Bach to Basics
by ELIZABETH A. BAKER
Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Beethoven… titans of music history, and all in their “late periods” find themselves returning to the music of the past – Bach, Gesualdo, Monteverdi…
When I come home after being away for a long time, there’s a certain “newness” about home. Things that changed while I was away; things that I had forgotten and “rediscover” with new eyes. There is of course the familiarness of home — the softness of one’s own bed, the space to prepare a proper cup of tea, to curl up in the warmth and read a good book — the feel of well worn keys on my old Lester Betsy Ross model spinet piano that I’ve had since childhood that stays in tune with itself but not much else, the walk up the stairs to the concert hall in The Palladium and practicing on a beautiful concert grand under work lights, the delicious smell of coffee as I walk into Bandit. Home is a series of quiet and reflective moments for me — perhaps this is why my career as a performer who travels extensively has been so possible and rewarding for me; I carry most of my home with me, which makes the time I am in the physical place I have called home for my entire life dearly precious. I’m grateful for the small things that we so often over look.
It is interesting that many of history’s most “unconventional” or “forward-thinking” composers return to the relics of the past in their later years. While I can’t speak for exactly what was in their hearts and minds, I can certainly relate to the coming home aspect of a return to historical works. Even though my career has been built on performing and writing new music works, when I find that the world has become too much or I need a safe place, I get lost listening to the works of Carlo Gesualdo, practicing old repertoire, and reading through Bach piano works. Every time I make these periodic returns to my “musical home” I notice new things I had previously glossed over in my youth… There is a deeper reverence for detail and a heightened sense of artistic expression with mature eyes, hands, and heart.
The past few months have been a bit of a homecoming for me, and the last two weeks have certainly felt like a return to my roots. In the span of two weeks, I spent four days on the road in Orlando performing and doing press for Art in Odd Places, I came home for three days to rehearse, did a six-hour piano recording session, flew to NYC the next day and walked straight off of the plane and into rehearsal for a premiere of a new ensemble work by two NYC composer-performers, an ensemble concert in Brooklyn the next day, duo rehearsal in Manhattan on Sunday, flight back to Florida on Monday, press releases, remote duo rehearsal, and working on the B-side of my solo album.
While this schedule might make some people nutty… this is the calmest and most content I have felt in a long time. This is me. This is my job. This is what I do. This is who I am. This is the freedom I need.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a place where years of hard work and dedication are being rewarded with opportunities to make a living as an artist, and to do that in a manner that provides me with a great deal of artistic freedom. I’ve been reflecting on the vast number of people that told me that I wouldn’t “make it” in this industry and told me I had to take the conventional route to become anything worthy. I look back on the time that I spent in working relationships that bound me to a specific place or made me feel artistically unfulfilled, now I stand in a stronger truth because of all these difficult lessons.
Artistic communities are often wrought with fiercer politics than those in our presently fractured country, and even if one tries not to engage in the local frenzy of trying to be the biggest fish in the small pond — somehow one still gets bogged down in the quagmire of people who are more concerned about reputations than the human condition. There is so much manipulation that goes on behind the scenes in the artistic world; people will ingratiate themselves to you for self-serving purposes, and when you no longer fit their needs or worse choose to extricate yourself, they turn becoming vicious and spiteful. Many people live in a place of fear because they are consumed with their reputations, with where they fall in the public eye, with being perceived stars of the local community, with a perpetual preoccupation about what others thing about them. The problem is that when life is lived in fear, when decisions about one’s career are made in fear, one is ultimately operating from a place of weakness. My dearest musical big sister Jade, has always told me that I have the vision, just go follow it. This is the process of operating from a place of strength, vision does not falter based on the opinions of others, vision begets drive begets focus… and focus becomes the blinders that keep one from looking to the side, getting caught up in drama and political minutiae. I’ve been lucky enough to have had these blinders on for awhile; and it puts one in a place where one can truly be happy for the successes of others.
I was faced with many decisions over the last several months, ones that I knew would anger some people because I was ultimately going to do something that I hardly ever do… choose me. I generally hate to focus on my needs and put myself first but through a lot of thought, prayer, meditation, and reflection… I realized that choosing me, choosing my career, choosing my health, choosing to honor my personal values, choosing my sanity… puts me in a better place to serve others, to enrich my community — and that enriching my community is not an activity that confines me to the borders of Pinellas County, that through traveling the world, performance and cultural exchange, I increase the visibility of my hometown, my home county, my home state. By holding myself accountable to a higher level of artistic excellence and communicating with others on my travels; I inspire people to visit Saint Petersburg, to learn more about Florida, to create opportunities for generations behind me.
Choosing myself makes me a better friend and more supportive duo partner to Erich. Choosing myself makes me a softer more caring and continuous daughter to my parents. Choosing myself means I have the energy for small acts of kindness such as opening the door for a stranger with a smile, helping someone reach for something with a cheery bounce in my step, paying for something small for someone I don’t know; and all of these actions fill me with so much joy because they bring lightness and happiness to others without tangible benefit to me. Choosing me, means when I step into rehearsal with others or on the stage as a soloist, I feel a complete contented calm because I am as prepared as I can be to do the job that fulfills my genuine purpose in life. Choosing me, is a sense of peace, a level of contentment that I have never experienced before now; suddenly the peaceful tranquility that people have been telling me for years was a signature part of many of my works, has become a cornerstone of my life. Choosing me, means that I have the space in my heart to be a better communicator and a better listener to the people I love.
A lot of wonderful things are on the horizon, I have a new solo album coming out in March 2018 on an amazing label that I feel honored to have signed with, touring with the Baker-Barganier Duo, a Canadian tour with Whim Ensemble, collaborating with Verdant Vibes in Rhode Island at the Music Mansion, commissions and premieres of new works by artists other than myself, and a lot more traveling for performances. Yet, while some of this is new territory, it is a return to my roots and it feels amazing.
Now this lady has got to go Bach to work!