Grammy-Nominated Artist Shares Testimony through Music
By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
With her most recent work, Wish Upon a Star: A Tribute to the Music of Walt Disney, nominated for the 54th Grammy Awards’ Best Pop Instrumental Album, classical violinist Jenny Oaks Baker is living her dream.
But there’s a lot more that goes into creating a fairy tale like this than just wishing. According to Sister Oaks Baker, it takes faith and focus.
The daughter of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Oaks Baker grew up with music in her home. She began playing at age four and made her solo debut in 1983, at age eight.
“My musical development and my spiritual development really went hand in hand growing up and still do,” she said. (Read a Church News and Events article on music in worship.) She explained that her mother, the late June Dixon Oaks, often quoted a scripture to her before she would walk on stage to perform:
“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).
“As I’ve prayed before I’ve performed … [I’ve] felt the Lord right by my side, saving me from mistakes, and just guiding me along in each performance,” she said. “I’ve been able to feel how much the Lord loves me and feel how engaged He is in every single action that we’re doing that’s important to us.”
As a student at The Julliard School, Sister Oaks Baker was struggling to find her path. She knew she’d been given a musical gift and that Heavenly Father wanted her to share it, but she didn’t know how that was going to happen.
“I would enter big international violin competitions and not win them, and I would try to get a manager and not get one,” she said.
She spoke to Michael Ballam, general director of the Utah Festival Opera and a professor of music at Utah State University, about finding her place.
“He said, ‘Jenny, the Lord has a different path for you; … just keep doing what’s right and try to prepare yourself to be the best you can be in your field, and He’ll open up doors,’” she recalled. “And I’ve seen that in my life. The Lord may not open the door that I’m trying to open for me, but he’ll open a different one.”
Since 1998 Sister Oaks Baker has released several best-selling albums, including the 2010 album Then Sings My Soul, which hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Classical Albums chart.
In addition to exercising her faith to achieve her goals, she also attributes her success to focusing on carefully crafting her talent.
“I strive to try to keep the commandments so I can have the Spirit with me, because if I have the Spirit with me, then it’s easier for the Spirit to be in the music I play,” she explained. “I try to choose music that does touch people’s hearts and souls, and I’m very careful with the music I play and perform and record.”
Although she no longer performs as she did when she played for the National Symphony Orchestra for seven years, she still spends several hours a day practicing, often alongside her four children, each of whom is learning an instrument.
“Being … a recording artist has [made it possible for] my music to be heard by people throughout the world, members of [the] Church and also nonmembers,” she said. “I’m then home with my family while my music is performing for people throughout the world.”
Wish Upon a Star is Sister Oaks Baker’s 10th album, but the first to be nominated for a Grammy. The album is a compilation of Disney classics such as “God Help the Outcasts” and “Beauty and the Beast,” arranged by Emmy-winning composer Kurt Bestor. Winners of the Grammy Awards will be announced on February 12, 2012.