The Life and Legacy of Julius Baker
The Julliard Tribute by Jeanne Baxtresser
March 11, 2004
My introduction to Julius Baker happened when I was 12 years old…I heard him on a recording of the Handel Flute Sonatas. What happened after was not unique to me. In fact the same thing happened to hundreds of flute students from all over the world. Put simply, I was transformed. I heard a flute sound that was so gorgeous and a musician so magical, I was overwhelmed. From that moment, all of my energies were dedicated to one goal. I wanted to be able to study flute with the master of that instrument. All of Julie’s students felt that strong gravitational pull to him…long before we even met him.
I have tried, countless times, to analyze what made his playing so compelling. Of course, there was that sound…best described in a Time magazine article as being “rich and full as a beautiful harvest moon.” His technique was astonishing…no matter how fast or how difficult, he made it sound easy, effortless. And when it came to style, he crossed all the borders in all kinds of music. To me, he defined the ideal of a real American musician.
We students were all in love with the way he played…and we tried so hard to be like him. Even to the point where we imitated his posture, and the way he held his flute.
As a teacher, he led by example. He demanded so much of himself that we all began to understand that behind his natural genius on the instrument was tremendous study and discipline. I don’t think he ever played a note that wasn’t the best he could do. His dedication was one of the greatest lessons he taught. When it came to performance, he demanded the best of himself and asked it of us, as well.
When I was his student, the only difficult thing about studying with Julie, was that his performances were always like recordings…nothing ever went wrong. I confess…sometimes when I heard him play, I would secretly hope for some small error…one note that wasn’t so perfect, so I wouldn’t feel so overawed. His standards as a performer seemed superhuman and impossible to match.
Julie adored the talent and potential of his students, and he always showed tremendous pride in their abilities. How often we would all hear him exclaiming about a new student of his that would be the next great player on the world stage…and he was often right. I know it was his confidence and enthusiasm with us that gave us the courage and strength to pursue our lofty dreams. He always made us feel that anything was possible.
Julie also taught me the virtue and necessity of having a strong, healthy competitive nature. He wanted you to show what you could do…to be strong and proud of your abilities, and to want people to be aware of what you had to offer. I remember once when his dear friend, JP Rampal was a soloist with the Philharmonic. This was soon after Julie had joined the orchestra. He said to me, in a lesson, “Rampal is playing the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto with the orchestra next week…the 2nd half of the program is Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale”…It’s loaded with flute cadenzas.” Then he got that determined almost defiant look of his…eyes narrowed, lips pursed and he said “I’m going to play the hell out of it.” Observing this “You’ve gotta show ‘em what you can do” attitude was a critical part of my education.
Outside of the lessons, we saw a man who simply adored his family. He spoke of Ruth and the children—Jonathan, Muffy, and Jenny—all the time with delight, love, and deep admiration. They were truly the core of his life.
We also saw a man who made room in busy days for developing a working knowledge in many totally unrelated fields.…he was a bee keeper, a ham radio operator, a pilot, operated his own recording studio, and was an authority on Russian tractors, and on and on. He was not a dilettante…he studied, read and became an expert in all these fields.
We students remember how much Julie simply loved being with people…talking, laughing and telling those wonderful stories. I know all of you have had the experience of trying to walk anywhere with Julie…he was always stopping to greet friends and acquaintances. I remember walking down Broadway with him after my lessons, to rehearsals at Philharmonic Hall. It seemed to me, he knew everyone in New York City…he reveled in the repartee with the guy that sold the NY Times as much as he enjoyed talking with a famous conductor…to him, there was no difference.
We all know what a great wit he was…we could spend the rest of the evening telling stories about the funny remarks and asides he made. He liked to make you laugh, and he loved it if you made him laugh.
It was here, at the Juilliard School that we all started the fascinating journey of getting to know this man and this great musician. Even though he became a dear friend to all of his students, he would remain our teacher…in our minds he will always be the giant among flutists. Nobody has ever been able to equal that remarkable magic, even though we all try valiantly. For his gift to us as flutists, we will all be eternally grateful…and will pass on his lessons to those that come to us for guidance. Above all, he gave us the example of a life lived to the absolute fullest…it is this inspiration we carry with us always.
Today is not about what we have lost…it’s about what we were given. For so many of us it was the gift of a life in music. His legacy will live forever because a great teacher affects eternity. And for this precious moment…when we have all come together to honor him…he has given us each other. Thank you.