Even though music has always been part of Robinson Marks’ life, his quest to find his place in it — and finally appreciate its depth and breadth — took a circuitous route.
The California native grew up hearing classical music recordings and his dad’s stories of being a rock drummer. But it wasn’t until Marks was a member of a church choir for five years beginning at age 7 that he got his first “rigorous immersion” into powerful musical performance.
In instruments, Marks first took up the trumpet in grade school. In high school he got a guitar from his father which he started to play more and more. Later, piano and drums.
In high school in Orono, Maine, he formed a rock band, Husqvarna, that performed some jazzy fusion that “was like James Brown and Hermann Melville together in the same room” Marks also started writing.
Marks studied at McGill University for three semesters. Afterwards he joined a band named Shoot the Piano Player and played drums. When the power-pop-styled group relocated to New York City, Marks studied at the Institute of Audio Research in Greenwich Village for a year.
“I was learning about recording music and the different techniques that influence the ways music comes out of the speakers,” says Marks. “But I came to realize that I wanted to delve more into the purely musical side of things. That’s when I came back to Maine to finish the degree I started in Montreal.”
Since enrolling at UMaine in 2004, Marks says, “I’ve been exposed to a huge variety of music. Sometimes it feels daunting as a composer, trying to assimilate all that, but really I like all the variety too.” On any given night at his part-time job as a dishwasher in a local cafe, Marks is listening to rock by My Morning Jacket, the music of Steve Reich’s ensemble, songs by Beach Boy Brian Wilson and melodies of Raymond Scott, which were adapted to countless Warner Brothers cartoons.
“I like the idea of doing a lot with a little,” says the senior music major. “Some might call this minimalist, but really the idea is at work in all sorts of music– not only some classical–folk, hip hop, and of course pop music does that too. Recently I’ve been interested in emulating Steve Reich’s music, and also Bartok’s to some degree. The concept makes sense to me especially because I’m not super virtuosic at any one instrument.”
For a student composers’ concert on campus, Marks contributed an electronic piece for keyboard. He’s thinking about writing a work for a jazz combo. And he plans to compose a trio for piano, cello and violin, the instruments his mother and two brothers play.
“My musical inspiration has come from different composers, bands and music teachers. But a fundamental influence was my dad. I’d be playing drums with him, and he was always saying to keep it simple, to stop doing crazy drum fills and keep the beat solid.”
Originally published in UMaine Today magazine, May-June, 2007