Tribute to Margie Gage (1951-2023)
GRSMA musicians are so very sad about the passing of our dear friend and former colleague Margie Gage last summer. She was perhaps one of the most recognizable symphony musicians in our community. Everyone seemed to know Margie! In her many decades as Third Horn of the GRS, Margie had a pre-concert routine of going through the lobby to greet audience members, who were charmed by her humor and wit. When Margie retired from the GRS after 41 seasons, The Grand Rapids Press wrote a feature article about her.
As a tribute to their wonderful co-worker, the GRS horn section offers their fond memories of Margie Gage.
Starting in the late 1990s, I became Margie’s accomplice in alphorn madness. We bought alphorns at the same time and began showing up all around Grand Rapids to toot our own horns.
Margie taught me how to play “Louie Louie” on the alphorn, much to the amusement of listeners who weren’t expecting a throwback to the ‘60s from us. She even got a reporter from Ann Arbor’s WUOM public radio to show up and interview us at Reed’s Lake in East Grand Rapids when we did a pop-up performance there one summer afternoon.
But there are two alphorning moments with Margie that I will always remember. Margie convinced me to play alphorn duets outdoors around midnight on April 15th at the downtown post office for last-minute tax filers. Those procrastinators really got a kick out of this musical surprise when mailing their tax returns to the IRS.
Margie and Paul's April 15th alphorn antics.
Margie also got me to show up one summer at the top of a ski hill to play during a 5K run, serenading those runners who had reached that peak with the theme from “Superman” on the alphorn. Of course, to get ourselves to the top of the mountain, Margie drove us there in her Subaru, and we were laughing all the way.
The musical madness with our alphorn antics gave us many hilarious memories. Only Margie could convince me to do these outlandish things to charm and surprise the West Michigan public. Margie’s imagination was endless, and her creative spirit had no boundaries. Thank you Margie for being my partner in musical crime.
Margie Gage and Paul Austin, sharing many laughs over doughnuts at Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery.
MARY BETH ORR:
Dear Margie, you were supportive of me and my filling your position after your retirement in the kindest and most profound ways. You were free with your praise and freely shared any and all of my creative projects and successes as if we were sisters. I guess in some ways we were. By default we're a sisterhood of female brass players. But you genuinely always made me feel like I could do anything, and had what it took to do the job you did so incredibly for so many years. I would say you were a low key badass ... but from what I've heard, there was nothing low key about you!
From what others have said and what unfortunately brief time I had with you, I could tell you were an outspoken warrior for the vulnerable, a cheerleader for all things art and animals, and had a profound love of chickens and a disgust for clowns. All of which we were alike!
In your honor I will continue to fight for the vulnerable, all things art and animal, and give Erich crap for torturing us with clowns. You will be celebrated every time there is love, laughter, and music. Rest well, dear Margie, Warrior Goddess Horn Player.
Photo of the GRS horn section after the last concert of Margie's final season: 2011-12. (Left to right: Paul Austin, Margie Gage, Rick Britsch, Erich Peterson)
For those that knew Margie, it is impossible to bring her name up in conversation without a smile and a laugh. That’s a legacy that we should all aspire to leave behind – a smile and a laugh.
When I first joined the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2004, upon moving to town I quickly found out that just about everyone knew Margie Gage. When I told people I was in the Grand Rapids Symphony, 9 times out of 10, people would ask me: “Do you know Margie Gage?” I would always answer that question with “Know her? I sit right next to her!” It was through these interactions that I slowly became aware of the tremendous impact one person could have on a community, just by being nice and doing good things. Margie had a singular ability to know when you needed to be cheered up with a silly joke or a good laugh – and she also knew when you needed to talk about something and she was ready with a “How are you doing? And don’t give me no bull, I want to know the truth!” And then she would listen. No matter what was going on with Margie, she always had time for you and for anyone else that might need assistance. She seemed to always have more to give. I always admired her volunteer work for Gilda’s Club and Lacks Cancer Center – Margie was able to bring a little ray of sunshine and humor to people who were on a dark and murky path – sometimes with humor, sometimes with music (and sometimes with a rubber chicken or two …).
