The latest recipient of the Roque Cordero Excellence in Music Award is an arranger and singer for an international touring group who returned home for graduate school.
Mark Grizzard received the scholarship last spring. The native of Normal and a founding member of the nationally renowned a cappella group Chapter 6 is pursuing a Master of Music in composition and choral conducting. He is scheduled to graduate in spring 2014.
“(The scholarship) was a wonderful surprise,” Grizzard said. “It’s not only a tremendous validation for the work I’ve been doing at ISU, but it’s obviously giving me more opportunities to be pursuing my interests as a writer, arranger, conductor, and educator. It’s a great feeling to know I have the support of the University and to have a sense that I am in the right place in my career.”
Grizzard has kept busy in college. Besides being a member of Chapter 6, he is the director of Illinois State’s Men’s Glee Club, music director of the First Baptist Church in Peoria, and a freelance arranger. He recently talked about his musical background, career, and the importance of the scholarship.
Why did you become a musician?
My mother was a voice teacher and choir director. From kindergarten on, my brothers and I would always be involved in all sorts of musical activities: piano lessons, boys’ choir, and all that. I had a certain level of skill, and it was obviously a lot fun to be involved in music. I played violin in orchestras in high school, accompanied a lot, and sang in choirs and musicals. I had the bug and knew that in one capacity or another I would be pursuing a career in music.
Tell me about some of the projects you have been involved in.
My first large project was Chapter 6, which is an a cappella group that started as part of the
choral program at Millikin University. It was a student group, where guys would graduate and new guys would come in, that sort of thing. I arranged music for them and was not really an official member, and we were able to find some great opportunities. We won a few national competitions for a cappella groups, and we decided, ‘Hey, let’s keep going with this.’ I was offered a job as an arranger, understudy, producer, sort of a catch-all extra guy, and upon graduating we moved to Chicago and started doing gigs.
That fell right in line with my attitude toward my potential career in music. I didn’t have a very specific career arc in mind; I just knew I always wanted to be a part of musical projects, and this was a terrific opportunity. We were definitely starving artists for a few months, but things started to snowball, and it became a full-time job for me and my six college buddies, traveling all over the world making music. One of our guys was on American Idol and the group got a little video feature as part of that, which led to some publicity for us. We developed a series of pop symphony concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which took us to several major symphony halls, including the Kennedy Center. We still did our normal a cappella show all over the U.S. and Canada, and were able to tour Hong Kong for a week. When an opportunity like that presents itself … obviously, I was thrilled to do it.
Of course, the life of a touring musician is great when you are in your early 20s, but we knew that we eventually wanted to grow up and become real adults. So, plans were made to see if we could scale it back and pursue other activities without breaking up altogether. I had been hoping to regain involvement in the classical music scene as an accompanist, theory teacher, and writer of choral music and other musical textures. There was a steady transition into part-time touring, and in 2011 I was able to apply to graduate school, which was always one of my goals.
Why did you choose Illinois State University?
I was familiar with the program at ISU, with their choir program and their Madrigal program; I knew their reputation as a quality institution that has always been right in my backyard. For the sort of things I’m interested in doing, the faculty and the structure of the choral department and the composition department at ISU have been a perfect fit. It was a very easy decision for me to choose ISU for graduate school.
Why is this scholarship important to a graduate student like you?
As graduate students, we are hopefully on the precipice of launching off into the real world, starting our own careers. For a composer, it’s very beneficial to have an upfront investment on all these projects in progress. Having this name on my resume as well as the resources to move forward on the next phase of my career is invaluable.
Grizzard is currently working on choral and orchestral arrangements for the University’s Concert Choir and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra that will be premiered at this year’s Christmas Concert. He is directing and arranging for the Peoria Area Civic Chorale. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career in publishing as an arranger and composer and to continue these musical projects, including Chapter 6.