While his mom was away with the PTA, fourth-grader Gage Zurcher was watching the adult-geared animated comedy “Family Guy” and saw an episode featuring music legend Barry Manilow.
Now entering ninth grade at West Allegheny Senior High School, Gage’s taste in cartoons has evolved, but the seeds of passion for Mr. Manilow’s music continue to bloom.
Those seeds were planted when Gage first heard “Ready to Take a Chance Again” and “Mandy,” albeit with lyrics changed slightly to be sung to “Family Guy” character Glenn Quagmire.
Through the Internet, the 14-year-old has become familiar with Mr. Manilow’s work on jingles, commercials, musicals and the theme he composed for “American Bandstand.”
Gage’s devotion to the singer-songwriter’s tunes have led him to concerts, meet and greets, an invitation to Las Vegas, attendance at a private rehearsal and philanthropic work.
“He’s an old soul,” said Tracy Zurcher, his mother.
Gage owns all of the pop icon’s vinyl records and considers himself to be Mr. Manilow’s “biggest fan.”
The North Fayette teen is truly a “Fanilow” with a desire to help aspiring musicians who can’t afford an instrument. He does so with the help of his mother, who has contacted school districts over the past two years outlining her son’s plan.
Gage’s goal is to emulate The Manilow Music Project, which has a website, manilowmusicproject.org, created “in response to the needs of the local public schools and their severely depleted music programs by providing quality instruments to those in need.”
Gage used money he received as birthday gifts and from mowing lawns and doing chores to refurbish and purchase used instruments. He also accepts instrument donations.
“I feel that no child should be without a musical opportunity,” he said.
About two years ago, Gage distributed more than 20 instruments, including a piano, trumpets, clarinets, guitars and a drum set, to students in the Wilkinsburg School District. During the past school year, two instrument deliveries were made to
Sto-Rox High School.
In August 2011, his mother surprised him with tickets to a performance by Mr. Manilow with The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Zurcher asked the performer’s fan club if she could purchase meet-and-greet tickets for her son and they received upgraded tickets with backstage access.
His initial meeting with the pop/rock artist consisted of questions designed to see if it was Mrs. Zurcher and not Gage who was the true fan. Once he passed muster, the two chatted for about 45 minutes, and Gage was presented with a goodie bag including autographed sheet music for “Copacabana.”
The young fan must have made an impression because within a few months he was invited to Mr. Manilow’s performances at the Paris Las Vegas hotel on the Strip.
Gage suffered from health issues as a child; a misdiagnosis almost took his life in 2005. Approximately 85 percent of one of his lungs was removed to combat the problem. “He had a rough childhood,” his mother said.
While in Las Vegas, he visited traditional tourist sites while also attending four performances, where he was seated with the likes of Suzanne Somers.
Even better than the celebrity schmoozing was a last-minute invitation to attend a private rehearsal.
“[It was] so different to see him in a sweatshirt instead of a tuxedo,” Gage said of his singing idol.
During an April 2014 performance in Pittsburgh, Gage said he was unable to meet with his favorite musician because Mr. Manilow, 70, was sick at the time and not entertaining guests.
After his Manilow craze was featured on a local newscast, a fellow “Fanilow” who came into town for the show saw the broadcast and recognized Gage at the concert. The two hit it off. They text, talk and Skype almost daily.
Gage also keeps busy with his charitable projects and plays the drums as a member of the school band, jazz ensemble and marching band.
On Saturday, he and his family will be at the Strand Theater in Zelienople to pick up monetary and instrument donations. The Strand has been a partner and a drop-off site for his project.
He will recondition the donated pieces for delivery to students in need. He has partnerships set up with Lawrence Music and Hollis and Germann Music, both in the Castle Shannon area. The music outlets help with items he is unable to refurbish himself.
Money donated at The Strand will be sent to The Manilow Music Project. Through collections and his own hard work, he hass contributed more than $3,000 to date.
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.