She believes marriage and the feelings it engendered and freed helped free her artistically at Juilliard, along with some motherly advice. Until then, she was learning to play the instrument and bending her will to the many, sometimes conflicting, demands of her many mentors. For 20 years, her teachers had been telling her what she was doing wrong, as they are wont to do, leaving her sometimes stilted and confused and more focused on technical aspects of playing the instrument rather than letting her feelings and the music move her. Shortly before performing a small show in New York, she remembered once complaining about all of this to her mother and what her mother had said in response — “Tell them all to jump in a lake."
“That popped into my head right before I started to play,” she says. “From that moment on, I became an artist. I played it my way. If this had happened 10 years earlier, it would have been detrimental, because you need to listen to your teacher, but by then I knew how to play the violin. I just had to have confidence in my own voice.”
She revels in performance and art. It is what sustains her musically. Baker’s dirty dark secret, as she calls it, is that she still loathes practice as much as she did as a teen and practices only when a concert is looming. “I like to feel panic and stress because it motivates me, so I practice at the last minute when I have to get it done,” she says. “I’m an adrenaline junkie. I put it off and put it off. When I start having dreams that I don’t know how to play or what to play for the show or what to wear, I know it’s time to practice. They are my panic dreams. I’ve just never enjoyed practicing. It’s hard work. I don’t dink around. It’s super focused. I work hard to perfect those songs and then I have to memorize them.”
She can go days without picking up a violin, and she never plays the instrument simply for the pleasure of making music. But give her a stage and accompaniment and lighting and a gown and she is transformed. She actually began looking for performances in high school simply as a way to motivate herself to practice.
The reason she can go days without practice is because, as she puts it, “I worked my tail off.” She put in so many long hours in her formative years, including all those lonely nights at Curtis, that she doesn’t require regular practice. Perhaps it’s the 10,000-hour rule.
“I don’t need to practice daily,” she says. “It’s there. It doesn’t go away. Maybe that’s a gift God has given me. I have four kids I have to take care of.”
As she talks, Baker makes frequent references to God and faith. It was part of her decision to leave the National Symphony Orchestra; it guides her choice of music, although she did recently record and release an album of rock music (she had never heard of Led Zeppelin when she decided to record “Stairway to Heaven”); it’s part of the reason she puts family ahead of career.
“God has given me a gift to play sacred music,” she says. “I can feel God’s love as I play, and I know it gets portrayed through my music. That’s why I’m a successful performer. I feel like the Lord is my manager and sends me the concerts he wants me to have. My biggest performances happen to be religious. When I soloed with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, I was playing ‘Ave Maria.’ When I soloed with the Pittsburgh Symphony, it was ‘O, Come, Emmanuel.’ I feel like the Lord uses me for sacred music, and I am grateful.”
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