a label will allow me to put me and my music creating friends in a position to make more lucrative business moves.”

As the recipient of a diversity fellowship, he also feels the need to give back to the community. He especially likes to help young musicians, recalling his earlier days when he was 13 and already thinking about how he would make music his life.

He’s worked as a studio instructor, producer and engineer for Donda’s House, a nonprofit based in Chicago, whose mission is to support young artists. He has also enjoyed success producing music for artists such as the Grammy Award-Winning Rhymefest, Tink, and Jean Deaux.

At the age of 25, Norris’s works have already been performed by organizations including Chicago Composers’ Orchestra, Jackson Symphony Orchestra Community Strings, Hopera & The Hip Hop Orchestra. He also worked with FIU aquatic ecologist Evelyn Gaiser who translated lake data to music by transcribing her musical composition for a string trio in order to create its own story- a showcase at TedxFIU 2016.

With such a wide range of diverse musical interests and talents, it should be no surprise then that Norris has been called a “new Musical Talent in our Midst” by Chicago’s N’digo Magazine.

“It’s all coming together,” he said. “I just want to thank everyone who actually believed this kid (referring to his 13 year old self) when he said he would be great, even when he was just a nappy-headed boy on the South Side. Or when I was in that trailer on the east side with no running water, laying on the floor making beats, telling myself I wasn’t going to be there forever.”



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