I’m proud to be a member of the horn section that she helped to build. I’ll miss Margie’s wit, her selfless spirit and devil-may-care approach to life. I’ll miss our jokes (FYC!) and our love of playing Pops concerts (Pops Horns Drool!).
Be nice. Do good things for others. Make people smile and laugh. Be like Margie.
In the fall of 2012, a donation to Gilda's Club Grand Rapids was made in honor of Margie Gage by her symphony musician colleagues. The GRS horn section performed a recital at Gilda’s Club when Margie was recognized. (Left to right, Tricia Ruffer, Erich Peterson, Margie Gage, Paul Austin, Rick Britsch)
When you ask for memories or what Margie meant to me, the answers are many. To name just a few, she was my teacher, encourager, confidant, counselor, advocate, and friend. Our friendship didn’t end after I stopped taking horn lessons. If there was a big event in my life, I knew to expect a call from Margie. Whether it was advice on my college transfer decision, the death of my parents and mother-in-law, or my husband Nathan’s cancer journey, she was there for me and our phone calls were always filled with more laughter than tears.
But if I had to pick one thing, I would say she is very likely the reason that Nathan and I are together. We both had Margie as a private teacher and were in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony together. As Nathan was trying to gather the confidence to ask me out, Margie was the one who gave him the final push that he needed to take the leap. As I crossed paths with Margie later in life, I teased her by pointing to Nathan and our three boys saying, “You know, this is all your fault,” but she was wise enough to see the look in my eyes, which actually said, “Thank you for giving me my greatest blessings.”
In 2006, Margie Gage organized the GRS horn section to travel to Reed City to spread a little Christmas cheer for a faithful symphony patron, Mary Simar. Fondly called The Flower Lady, Mary worked at a laundromat and drove over an hour each way to attend GRS concerts, bringing a bouquet of flowers with her to present to the soloists. Margie thought that it was time for us to return the favor to Mary, surprising her with some holiday carols at work one afternoon. (Left to right: Rick Britsch, Kevin Warren, Paul Austin, Margie Gage, Erich Peterson)
My audition for the Grand Rapids Symphony is my earliest memory of Margie Gage’s boundless humor. At that time, there was a very different set up of DeVos Hall’s backstage and dressing room area. There were some different doors that led from the hallway where the dressing rooms were to the backstage, and those doors did not keep the sound of the horn candidates who were warming up for the Principal Horn audition.
The audition committee of the GRS had been hearing the auditions from the audience seating, in the “orchestra” level. During the auditions on stage, the committee was fairly certain they also were hearing candidates warming up in the dressing rooms backstage. Before one of the final rounds was to begin (which were unscreened in the early 1990s), I was waiting in the hallway when Margie Gage went into the conductor’s dressing room with her horn, closed the door, and started playing "Ain’t Misbehavin." I asked the personnel manager, Ruth Bylsma, what that was about, to which she replied that the horn section was introducing some new excerpts to the audition list. Before I could panic, Margie came out and had a good laugh with Ruth. Fortunately, my racing heartbeat came down a little before I had to go play the next round. (Link to "Ruth Bylsma's 50 Seasons with the GRS" in this issue.) (Link to Rick Britsch Musician Profile in this issue.)
After moving to Grand Rapids, I found out how much Margie loved the store Kent Novelty on Michigan Street. I am surprised that they went out of business in 2015, since Margie was a top customer; they could never keep enough kazoos and rubber chickens in stock for her, as she would always buy them out after they restocked. We had a lot of laughs in the horn section, mostly due to Margie’s insatiable ability to run a funny line across almost any tune the orchestra played.
Note from GRSMA: Last summer, Erich, Mary Beth, Paul, Rick, and Tricia made donations to the Grand Rapids Symphony in honor of their friend and former colleague, Margie Gage. GRSMA made a contribution as well and recognizes the good work that she did for both of our organizations. Should you wish to honor Margie in this way, a secure online donation can be made at https://www.grsymphony.org/donate.