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Michael Conway Baker

Biography

Born: 1937; West Palm Beach , FL  
Baker is one of the foremost composers in Canada, writing in a predominantly tonal idiom with abundant melodies, rich harmonies, inventively treated traditional forms, and expert orchestration. The son of vaudeville and radio comedian Phil Baker, Michael Conway Baker was born March 13, 1937 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He had a nomadic childhood and attended 13 schools in 12 years in the United States and Canada. With the help of a record Read more collection and later a piano, he taught himself the basics of musical theory.

After high school graduation and a series of odd jobs, he decided in 1958 to move to Vancouver, British Columbia, which was his mother's native city. There he began formal piano studies. Within a year, he passed the external examinations of the London College of Music. Baker went on to study composition at the University of British Columbia with Jean Coulthard and Elliot Weisgarber, and in 1966 he received a bachelor of music degree.

Compositionally, Baker found himself completely outside the academic and insitutionalized avant-garde music of the day. While other composers in the 1960s used chance or mathematical formulas to write music, Baker's music remained rooted in melody, harmony and form.

One useful overview of Baker's style was expressed by the composer himself, in his comments about his own Symphony No. 1 of 1977: "As to the 'style' of the Symphony, I can only say it is my own. I follow no 'ism' and write what convinces me. No doubt there will be those who find this Symphony -- along with my other compositions -- hopelessly traditional. There are clearly delineated themes and, although I don't use key signatures any more, the music is tonal, even when the tonal centres shift, as they often do. I rarely use 'effects' but when I do it is because I feel a specific musical need."

Except for a year of study with Lennox Berkeley in England, Baker has continued to reside in the Vancouver area. He became a citizen of Canada in 1970, and he earned a Master of Arts degree from Western Washington State College in 1972. Even though the main centers of musical activity in Canada are in Montreal and Toronto, Baker finds the natural environment around Vancouver more important to his inspiration.

Although Baker has written for several different media, central to his output are his works for the concert hall. These include the Concerto for Flute and Strings of 1974, the Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra of 1976; the Symphony No. 1 of 1977, and his full-length ballet Washington Square of 1978, which was written for the National Ballet of Canada and based on the novel by Henry James. He has also written chamber music, piano pieces and vocal works. Much of Baker's most acclaimed music has been for films, such as The Grey Fox, One Magic Christmas, and John and the Missus. His Fanfare to Expo 86 opened the proceedings of that Vancouver world's fair, and he produced scores for films shown in various individual pavilions there.

In 1992 Baker won a Juno award for Best Classical Composition for his Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, which was performed by Robert Silverman on a CD released by CBC Records on its SM-5000 label in August 1991. Baker has taught courses in film music at the University of British Columbia and has been honored as one of its 75 outstanding graduates of the past 75 years. He has written music for CBC television programs and has coordinated school music workshops as composer-in-residence for the Vancouver school board. Read less


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