One of Devin Coats’ dreams has become a reality at The University of Texas at Tyler.
The senior music major from Jacksonville, Texas will debut his original musical theater production, “Stringed,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 and 21 in the University Center ballroom.
An aspiring children’s literature author and self-taught musician, Coats combined his love of writing, music and storytelling into his senior project – one of the largest student project undertakings, if not the largest – in the School of Performing Arts’ history. With encouragement and help from his adviser, associate professor of music composition Dr. Kyle Gullings, Coats developed what started as a children’s fantasy novel into a two-act musical, complete with a chamber ensemble. “Stringed” tells the story of a young girl’s whimsical, emotional adventure to find a family she has lost.
Coats said a Halloween “I-SPY” picture book he found at a bookstore whiling away time between classes inspired him.
“There were no words in the book, but the images planted the seeds for the story to grow in my head,” Coats said. “A curious habit of mine is to write music for stories as I develop them. Never really intended to be heard, themes of settings and characters really help me immerse myself into the world I’m trying to build.
“For “Stringed,” I felt as though I ended up with more music and concept art than I had for any other story. So, I decided to keep developing those ideas with the goal of writing a musical or a concept album, or something,” Coats said.
Rigorous class schedules ultimately forced him to shelf the idea. Coats then dusted off his work after an academic advising appointment with Gullings while a University of Texas at Tyler sophomore.
“Dr. Gullings asked me what I wanted to do, long-term, and I mentioned writing was a big passion of mine; music truly being an extension of my love for storytelling,” Coats said. “He then suggested I consider writing a musical to function as my senior recital, a requirement for all music majors. I was delightfully reminded that I had, sort of, started one already.
“The following two years saw Dr. Gullings and me reworking the story to fit the stage and encompass the requirements needed to fulfill my graduation goals.”
Coats said his greatest passion with writing is to create stories for children that also contain depth.
“I think it’s important to give young people material with meaning and layers to explore. It’s more fun that way,” Coats said. “‘Stringed’ is what I would call a ‘dark fantasy’ however it’s definitely still family friendly. It was indeed based on a Halloween picture book, but the resulting story has nothing to do with the holiday. The title has multiple meanings – the most obvious referring to the fact that the show’s characters are mostly marionette puppets. Also, the instrumentation of the chamber orchestra is all string instruments. There are possibly a few other meanings one might catch as they see the play.”
Gullings describes Coats as creative, talented and ambitious. “I work with music composition students, so all my students are creative, but more than most, Devin has interests in a lot of different areas,” Gullings said. “He has really gone above and beyond, not only in terms of the scope of the project, but also in managing all the associated tasks required to make it happen. It’s a lot of work, but I think worth it in the end.”
The project also fit well with the professor, who utilized his specialized background in writing music for theater.
“In our lessons, we mostly worked on music – from original concept, to the writing process, to arranging the music for the instrumental ensemble,” Gullings said. “But we also have had to discuss other issues of plot, characterization and text, which aren’t strictly about the music but are intimately tied to it.”
Coats advises fellow University of Texas at Tyler students to “dream big.”
“Try something nobody’s ever done before, though more importantly, something you’ve never done before,” Coats said. “I’ve learned more from this experience than I think any lecture or assignment could have taught me. Things like this are what college should be about. All it takes is willpower. The means and the support will then find you. It works like magic.”
Coats will graduate this December from The University of Texas at Tyler with a bachelor of music with a composition emphasis and minor in biology. His other interests and hobbies include programming and game design, foreign language and construction.
One of the 14 campuses of the UT System, The University of Texas at Tyler features excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 80 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at The University of Texas at Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 10,000 high-ability students. The University of Texas at Tyler offers courses at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine as well as a location in Houston.
University of Texas at Tyler associate professor of music composition Dr. Kyle Gullings (at left) and senior music major Devin Coats of Jacksonville go over the musical score for Coats’ original production titled, “Stringed.” It premieres on campus at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 and 21 in the University Center ballroom.