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Performing Arts

SMTD Assistant professor shares her passion for music, dance

By Ann Zaniewski

Video still of "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" performance by University of Michigan Men's Glee Club. Courtesy Chris McElroy, Michigan Media.

Music has always been a central part of Caroline Coade’s life, whether she’s playing an instrument or moving across a dance floor.

Coade, an assistant professor of viola at the School of Music Theatre & Dance, is the third chair violist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She’s also a competitive amateur ballroom dancer, a hobby that has taken her to competitions across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed how Coade practices and performs, but it hasn’t stopped her and other artists from adapting and finding new ways to share their art.

“It’s been amazing to me, the creativity that’s come out of it,” she said.

Coade’s love of music started in childhood. She played the violin until age 14, when she attended a summer music program affiliated with the University of Southern California and met a viola teacher named Jane Levy.

“She was an inspirational teacher, full of warmth and joy, and I remember how incredible her viola playing was,” she said. “My life changed from those first notes I heard her play.”

Coade has taught viola at U-M for more than a decade. She is in her 24th season with the DSO.

The DSO’s Orchestra Hall stage was dark from March through August of last year because of the pandemic. However, the music didn’t stop. Coade and five colleagues were nominated by their peers to join DSO management in forming an Innovation Team that was tasked with figuring out how the orchestra could pivot so it remained relevant to its audience during a global pandemic.

Caroline Coade has taught viola at U-M for more than a decade. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Coade)

Caroline Coade has taught viola at U-M for more than a decade. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Coade)

The team cobbled together previously webcast DSO performances to create new combinations that were livestreamed on Facebook. Members also worked with DSO staff to put on small, socially distanced chamber music ensemble programs in the orchestra’s Sosnick Courtyard. Small ensembles even performed during yoga classes in the courtyard.

Additionally, members performed on their own front porches and put on a livestreamed summer institute for advanced college and preprofessional musicians.

Coade said the DSO was well-positioned to take on the challenges bought on by the pandemic because it has hosted web-based performances for years.

“Being a part of a team that pivoted a major symphony orchestra during this time has been a life-changing experience for me,” she said. “It’s been phenomenal to watch what kind of diverse skill sets come from our colleagues and ourselves at this time.”

She also said, “It’s been very untraditional, but we were still able to perform.”

In September, the DSO returned to the stage with its new Digital Concert Series. Members are COVID tested and sit several feet apart during performances. Everyone onstage except the wind and brass players wears masks.

Another one of Coade’s passions — dancing — also took root in childhood. As a girl, she studied ballet, did Jazzercise and was glued to ballroom dancing whenever it came on TV.

Today, she and her dancing coach, Clive Phillips, are a Pro Am couple, which means their pairing includes one professional and one amateur.

“There’s a huge Pro Am circuit around the world. We were placing fourth and fifth in our category nationwide in big competitions” before the pandemic, she said.

Coade said she and Phillips perform international-style ballroom dancing, which involves partners never separating as they move across the dance floor as one unit.

“I love the discipline, rhythm and the movement of it,” she said.

Her two favorite dances to perform are the waltz, for its elegant fluidity of movement and expressiveness, and the foxtrot, for the music and the “sassy-but-elegant attitude” of the dancers.

Coade had been taking four lessons a week before the pandemic and participated in five competitions in 2019. She has taken a break from dancing for the time being until she can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“My heart aches because dancing is my happy place. I miss it,” she said.

Coade said while the pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for artists, it has also led them to push the limits of their creativity and think outside the box.

“We have to keep remaining hopeful, even in these tough days, that out of this will come something even more creative,” she said. “The arts flourish with adversity.”

Q&A With Caroline Coade

What memorable moment in the workplace stands out? 

Paying it forward with my students. SMTD has a great tradition of viola teaching. Moments such as when my April 2020 DMA (doctorate of musical arts, our music “terminal degree”) won the co-principal job with the Orchestre Philarmonique de Strasbourg. Strasbourg, France, is his hometown. This was his dream job.

What can’t you live without? 

Literally … the internet. It’s our way of connecting now. I teach inner-city high school violists each Saturday morning via Zoom. I wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise. And a good cup of coffee.

Name your favorite spot on campus. 

Hill Auditorium. What a wonderful place for concerts!

What inspires you? 

The creativity and resilience of my students during this pandemic. They are stretching out of their comfort zone, so am I.

What are you currently reading?

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My parents. Their love, support and push for their three daughters to strive for excellence was key.


This story was originally published in The University Record.


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