When University of Maryland graduate Marcus Moody, 22, created Hip-Hop Orchestra in 2012, the group was struggling to even get their name noticed campus-wide. To make matters worse, HHO struggled in keeping a consistent rehearsal home, resulting in frustration after being forced to relocate to numerous halls and rooms.
As time went on, however, the group attracted the attention of more and more talented musicians, growing to the 20-25 member band as of late, and has been winning over the interests of audience members by seamlessly combining the styles of hip-hop and classical music.
HHO won this year’s Battle of the Bands competition and will be opening for T-Pain and Lil’ Dicky at Art Attack this spring.
So, I take it you guys are pretty excited to open at Art Attack!?
Marcus: Most definitely. Honestly for me, this is the big kahuna for UMD. Starting out with just one other person and trying to get the word out about us just to recruit people to have fun, and to find out that we’re something people voted on to see in front of thousands more? I’m still kind of in shock!
How did you get the idea? What made you want to start something like this?
I was in the orchestra when I was a kid and all the way through high school. I was always a hip-hop head, and I realized that they’re kind of both the same in the way that they tell and articulate stories. Of course they articulate them in different ways and different messages—instrumentals versus lyrics—but the main objective for both of them was to tell a story. For hip-hop was to expose the truth behind different neighborhoods, behind minorities and bring a community together and stop a lot of crazy shit that was happening. And classical music is notorious for being able to tell a story without saying a word.
How has the group grown since you started? Both qualitatively and quantitatively.
We started out with people who had joined because they really didn’t have anything else to do and they may not have picked up an instrument since like fifth grade. But now we have people who pick it up because they want to make it better, because they think they can actually contribute something because they really want to make it awesome and they bring that actual skill set to it. It’s attracted a lot better talent and more committed individuals.
Both with how much hard work you put into HHO and how much frustration you’ve gone through to find a place to practice, how satisfying is it when you have a performance?
It’s amazing. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I don’t get to look at the audience. I have to wait for the reaction. It’s about five minutes of me literally spilling my heart out and then the longest five second pause between the end of the song and hopefully an applause or some kind of positive response. And when I finally turn around, and if it’s a great response, it’s just kind of like … I can’t even really explain it. It’s like confessing your feelings for somebody and they completely reciprocate it.
What is your—your as in plural to represent the whole group—biggest inspiration for the music that you make?
I aim and I try to push them to have actual substance and meaning and content in their rhymes and to be able to tell a story and not just talk shit and mumble; actually take people somewhere. It’s a process, it’s a team thing. That’s what makes an orchestra so built because it’s never just one thing that’s like “Oh, shit that was amazing!” It’s a collaboration of a whole bunch of strong individual parts, lyrically, instrumentally and even sometimes with the audience when they get involved.
Featured Photo Credit: Marcus Moody, founder, conductor, composer, and director of Hip Hop Orchestra during their performance at Battle of the Bands in the Baltimore Room of Stamp. Between songs, the recent UMD alumnus spoke on the difficulty of rehearsing with their entire orchestra on campus. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Photographer)
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.