When I think of Frank Baker, I think: guru.
Frank was not just a vocal guru, but he was a human being of the grandest stature. I knew every day I spent with Frank how lucky I was to experience someone of light and love who gave of his entire being in the minutes you spent with him. I saw the pure visceral joy in his body if you were flying in song. He was soaring with you. I saw him mad as hell if your wings were wet, and you didn’t have the courage to try.
I heard about him from a few singers that had studied with him at Bennington College. There was something in their voices I recognized. I was in my early 20’s and realized I really, REALLY had to learn how to sing, not just fool around with singing. I wanted it so badly, I could taste my impatience like a bitter metal.
I borrowed a friend’s ancient VW bug, scraped together $15 for the lesson, and made the 1 1/2 hour drive to Bennington. Frank taught short 15-minute lessons to 70 students a week. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke. He could barely speak some days. Most days he spoke in a raspy whisper with the intensity of a roar, packed with so much intent he would transfix you. I sat before him - not exactly trembling, but emptied of self like a newborn, trying desperately to grasp what he was imparting to me. Often I arrived and realized I didn’t have any notion of a song to sing. Sometimes I’d make a glorious stride in sound, and Frank would point and say, “That’s it”; only to have it slide away on the long drive home, lost again.
Through my time with Frank, I realized the incredible potential of the voice. The voice, your true inner voice, is a life long journey. What you can do with the voice has endless possibilities - and with that, never-ending growth. I find this extremely exciting, and in the past I have often been demoralized by my inabilities to express myself as I hear it in my soul. But I have found that I always recover and try again.
I certainly have never grown tired of sharing what I know about the voice with my students and friends, and anyone who will listen. For me it is as much about a clear window to self-realization as it is about the act of actually singing or performing a song.
I can only imagine what it was like for Frank, having lost his speech and his ability to sing. He had to sit and wait patiently for one of us to slowly grasp the process and fan out our wings so that he could fly along with us. I will be forever grateful for the spark he ignited in me - and for teaching me to trust my wings and fly.