MEETING A MUSICAL GENIUS - Michael Conway Baker

- By John Iverson

I first became acquainted with the music of Canadian composer Michael Conway Baker back in 1989, after reading a fascinating article about him in a magazine.  The article so piqued my interest that I went on a quest to the public library to locate and sample his music.  To my delight I was able to borrow a couple of albums, and I immediately bonded with his music, and became a dedicated fan.  The music was beautiful, melodious, evocative and pictorial - things rarely heard in the music of living classical composers.

Therefore it seemed logical when I began broadcasting my radio program over the airwaves of CKUW, that Michael Conway Baker's music be an integral part of the programming puzzle.  Listeners needed to be enlightened about this incredible composer, and I was determined to do what I could to facilitate the process.  So now my program was approaching its fifth anniversary, and I decided that in celebration of this milestone I would inaugurate a new program theme, one that was more homegrown.  The first thought that came to my mind was utilizing the music of Michael Conway Baker.  Around that time I had coincidentally heard Michael's 'Cinderella: Frozen in Time' album, and immediately fell in love with it.  So I boldly decided to ask Michael if he would consider creating a theme for my program.  To my delight he willingly accepted, and upon consulting with his wife and manager Penny, suggested that the 'Buttons' theme from his Cinderella score would make a great theme for my show.  I wholeheartedly agreed, and after Michael did the production work, the new theme was unveiled at my fifth anniversary celebration in May of 2005.  Needless to say this collaboration was terrific for my program, but it also spawned a friendship with this remarkable composer and his wife!

And during our trip to Vancouver in the summer of 2006, my wife and I had the pleasure of finally meeting this outstanding composer and his wife.  Michael and Penny had invited us to come for a visit, and we were thrilled to be finally making the journey!  Arrangements had been made for Michael to pick us up downtown, and it was there that we met to embark on what was to be a truly memorable day!  Michael toured us around parts of Vancouver, and it was easy to comprehend how the scenic vistas of this beautiful locale have inspired him musically!  I had mentioned to Michael before our trip that we wanted to see the "Heron Monument" that he had been commissioned to score a dedication piece for, and so we visited this striking sculpture in West Vancouver.  Hermann, the man who had commissioned the piece, insisted that Michael escort us to his beautiful West Vancouver home upon hearing of our visit.  So we made the jaunt to Hermann's home, complete with its amazing vistas, to share warm conversation and a glass of sherry.  Hermann is a very emotional man, and it was easy to understand why he chose a heartfelt composer like Michael to create a memorial dedicated to his long-time friend and companion.  We sincerely enjoyed our time with Hermann, albeit far too short, but had to carry on with our plans!

From there we headed for Treetop Lane, the charming Conway Baker home in the mountains of North Vancouver, complete with a quaint babbling brook in the back yard!  Upon arrival Michael gave us the grand tour, and Penny served refreshments.  We now had an opportunity to become better acquainted, and to get a real sense of what the life of a classical composer is like.  Imagine yourself in the eighteenth century visiting the home of a musical genius like Mozart, and you can easily envision just what this felt like!  Michael previewed for us the scores that he is currently working on, and scores that he had recently completed.  He also demonstrated how a synthesizer works, and treated us to some spirited improv!  Michael then screened some videos that he wrote music for, including part of the Cinderella video.  What a visual and emotional treat this truly was for us all!  And just perusing the awards area in their home reveals how distinguished a composer Michael is - among his numerous awards he has won a Juno, several Genies, and has been honoured with the Order of British Columbia.  He has also now been inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame!

After this remarkable experience it was off to dinner at Milestones in West Vancouver for the four of us, where we shared many stories and experiences.  It soon became obvious that we were destined to become the best of friends!  At the conclusion of dinner, Michael and Penny drove us back to our bed and breakfast, the charming 'Shamrock's Nook', and we shared warm hugs and thanked them for everything.  What an amazing experience this had been for both of us, and we are really looking forward to retuning to Vancouver to visit with Michael and Penny once again!

So if you think that all modern classical composers produce music that is dissonant and inaccessible, then you need to explore and experience the music of Michael Conway Baker.  Throughout his career he has defied the establishment that insists that modern classical music should be this way, instead choosing to instill harmony and melody into his compositions.  And in the above noted magazine article Michael stated that "I don't try to cut myself off from the pastů", and indeed to this day he maintains that same conviction.  He is a remarkable man, and he has stayed true to where his heart lies.  His music will touch your heart and soul, and open your eyes to a world of classical music you thought was left behind long ago!  Bravo Michael!


Michael's website:   www.michaelconwaybaker.com


(All photos on this page © John Iverson)

Welcome to beautiful West Vancouver!
Welcome to beautiful West Vancouver!

The majestic Lions' Gate Bridge!
The majestic Lions' Gate Bridge!

Meet Canada's greatest composer...
Meet Canada's greatest composer...

Michael Conway Baker, O.B.C.
Michael Conway Baker, O.B.C.

Michael and John
Michael and John

Michael and the 'Heron Monument'
Michael and the 'Heron Monument'

The heron sails into the clear blue sky...
The heron sails into the clear blue sky...

And here is the dedication...
And here is the dedication...

The amazing view from Hermann's home in West Vancouver!
The amazing view from Hermann's home in West Vancouver!

Michael and Hermann at Hermann's place
Michael and Hermann at Hermann's place

John and Jennifer at Hermann's place
John and Jennifer at Hermann's place

Welcome to Treetop Lane in North Vancouver...
Welcome to Treetop Lane in North Vancouver...

A little improv from Michael!
A little improv from Michael!

The composer has been hard at work on a score!
The composer has been hard at work on a score!

This is part of his studio...
This is part of his studio...

We move now to the living room...
We move now to the living room...

for more musical treats!
for more musical treats!

The composer has earned many accolaids...
The composer has earned many accolaids...

including a Juno and the Order of British Columbia!
including a Juno and the Order of British Columbia!


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Shades of Classics