Jenny Oaks Baker, noted violinist, got word last week that she had been nominated for a Grammy Award for her album “Wish Upon a Star: A Tribute to the Music of Walt Disney,” in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category.
A Julliard graduate, she has been the first violinist in the National Symphony Orchestra and has released 10 best-selling albums with “Then Sings My Soul” hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Charts.
Though she is gifted, accomplished and acclaimed, Jenny credits the Lord for her gift. “I began playing the violin when I was four-years old and started performing soon after. Before every performance I would kneel down and fervently pray with my parents, that I would be blessed to play my best and feel good about my performance. It gave me such strength to know that I could rely on the Lord to get me through each scary performance experience. Time and time again, I would pray and then a few minutes later, I would see my prayers answered as I performed. I came to trust in the Lord and have a knowledge that He cares for me and listens to my pleas for help.
“In those agonizing pre-performance hours, my mother would quote scripture to me. ‘If ye are prepared, ye need not fear, ‘ (D&C 38:30) and ‘But behold I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul’ (2 Nephi 32:9). My favorite was ‘Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee’ (Deuteronomy 31:6).
A Crisis when Recording
“I recently had an experience that reminded me how much the Lord does love us, and how ready He is to help us in our hour of need if we just pray for divine assistance. As I was driving to the studio to record my movie album, I started to have a really bad migraine headache. I was extremely concerned because I had a very strenuous day of recording ahead of me, and knew that I could not perform at my best while suffering through the extreme pain and nausea that I usually experience during a migraine. I immediately started praying for help from Heavenly Father.
“When I got to the studio, I felt too sick to get out my violin and practice the pieces I was about to record, so I lay down on the floor and prayed for relief. The migraine continued. When the recording session began, I somewhat emotionally explained my situation to the other musicians and asked that we have a moment of silence to begin the session, where they, if they chose, could say their own personal prayer for me.
“I was touched to feel the Spirit enter the room, as so many from so many faiths bowed their heads and prayed for me to be healed. We began rehearsing the first song. The migraine continued. I continued fervently praying.
“Just before we began rehearsing the first song, as I was praying one last time for help, I felt a warm feeling rush over my head, through my body and down through my fingertips. I physically felt power and strength flow through me and I knew I was being healed.
“The pain and the nausea immediately began to lessen and by the end of recording the first piece, I felt completely well. I know that the Lord hears our prayers. My last recording stands as a witness of this.”
Stadium of Fire Incident
Jenny had another recent incident where she learned how dependent she was on the Lord. She had been asked to perform in the BYU stadium for the Stadium of Fire celebration, and for reasons beyond her control she had not received the music until four days before the show and had to learn and memorize her part in a very short time. She spent the days before the show practicing and praying that she would play her best in front of a 49,000 audience.
All went well with her performance and she thought all of her greatest needs had been met by the Lord. Little did she realize how much she would need a greater blessing in just a few moments.
She said, “During the final moments of the fireworks display as I was sitting in the audience, holding my sleeping three-year-old son Matthew, one of the fireworks went awry and came shooting straight towards us. The Lord blessed me to quickly turn, and the firework hit me between my shoulder-blades, lighting the back of my gown on fire. Another audience member saw this and rushed over to put the fire out. My gown, some of my hair and the back of my arm were burned, but other than that, Matthew and I remained unharmed. I came away from the experience grateful for the Lord’s tender mercies, and more aware that the Lord continues to bless and watch out for us, even when we think we are through our toughest challenges.”
The Power of Priesthood Blessings
Jenny said, “My first experiences with priesthood blessings also came as I sought to arm myself with strength to perform. My father would give me priesthood blessings and I would cling to these promises and blessings as I walked onto the stage for various important concerts and auditions. Through each of these experiences I was learning to rely on the Lord, trust in Him and have faith that He would bless me. And He did time and time again.
“…Until one particular performance when I was in high school. I had received a priesthood blessing in which I was promised that I would play my best. During the first round of competition, however, I had a bad memory slip and didn’t play very well. I was devastated and went home crying, saying that Heavenly Father hadn’t answered my prayers and the blessing had not been fulfilled. When I got home I received a call telling me that I had still made the finals of the competition. My mother told me to march straight into the other room and repent for my lack of faith. I did, and later that night, I was able to practice away my earlier mistakes. The next day I performed again, did my best and won an opportunity to solo with the Utah Symphony. But more importantly, I had learned to trust in the Lord. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy
Jenny said that she has always strived to keep the Sabbath day holy, by not practicing on Sundays, though she practiced long and hard all of the other days of the week. When she got to the elite Curtis Institute of Music, however, she said, “I could see that everyone else would spend much of Sunday practicing, and I was worried that I would not be able to compete with my colleagues if I missed out on this day of practicing.
