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Marble Falls High School choir program grows in numbers, awards, and prestige under director Bryce Gage

Marble Falls High School choir director Bryce Gage

Bryce Gage with his wife, Shannon, and their youngest daughter, Jennie Lynn. Not pictured is daughter McKayla Campbell. Courtesy photo

Marble Falls High School’s music program fills auditoriums, draws accolades, and wins awards, ranking in popularity with the school’s top sports teams. Attendance at choir performances rivals that of other squads on campus. Music students say choir director Bryce Gage is the reason why.

“He always had so much love for his students,” said 2018 graduate Christine Ashbaugh, who is now a music performance major at Texas State University.

The winner of best supporting actress from the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards for her role in the Marble Falls production of “Guys and Dolls” plans to join a musical company after graduating.

“He wasn’t afraid to tell you when you’re doing something wrong,” Ashbaugh continued. “He set me up to take that (constructive criticism) and better myself instead of breaking me. It was all helpful stuff.”

The sports comparisons come easy to Gage, who played high school basketball in his teens. He studied music at Oklahoma Christian University, ultimately earning a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of North Texas in 1999.

His extensive entertainment career includes performing Handel’s “Messiah” 25-30 times in an eight-year period as a tenor at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. He also had his own show in Branson, Missouri, and performed in major musicals in Dallas and Oklahoma City.

When Gage was hired in 2006 to direct the Marble Falls High School choir, the program had 19 students. Today, more than 160 students are in at least one of Gage’s six choir classes, and he considers that number low.

“We had a lot of kids not come back to school (because of COVID-19) or choose not to come back to choir,” he said. “I’ve had 200, 210 (students). For a school our size, that’s a huge program. The Cedar Park (high schools) and Vista Ridges and (Austin) Vandegrifts have 175 in their program.”

Not bad numbers for Marble Falls High School, considering it has 1,200 students compared to 2,082 in Cedar Park High School, 2,384 in Cedar Park Vista Ridge, and 2,709 in Vandegrift. 

To get that many students, Gage worked the gates of sporting events and learned every student’s name as he encouraged them to try out for choir. He worked with counselors and met students who were looking for electives, especially those transitioning from middle school to high school. 

His first question: Do you like to travel? When students said they weren’t any good at singing, Gage replied, “I didn’t ask you if you could sing, I asked if you like to travel.”

“I talked about the trips, and kids want to travel,” he said. “It’s fun.”

Choir students have been to Europe to sing at the Vatican and Washington, D.C., to sing at the White House for President George W. Bush. They have also performed in Carnegie Hall. 

Jordan Jones, who graduated in 2016, also understands the sports metaphors. He had his heart set on football and a sports scholarship. In his sophomore year, he quit football and went all in on choir. 

“I’ve always thought choir is a team sport like football, basketball, and baseball,” Jones said. “You have to rely on the person next to you. Everybody has to put in 110 percent every time. You have to pull people up with you. You have to help people out. I felt like I was part of a team.”

Today, Jones is in his final semester at Texas State University working toward a degree in performance and production. He said it’s all due to Gage’s influence. 

“I credit him for 100 percent of it,” he said. “I never had someone who saw so much potential in me. He demands perfection but will love you the whole way through it. His students are everything to him.” 

Kali Thompson, another 2018 graduate, considers Gage part of her family. Now a junior at Oklahoma Christian University pursing a Bachelor of Art in music performance, she is in the musical “Cabaret.” Thompson recalled sitting down with Gage at the high school choir banquet her senior year.

“You’ve come out of your shell,” he told her. “I think you could be on Broadway.”

“From him, it meant a lot to me,” Thompson said. 

Students don’t have to pursue a music career to reap the rewards of a school music program, Gage said. 

“These kids who don’t pursue it still have the love for it,” he said. “Hopefully, along the way, they’re taught discipline and how important self-esteem is, and they’re proud of themselves and their work. Not everybody can be on stage. Somebody has to be the audience. I’m in the job of educating our future audiences.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com