Dancing at the Gold and Green Ball: Interview with Michelle Coates
Today begins what I hope will be the first of many interviews in this blog—and I begin with my sister, Michelle Coates. Michelle has two sons and a daughter-in-law that, she says, "mean the world to me." Michelle is an adjunct English Instructor for Idaho State University. She has also worked in the landscape business (Coates Landscape Supply) with her husband Blair for over thirty years, doing accounting work.
Growing up with Michelle as my little sister was endless fun. She had more energy than the entire rest of the family combined, and a boundless curiosity that continues to inspire me. She and I share a love for books. I started reading to my two sisters before bedtime when they were little, and, as they got older, we took turns reading to each other. We read widely—Tarzan to Jane Austen. You can imagine how pleased I was when Michelle decided to become an English major and study literature, as I had done (both of my sisters were English majors!). And you can imagine how proud of her I was when she graduated with her Master's Degree, and when she started to publish essays and scholarly articles.
Please note that Michelle will pick the piece of music for us to listen to today. I will announce it and write about it after the interview, which follows:
Y4M: What is your earliest memory of music?
My earliest memory of music is sitting in a parked car with my mother in front of the hair dressers, listening to Lynn Anderson’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” I remember we waited until the song finished before Mom turned off the car, and I remember her singing along to the song. She loved roses, and did create a rose garden! That would have been in 1970 or 1971.
Y4M: How much time do you spend with music each day?
Not very much. I’m busy working, but I do usually listen to something in the car when I’m driving. Back in 2012 when I was writing my Master’s paper, I listened to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos while I wrote. When I’m pulling weeds in the yard, I’ll put my headphones on and listen to something then.
Y4M: Do you have one piece of music that you turn to again and again?
No. I love all kinds of music, so depending on how I am feeling at the time is what I choose.
Y4M: What, in music, currently excites you the most?
I like the young singer/songwriters, such as George Ezra, James Bay, Sarah Bareillas, and Ásgeir, to name a few. I typically like everything my youngest son, Phillip, likes. We have a very similar taste in music, and I get a lot of my music from him.
Y4M: If a time traveler came to you and said that he would take you into the past to hear one musical event or moment—what would you pick to hear, and why?
I would go back to those times when I would sit and listen to my dad play his steel guitar. I thought it was magical, and so beautiful! I remember him playing country and Hawaiian music on it, and sometimes he would let me move the steel piece on the strings. I get my love of all kinds of music from him, I think. I loved hearing him play the piano. There was one song he loved to play, Albert Ellmenreich's "Spinning Song." It was fun. I loved his records—Elvis, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, and especially Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. I loved dancing to those songs! I also have a great memory of the [Mormon] church Gold and Green Ball: I was standing on my dad’s feet while he waltzed us around the gymnasium. I’m sure it was to a Strauss waltz. I remember that whenever music of any kind was on or being played, dad seemed to light up. When he was younger he was in a band, and I think music always made him happy. I know this wasn’t one moment, but one memory always leads to another.
Y4M: If you could change one thing about how you currently interact with music, what would that be?
I don’t think I would change anything—other than I wish I had learned to play the violin, but I have other strengths, so I can appreciate listening to those who do play well, such as Julia Fischer. I love her album J. S. Bach: Violin Concertos. I have also really enjoyed these last couple of years going to Shon and Ian, my nephew’s, high-school concerts. Their music is beautiful!
Y4M: What piece of music have you picked for us to hear today, and why did you pick
I have chosen a song from Enya’s CD, Dark Sky Island, which my brother Shayne surprised me with! The song is titled “So I Could Find My Way.” I was listening to the CD one Saturday as I was making cookies. I turned the mixer off and that song was playing. It seemed that I could hear my mother’s voice singing right then! She had such a beautiful voice, and I always looked forward to going to church or to a funeral with her, so that I could sit next to her and hear her sing. Enya’s song is about love, and of course the song can be interpreted differently by everyone who hears it, but the way I interpret the lyrics is that it is about a mother and a child. It’s about love, but also loss and separation. The mother is now on “another shore,” and after all that a mother, my mother, has given me—as Enya sings—a safe “harbor” and “dreams”: how do we repay a mother’s love and sacrifice? It is by keeping them in our heart, that “each night and evermore” we give them back the “dream” of remembering them. Some of the last words that my mother wrote were “remember me,” so I think that is why this song means so much to me. The title of the song, and the chorus is “So I Could Find My Way,” and that is what my mother’s love has become for me, the comfort to help me find my way through this very uncertain life.
Y4M: Here is a link to Enya's "So I Could Find My Way," from her 2012 album Dark Sky Island:
The title of Enya's album refers to the island of Sark, which has been set aside as a "dark-sky preserve," or, a place where light pollution is not allowed and where the night sky can be seen in all its glory.
How Hearing This Song Affected Me
Knowing that this song means a great deal to my sister predisposed me to care for it, as well. It is lovely. It made me remember, and revisit, other songs of Enya's that I love. I am likely to dedicate the next few days to Enya's music.
Michelle and I often talk about things that matter, but this interview may be the first time we have talked in depth about music, and about the memories, both joyful and poignant, that music brings to the mind.
I want to thank my sister for this interview.
Here are links to two of Michelle's publications. The first, "The Day the Dam Broke," was published in Idaho Magazine (November 2010): 40-48. Michelle was 12 years old when the Teton Dam broke, and in her essay Michelle writes about the terrifying experience: and about losing her horse Starr Dust.
The second publication, “The Fracturing of Elizabeth Willard,” is published in
The Explicator, vol. 70, no. 2 (2012): 137-40. This is a scholarly article discussing Elizabeth Willard, a character in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.
I photographed "Where the Wild Thyme Blows," the flowers above, at Brigham's Wall, west of the Beehive House in downtown Salt Lake City (2006). The title is from Shakespeare's
A Midsummer Night's Dream (2.1.255-60):
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight.