Honoring Keith Coppage
Part I – The Music of Joy
I’m sure many of us can’t remember the first time we met Keith, but I am sure that we each remember that encounter as a happy one. Born in Antioch, Keith’s parents were teachers, having moved from Missouri to California after the war. Keith was their beloved only child. Both of Keith’s parents were Episcopalians and they began their time in Antioch (and later Pittsburg) worshipping at St. David’s. After living many years in Antioch, Keith’s parents moved to Walnut Creek and expected Keith to finish high school there. But Keith, loyal as always, wanted to finish high school with his friends and convinced his parents that he should drive back to Antioch High School and graduate from there!
Keith’s parents encouraged his musical interests and he originally learned to play the violin, cello and viola (his Dad’s preference), but he (like many boys) wanted to be a trumpeter or a drummer. He learned to play the piano at 5, but gave up at an early age. He gravitated to music in high school and remembers the first time he improvised on the piano – “trying to impress a girl” (as he put it) – he accompanied her in the lead song “Shadows of the Night” from Dark Shadows. He recognized that what he loved was being an accompanist – helping others to realize their dreams.
It was his 10th grade choir teacher, Eleanor White, who really influenced his view of the world…and touchingly, he remembered her exact words, “Whoever you are you have a place with us – you’re always welcome.” She also said to his parents, “I’m really glad Keith found us, and now he can be what he wants to be.” And Keith added to me, “that’s what art does for us.” Both his parents and his teachers held up the belief that art and music were worthwhile for their own sake – and should be included in young people’s education.
After graduating from Antioch High School, Keith moved on to Diablo Valley Community College on his way to the University of California at Berkeley in the 80s. He wanted to do voice performance there, but ended up accompanying others. He began as a music major, but by the time he got to Cal he had determined it would be better to become an English major. After his graduation from Cal he qualified for his teaching credential at Cal State East Bay in English. He began his teaching career at Sunset High School in Hayward, then Glenbrook Middle School in Concord for two years, and then moved to Mt, Diablo High School where he has taught English, Drama and Music for 30 years!
During his high school and college years, Keith began by attending St. Barnabas in Antioch and then St. David, when his parents moved to Pittsburg. After the move to Walnut Creek, he periodically attended St. Paul’s – but like many teenagers began to explore other churches. His adventures took him to both the Baptist and Methodist churches – and although he didn’t stay long – he enjoyed many of the songs, spirituals and hymns of those traditions. Eventually he returned to the Episcopal Church, where his father had assured him he would always be welcome – a promise he has passed on to many.
I asked Keith about some of the music he had performed at St. Michael’s and at Mt. Diablo – pieces not so well-known from either well-known composers or well-known Broadway shows. On reflection he explained how he often wrote to composers and asked to perform this type of music – beautiful music that “didn’t work” in the final show or from a show that failed. He laughed and named himself as a “rescuer of things that should be heard!” An apt title for a man who has brought the music of joy to so many.
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St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church