The Voice behind the Music

Archive for June, 2012

My beginnings with Frank Baker and the Voice

When I think of Frank Baker I think guru. Not just vocal guru but a human being of the grandest stature. I know everyday how lucky I was to experience someone of light and love who gave to you his entire being in the minutes you spent with him. I saw the pure visceral joy in his body if you were flying in song. He was soaring with you. I saw him mad as hell if your wings were wet and you didn’t have the courage to be honest and try.

I heard about him from a few singers that had studied with him at Bennington college. There was something in their voices I recognized and had to do. I was in my early 20’s and realized I really, REALY had to learn how to sing, not just fool around singing. I wanted it so bad I could taste my impatience like a bitter metal.

I borrowed a friends ancient VW bug, scrapped together $15 for the lesson and made the 1 1/2 drive to Bennington. Frank taught short 15 minute lessons to 70 students a week. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke. He could barely speak some days, most days in a raspy whisper with the intensity of a roar, packed with so much intent he would transfix you. I sat before him not exactly trembling but emptied of self, like a new born, trying desperately to grasp what he was imparting to me. Often I arrived and realized I didn’t have a notion of a song to sing. Sometimes I’d make a glorious stride in sound and Frank would point and say “that’s it”  just to have it slide away on the long drive home, lost again. With daunting reality I realized the incredible potential of the voice. The voice, your true inner voice, is a life long journey, always changing as your body and being change. What you can do with the voice has endless possibilities and with that, never ending growth. I find this extremely exciting and in the past I have often been demoralized by my inabilities to express myself as I hear it in my soul. But… I have found, I do always recover and try again. 

I certainly have never grown tired of sharing what I know about the voice with my students and friends and anyone who will listen. For me it as much or MORE about a clear window to self realization than it is about the act of actually singing or performing a song. I’m sure it was even more intense for Frank having lost his speech and his ability sing. He had to sit and wait patiently for one of us to slowly grasp the process and fan out our wings so that he could fly along with us. 


Remembering Frank Baker by Edward Herbst

Aloha,I just found this incredible story on-line after having a great talk with another fellow student of Frank Baker’s, James McCarthy (performer, writer, teacher) who I met shortly after moving to Hawaii. I studied voice with Frank in the 80’s and have not forgotten the many things I learned from him. I think about him everyday! James and I were trading stories over dinner and the similarity’s to the below story are goose pimple material. Frank taught thousands of students. It amazes me that there aren’t more stories out there on Frank and his courageous voice teaching methods. I am hoping more will show up and we can gather together to keep Franks beautiful, generous, impatient spirit circulating in the world. Mahalo, Louise

Remembering Frank Baker (1908-2000) Edward Herbst
In the Fall before Frank passed away, we visited him in North Bennington. Beth Skinner had baked Frank a fresh blueberry tort, which he always loved, and we sat down at the kitchen table with him, as his daughter Betsy moved about, preparing tea. After their cat jumped on the table, and the little mess was cleared up, Beth and I began to talk. Frank’s ability to speak was noticeably diminished since his last (ninety first) birthday in 1999, and one had to focus one’s attention very intently—even more than usual—to catch his words. So I was filling up a few minutes of time, trying to provide him with pleasant “conversation,” talking about my research in Indonesia earlier that year. After a short while, I saw a certain impatience in Frank’s eyes that I’d come to recognize behind the beatific smile. He gently waved his hand in the air—kind of like smoke circling round as it rises—a signal for us to listen to him. And then he intoned, “Tell me what you learned from me.” I laughed embarrassedly, and asked him how many days he had to listen to my answer. He repeated the request. Then we spent over an hour intently discussing the voice, the process of learning and of singing, with Frank desperately trying to express himself, and indeed managing to engage on a striking level. He was completely alert, eyes gleaming, taking in all we had to say (with hearing aid mostly reliable), and offering questions and answers with the greatest of difficulty. But what an exhilarating experience! The few phrases Frank managed to blurt out were so incisive and heartfelt. With great passion he would try to comment on something one of us said— attempting to get the words out, only having to wave his hand in the air in a gesture of giving up, with a smile of regret on his face. And still, his presence and engagement—being totally in the moment—were overwhelming, just as with his performances many decades before. One subject we talked about was the effect his stroke had on his teaching. He confirmed once again that he still thought of it as a great blessing. (more…)