“That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. … There’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.”—Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), The Shawshank Redemption
Jenise Coon was a giant presence in this community. She died on Tuesday (Sept. 15) at the age of 47 (details as to cause haven’t been released), and it’s difficult to express how profound of a loss her passing is—for her family and friends, and for the city of Chico. Words won’t do. Well, maybe if they were sung. That’s the only way to do justice to the impact of 22 years of teaching singing and songs to middle school and high school students and a life spent singing songs alongside nearly every person in the local music and theater communities. The social-media tributes—by those who knew her, have been coached by or performed with her, or were simply near her at some point—use words such as “bright,” “magnetic,” “light,” and I’d bet each person who knew Jenise has some words+melody that would immediately get to the heart of the matter and illustrate her impact on the humans of this community.
Jenise was honored at the CN&R’s annual CAMMIES music awards show last year at the Sierra Nevada Big Room, and the script from the presentation gives just a snapshot of the woman:
This year’s best female vocalist earns the award not just for her own vocal talents but also for her work helping young artists find their voices. As the Choral and Drama teacher at Chico High School, she directs six different vocal ensembles as well as the Musical Theater Program. She has taken both her theater and choral students on the road to perform at major festivals, and also led the choirs on a concert tour of Ireland. She’s been Chico Rotary’s teacher of the year, was a finalist for Butte County Educator of the Year and was named a local arts champion by the Chico Arts and Culture Foundation. Oh, and she can sing, too. In addition to performing in many local community-theater musical productions, the fearless performer is a regular lead vocalist and chorus member in the musical productions for the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective. The CAMMIES award for Best Female Vocalist goes to Jenise Coon.
Music heals. Singing and even listening can reduce stress, elevate mood and even relieve physical pain. But more important than any of that: Music can make you hope.
That Shawshank quote up top is about hope. And that’s what songs give. We carry music with us. The songs are always there for us to access whenever life is rough, to bring us the beauty when we can’t get to it on our own. And life in the year of COVID is certainly rough, and losing someone special makes it so much more so. But the songs Jenise sang with us (here’s one, and another) will live on alongside her always-present impact on this community and the love she shared with her husband, Brady; their two daughters, and the rest of her family and friends. And that is something beautiful to turn to when you need it.
Rest in peace, Jenise.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to support Jenise’s family. Visit here if you have it to give.