The Voice behind the Music

Posts tagged “Frank Baker

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…)

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