ORLEANS – Peter Gage, after decades of helping students make beautiful music, will wave his baton for one last time at the Lake Region Union High School Concert Monday, May 7.
Gage currently teaches the general music, vocal music, instrumental music and jazz music programs at Lake Region. Being the only music teacher at a high school can be a challenge, said Gage, who’s more in tune to instrumental than vocal.
“I was a trumpet player in college, so my specialty was probably more instrumental than it was vocal music, although I took all the courses and I was heavily involved with the vocal program in college too,” said Gage. “I would call myself an instrumental specialist more than I would a vocal specialist.”
Gage started teaching music at elementary schools in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union District after graduating college in 1973. Three years later, Gage started teaching at Lake Region after music teacher Charles Milazzo moved out of state. Gage went into private business for a brief period, but returned to education after receiving a teaching contract.
“I’ve been around here for a long time,” said Gage, who likes teaching all grade levels. “My passion is teaching more towards high school kids. You can relate to them at a different level.”
During his time at Lake Region, Gage and colleague Charles Powell were involved with around 20 musicals involving many students. “We use to build these huge sets,” said Gage, who finds himself lucky to have access to the stage at the Orleans Municipal Building. “We pretty much transformed it.”
Gage, without hesitation, said the kids are his favorite part of his job. “I just wanted to have kids involved with the program.”
Gage calls his department a safe haven for many students. He said many of them, even those not involved with the program, use the space to read or visit with their friends, which is exactly the way Gage likes it. The only expectation Gage has is that they don’t destroy anything.
“A lot of these kids who come through these doors every day have a lot of baggage,” said Gage. “You can see it in their faces and their eyes when they come in here.”
Gage’s favorite genre is jazz, something he finds hard, because students are accustomed to instant gratification. He said students really don’t listen to band music. One of Gage’s goals was to show his students different genres.
“Music is very cyclical,” said Gage. He said his students are into music like the Beatles and the Led Zeppelin. “They said, ‘Hey, Mr. Gage, you ever heard of those guys?’ I said that was during my grow up time as a kid, I use to listen to them all the time.”
Gage is not shy about letting his students know he’s into country music even though he’s very aware it’s part of the local culture.
Being able to read music can be a doubled edged sword, said Gage. Reading can make life easier, but it can take away some of the creativity, especially if they get into improvisation.
“Kids who can read music well tend to shy away from improvisation,” said Gage. “They’re afraid because they don’t see the written note.”
“Music is the universal language,” said Gage. “Everybody in every single culture in the world reads the same thing.”
Gage will continue to serve as the school’s driver education instructor. “I’ll be turning in my keys,” said Gage, as students filed into his classroom.