Dana’s Gage Caps Long Career as Valley Orchestra, Band Leader

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After 28 years as a music professor at Youngstown State University, Stephen L. Gage will retire after the current semester ends.

His final appearance at a Dana School of Music performance will be Saturday when he’ll be a guest conductor at a concert by the YSU Wind Ensemble and Horn Choir. The outdoor performance will begin at noon at Harrison Common on Walnut Street, near the MVR restaurant.

The concert will cap Gage’s 42-year career as a collegiate music educator and conductor, which included earlier stints at colleges in Illinois, Kansas and New York state. Gage’s career was marked by a wide variety of roles – and for that, he is most grateful.

“I’ve enjoyed my career very much,” said Gage, who will turn 65 in July. “The variety of tasks has been one of the greatest things about it.”

He served as professor of conducting and director of bands and orchestra at the Dana School of Music upon his arrival in 1993. He has been the director of the Dana Symphony Orchestra since 2014. Outside of YSU, he is the longtime director of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra Youth Symphony and also the Packard Concert Band in Warren.

Gage and his wife, Stephanie, are moving to Illinois this summer to be closer to family, but he plans to keep his post with the Packard band and return for performances.

A series of unforgettable highlights in his career came not long after Gage arrived at YSU. He was the director of the marching band for two of the football team’s national championship seasons: 1994 and 1997. Jim Tressel, who is now the president of YSU, was the football coach back then.

Gage vividly remembers those days.

“Being Jim Tressel’s band director through the national championships were some career and life highlights for me,” he said. “I was elated when he came back [to YSU]. I have a kinship with him, and I have a 1997 championship ring he gave to me and I periodically wear it proudly.”

Another set of career highlights came when Gage conducted the YSU Wind Ensemble in performances at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2005 and 2015.

Phyllis Paul, dean of the Cliffe College of Creative Arts at YSU, said Gage’s impact extends beyond the Dana School of Music.

“He’s been involved in so many aspect of making music at the Dana and in the Mahoning Valley, from athletic bands to orchestra and wind ensemble, to leading the master’s program in wind conducting, to conducting our region’s Youth Orchestra and the Packard Band,” she said. “He has approached all of these endeavors with passion and gusto and tremendous dedication.”

Paul said a search committee has begun the task of finding his replacement.

At Saturday’s concert, Gage will conduct the YSU Wind Ensemble for the final time in Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which will end the show. “It’s my favorite piece of short music ever written,” Gage said.

The concert will also include selections from the first concert Gage directed at YSU in 1993, as well as from his last concert before the COVID pandemic. “It’s a career-spanning list of selections,” he said.

The program will include Mendelssohn’s Overture for Winds Op. 24; Yosuke Fukuda’s “Crescent Moon”; “Liberty Bell“ by John Phillip Sousa; “Blue Moon” by Rodgers and Hart with a special arrangement by Gage; Tchaikovsky’s Finale to Symphony No.4; Festive Overture by Shostakovich; and the Horn Choir performing Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.”

The concert is free and open to the public. Guests can bring chairs, blankets and snacks. Social distancing and masks will be mandatory.

Gage said his decision to retire was prompted by two things. He had a major surgery last summer, and has been on medical leave for the entire 2020-2021 school year. “But I’m feeling good,” he said.

The second reason is “it seems like a good time to retire,” he said.

He and his wife’s three children have all completed their undergraduate college degrees as of last year. Gage said he will continue to serve as guest conductor when asked, and maybe will continue to teach as an adjunct faculty somewhere in Illinois.

“I’m sad about leaving Youngstown,” he said. “I’ve had so many friends here, and more than a thousand students between YSU and the Youth Symphony.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.