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Wilde Lake grad hitting high notes as newest member of Air Force music group

For The Baltimore Sun
Christina Bagley, 24, sang locally in musical theater, and will perform with the USAF group, Full Spectrum.

Christina Bagley has the sort of soft speaking voice and mild manner that people generally associate with someone who is shy.

But when the 2010 Wilde Lake High School graduate steps in front of a microphone with musicians behind her, a different persona emerges.

The versatile young vocalist recently managed to achieve something few singers do: Bagley was selected to join a pop and hip-hop touring band called Full Spectrum — a unit of the U.S. Air Force's Heritage of America Band.

Fewer than 600 airmen are employed as band members out of the more than 300,000 on active duty, an Air Force spokesman said.

Airman 1st Class Bagley — who just spent 10 days at home in Dorsey Search with her parents, Chuck and Michelle Bagley, before reporting for duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on Thursday — still appears dazed by her good fortune.

After all, Full Spectrum has performed on Conan O'Brien's late-night television show, at the 2015 Preakness Stakes and as an opening act for ZZ Top, among other appearances.

"Audition day was the most stressful day I have ever had," said Bagley, 24, of competing for the four-year contract against five women, whose number had been winnowed down for the live auditions from 10 video and recording submissions.

"I was not supposed to be able to hear the other girls that day, and I tried not to," she said. "But I really thought as the day went on that this [job] was mine… though I wasn't thinking that in a cocky way."

While waiting to sing four songs she'd prepared — "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder, "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum, and two jazz numbers — Bagley drank tea with honey to lubricate her vocal cords and calm her nerves.

"I really didn't have a Plan B because I believed I would succeed," she said. "I definitely want to do my part to serve my country, but I want to do it in my own way."

Master Sgt. Richard Vasquez, who is the lead vocalist with Full Spectrum and serves as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, helped pick the winner.

"Christina's flexibility in being able to perform all genres of music was definitely a big key," he said of her selection to the seven-member band, which he described as one of the more modern music ensembles of the 60-piece Heritage of America Band.

There are eight Air Force bands in the continental U.S. and three overseas, all of which contain smaller touring bands, he said.

"This band is awesome," Vasquez said of Full Spectrum, which was formed in 2013 for deployment to Southeast Asia. "We play the music that the young men and women serving in harm's way want to hear — from pop, to R&B to Motown and more."

Michelle Bagley, who has served as the gifted-and-talented resource teacher at Centennial High School since 1991 and has taught for 36 years, speculated that an impromptu performance requested by the judges during auditions might have helped her daughter win.

"Christina said they asked her to sing 'On My Own' from 'Les Miserables,' for which she had won a musical theater award, and that one of the judges said it brought him to tears," she said. "Doing that one extra thing may have pushed her over the top."

Christina Bagley said her parents, who met while performing in community theater in Baltimore, first realized she had talent when they heard her singing along to the soundtrack of "The Phantom of the Opera" at age nine.

"I could hit the really high notes sung by the main character, Christine, and they turned to me and said, 'Maybe we should get you lessons,' " she recalled.

The airman's father, who is well-known for his work with Howard County Summer Theatre, had already taught her to read music when she was six.

The main benefit of formal instruction is learning proper vocal mechanics, she said.

"The right technique is ingrained in you so you don't develop bad habits when you're young," she said of taking classical singing lessons for four years. "It's hard to un-train yourself."

At age 13, Bagley moved on to musical theater singing lessons and performed in productions in high school and around the area. Jemima, who sings "Memory" with Grizabella in the 1981 musical "Cats," was a favorite role.

Bagley learned to play piano and acoustic and electric guitar before earning a bachelor's degree in music and music performance from Towson University. She also has a master's degree in jazz vocal music from Western Michigan University.

It was at Towson that she met the professor who would later be instrumental in her decision to chase her dream.

Sara Jones, who teaches jazz and commercial voice and is director of the Towson Vocal Jazz Ensemble, performed for six years with the Soldiers' Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band and had suggested Bagley consider something similar.

"Christina has a lovely soprano voice with a beautiful tone as clear as a bell," Jones said. "The military is a great job for a young singer because you're constantly performing, and you can travel and meet people."

Vasquez said all Air Force performers uphold the motto to "honor, inspire and connect," adding they perform for a combined audience of 6 million in live and televised appearances each year.

Since Full Spectrum is a band that occasionally deploys to other parts of the world, there's "a strong possibility" Bagley will get to do that as well, he said.

"I am really looking forward to Christina representing America's airmen in front of a global audience," Vasquez said.

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