Coates, Gloria (1938—)

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Coates, Gloria (1938—)

American composer and programmer who produced and organized the German-American Contemporary Concert Series in Munich. Born Gloria Kannenberg on October 10, 1938, in Wausau, Wisconsin; daughter of Natalie Zanon (an Italian coloratura) and Roland Kannenberg (a state senator); married Francis Mitchell Coates, Jr., in 1959 (divorced 1969); children: one daughter, Alexandra Coates .

Selected works:

Music on Open Strings (1974); Planets (1974); Chamber Symphony or Transitions (1976); Sinfonietta della Notte (1982); L'Anima della Terra (1982); Symphony No. 3 (1984); Three Mystical Songs (1985).

Gloria Coates came from a musical background and composed her first melody on a toy piano at age three. At six, she began taking lessons and soon wanted to play the classical concertos she was hearing on the radio. When her piano teacher told her she was too young, Gloria babysat to earn money and bought sheet music by Massenet, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky, which she quickly learned.

As she grew older, Coates studied music theory with Lenard Siem and began to compose; at 13, she won a superior rating for "My Heart Yearns" in the National Federation of Music Clubs Composition Contest. There were those, however, who did not encourage her lofty aims. In high school, when Coates was told to choose a topic for an essay on her intended career, she asked to write about becoming an opera singer or a composer. Rejecting both choices, the teacher instructed her to be realistic and choose between being a music teacher or a music therapist. The message was clear: women belonged in the classroom, not on the stage.

Despite such warnings, Coates was a talented singer and actress who was drawn to the stage; she won an apprenticeship at the Brookside Playhouse in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, following her first year in college. That summer, she decided to quit school and devote herself completely to the arts. Moving to Milwaukee, she took a job as a waitress and began to study singing with Nene Baalstad , the Norwegian opera singer. Next Coates moved to Chicago where she studied with Alexander Tcherrepnin and acted with the Chicago Stage Guild; she then conducted a choir in Wausau before heading to New York City. There she studied voice and art and played the lead in an off-Broadway musical, Dacota.

Coates married in 1959 and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with her husband, an attorney. She continued her studies; became the music, art, and drama critic for the Louisiana State Times; and produced and moderated a daily television program. All the while, she continued to compose.

In 1969, Coates ended her marriage. Accompanied by her five-year-old daughter Alexandra and her dog Beatle, Coates boarded a Greek freighter bound for Europe. She settled in Munich and organized radio programs for West German Radio about contemporary American music. In 1971, she started a German-American Concert Series for the Amerika Haus. Additional radio work came her way while she continued composing. "I live very simply," she said. "I have no car and no luxuries, but my life is never dull." Her responsibilities, however, were many:

As the years went by, my responsibilities as a mother, as an organizer of concerts, musicologist, and most of all, as a composer increased so that I felt like an apple tree with its branches so heavy with fruit that they were curved to the ground. Gradually, as my daughter left for college…, I had more time to organize my life and write larger compositions.

In 1981, Coates was a guest of the Soviet Composers Union at the First International Festival of New Music in Moscow. Composing played an increasingly important role in her life; by 1978, she had 58 commissions and could not fulfill them all. Her String Quartet No. II for the 1972 Olympics in Munich was recorded in 1977 and 1983, along with her String Quartets, I and III. One of her most popular works was a music song cycle based on poems by Emily Dickinson . In 1982, Coates received a Norlin Foundation Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, which allowed her to spend several months working on an orchestral piece based on texts by Leonardo da Vinci. A visual artist as well as a composer, Coates has many works in private collections as well as in European exhibits. Her daughter Alexandra is a harpist.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia