FAIRFAX, Va., January 9, 2012 ― Few would dispute that motherhood is a demanding job, and Jenny Oaks Baker is among its best practitioners.
She also happens to be one of the most accomplished violinists in America.
Trained at Juilliard, Baker has released ten albums to critical acclaim. Her latest, Wish Upon a Star: A Tribute to the Music of Walt Disney, is her first to be nominated by the Recording Academy, but it follows other commercial successes, including her previous album, Then Sings My Soul, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts.
Her most important, and impressive work, however, is parenting her four children.
“I’ll drop everything to be there for my kids. Being a good mother is my number one priority.”
Baker’s talent and skill have enabled her to balance the challenges that being a parent might have put in the way of having a successful musical career. If you ask her, though, family has only given her career purpose. Her parental responsibilities and professional aspirations are a seamless fit.
“Music has always been so much a part of motherhood,” says Baker, whose second album was Songs My Mother Taught Me in 1999.
“I try to be a good mother—part of that is giving the gift of music to my children,” she confesses.
She has certainly done her self-imposed duty in that regard. All of her kids play: Laura, the violin; Hannah, piano; Sarah, cello; and Matthew, our youngest, classical guitar.
Teaching her kids to live and love music is part of being their mom and a world-renowned performer. Baker has, among other honors, performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress and with the National Symphony, Jerusalem Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. She was also a first violinist in the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC for seven years.
Needless to say, performance doesn’t intimidate the Virginia resident, who is passing the skill onto her children.
“Playing teaches them how to work hard and be dedicated to something, and performing enables them to experience the payoff to all their efforts,” contends Baker. “As a modern American you need to know how to work for things and go after your dreams. Hopefully my kids are learning this.”
It’s also family bonding time. Though her husband doesn’t play, he is very support of all the musical activities in his family. The Bakers often perform together, as Jenny frequently invites her kids to perform with her on stage.
“They love performing with me and I love having them be a part of my concerts.”
Baker’s commitment to family comes from her Latter-day Saint (Mormon) heritage, to which she is faithful. The daughter of Dallin H. Oaks, who is Mormon Church Apostle, Baker’s faith clearly infuses her chosen career.
“Music is so much a part of my faith,” she admits. “People are first spiritual beings, and it’s important for people to have music in their lives. Music is the language of the gods.”
Her lofty rhetoric is matched by a discipline and humility that many Mormons will recognize.
“Before every performance we pray for help and we see our prayers answered. We trust God and when we call upon Him, He is there to support us.”
Baker’s recordings reflect her faith. Many of her albums feature traditional Christian hymn arrangements. But she has also recorded secular albums, such as her Disney album, “Wish Upon a Star”.
Baker collaborated with Kurt Bestor, an award-winning composer, who selected and arranged the songs on Wish Upon a Star.
“Kurt and I worked together on my eighth album, Silver Screen Serenade— I loved that album, by the way—so I’m not new to recording great songs from movies. Disney was a great follow up, since the Disney movies have given us some of the greatest movie themes of all time.”
But Bestor’s and Baker’s Disney is not your average Disney. “A Whole New World,” the theme from Aladdin, was performed as a tango, for example.
“There are just so many amazing themes, and it was really fun to take our favorites and make them new,” says Baker. “Kurt did a phenomenal job of giving the music a sophisticated treatment. Kids love the themes and melodies, and adults love the sophistication.”
Baker is obviously proud of her work, yet realistic about what she sees as her role in the world.
“I know I am supposed to be a mother and a role model to young artists in the world,” she declares. “You can be a successful artist while still being religious. And this will enable you to truly make a difference in the world.”
She concluded, “The Lord wants me to use my gifts to make the world a better place.”
With her priorities established, life still hasn’t slowed for Baker. She is a mom first, but she still manages to record and perform at breakneck pace, given the demands of soccer, music lessons, and managing a busy suburban household.
All the while she finds clarity and repose in the one thing that brings every element of her life in sync—music.
“The creative process is a very spiritual process,” Baker offers. “You can become closer to your Maker when you’re creating things artistically.”
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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