I spoke to my father about it, and he told me that if I practiced six days a week 100%, it would equal more than seven days of 75% practicing. I followed his counsel, and through my years at Curtis, I saw how I was blessed to be able to practice harder and more hours in six days than my peers did in seven days because I did have that day of rest. I know I was richly blessed musically, physically, emotionally and spiritually because I strived to live this commandment.”
Be Still My Soul
Jenny said, “After obtaining my master’s degree from Julliard, I landed a job as a first violinist in the National Symphony Orchestra. I performed with the symphony for seven years and through the births of three of our children. I loved this job, especially as the rehearsals and concerns combined took me away from my family for less than 20 hours per week—and half of these hours were during the evening while my husband was home with our children. I felt that I was able to juggle my responsibilities as wife, mother and orchestral musician pretty well. I had no plans to leave my cushy job of part-time work and full-time pay, benefits and prestige. I was happy and fulfilled—only a bit guilt-ridden. I was happy to ride this musical wave for as long as I felt at peace about the situation. Soon, however, the music of my life began to become quite strained.
“My oldest child, Laura, began to play the violin when she was three-years old. When she was four-years old, she declared, ‘Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a doctor, a school teacher and a karate player.’ I asked her why she didn’t want to be a violinist instead, and she replied, ‘Because I don’t want to have to leave my children.’ That stung.
“There were also a couple of times when my regular babysitters were unavailable to watch my children during the orchestra concerts and my husband was out of town on business. On these occasions, I was forced to leave my children with people whom I didn’t know very well and didn’t feel completely comfortable about. I spent these concerts completely miserable, thinking that no amount of money was worth the guilt and worry I was going through. When I got home, my children were fine—but I was not.
“There were also countless times that I had to leave three little girls crying on the doorstep for ‘Mommy.’ ‘Mommy’ was on her way to a concert, crying just as hard at the memory of those children who needed her much more than any audience at the Kennedy Center ever could.
“I spent many a miserable evening performing in the greatest concert halls, with the greatest conductors and the greatest artists, because I was missing the greatest story times and the greatest good night kisses.
“But even with all of these heart-wrenching experiences, I was petrified at the thought of leaving my position with the National Symphony. Winning a job with a top symphony orchestra is for musicians much like being drafted into the NBA is for basketball players—though the pay is not quite the same, it’s a highly sought-after position. I knew that if I left the symphony, I had to be done with that chapter of my life forever. It was not something that I could plan on leaving and then getting back into after my children were raised.
“I spent many a concert reflecting on whether I was really ready to give up my position. I spent many hours thinking about the kind of mother I wanted to be and the kind of children I wanted to raise. I also knew that Heavenly Father had given me a musical gift and that He wanted me to be able to share it. I prayed and prayed for Heavenly Father to bless me to know whether I was supposed to leave the symphony to be home with our children full time.”
When Jenny became pregnant with her fourth child, however, the whisperings of the Spirit confirmed that it was time for her to leave her position. This woman, just nominated this week for a Grammy, was worried that she was giving up her musical life forever, but she said, “my desire to be a fulltime mother far out-weighed any other fears and desires.”
Jenny’s fourth child was born in November of 2006 and the next month she resigned her position with the National Symphony Orchestra. She said, “I felt such peace about my decision, but it was still heart wrenching to play my last concert. As I left the backstage area of the Kennedy Center for the last time, I completely lost control of my emotions and ran to my car in tears. As I sat in my car sobbing loudly, a stranger from the audience knocked on my window. She introduced herself as Hannah Smith and said that she was LDS and had enjoyed the concert. I apologized for being such an emotional wreck and explained my situation.
“She told me that she too had left her prominent law career to become a fulltime mother. (I later learned that she is also the sister of Jane Clayson Johnson, who is a supreme example of choosing motherhood over the “dream job” of Anchor on CBS’s Early Show.)
“I am sure that the Lord sent Sister Smith to lift up my spirits and provide yet one more witness that I was doing the right thing for my family.”
Jenny said, “Motherhood became my music, and I have never once regretted my decision to become a full-time mother. I love being at home. I love being around to give our children all the guidance and direction that they need.” What’s more, being at home has allowed Jenny to help her children develop their own musical talents, Laura, 9, plans the cello. Hannah, 7, plays the piano. Sarah, 5, plays the cello. Matthew, 4, has just begun playing the violin.”
Oh yes, and Jenny has just been nominated for a Grammy.