Steven Baker is a uniquely Canadian renaissance man
2020 DFOM graduate Steven Baker is a talent in more than music!
NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.
Today we celebrate Steven Baker!
When people think of hockey players being multi-talented, they probably don’t expect that talent to be singing.
However, Steven Baker proves them wrong, in spades.
The 2020 DFOM graduate, who grew up in Morden, Manitoba, has played hockey for his entire life.
He began singing at age 12, participating in choir. However, it wasn’t until his performance of Michael Jackson songs at the Brandon Jazz and Rocky Mountain festivals, which earned him scholarships, that Baker was convinced he should pursue music.
When he entered university, he decided to take a break from hockey to focus on his studies.
“I took a year off hockey after high school for year one of university and found that I missed it too much,” he admits.
After working out a way to balance both university and hockey, Baker returned to hockey the following year.
“I played for three teams over the past 4 years, including the Pembina Valley Twisters, Red River Mudbugs, and Morden Redskins,” he says of the impressive juggling act.
His impressive abilities on the ice have also lent him an advantage in music.
“Steven is one of those effortless singers to whom you could listen all day long,” says Mel Braun, who worked with Baker in his final year as he broadened his musical talents to include classical music.
“His vocal skills are well suited to both Jazz and classical music and his hockey player’s ability to see the entire ice surface makes him a musician with an intriguing landscape,” Braun says.
Baker performed in many different jazz ensembles during his time in the faculty, offering up his vocal stylings for ensembles led by Quincy Davis, Jon Gordon, Karl Kohut, Karly Epp, and Fabio Ragnelli.
His strong and clear tenor voice also led him to front Derrick Gardner’s University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra for two years, and he is proud to have also learned piano.
Meanwhile, stepping away from the microphone and into his hockey gear, Baker a forward, played a part in leading the Red River Mudbugs to victory in the 2018 Hanover Tache Junior Hockey League Championships. In Game 1 of the series, alone, Baker scored twice. In Game 2, he served up another goal.
“The joy I’ve had playing the game I love and making memories with friends has been amazing, including two league championships with Red River,” says Baker.
“I might be hanging the skates up pretty soon, but I won’t forget the fun times I had playing in junior and senior,” he says.
This past year, through some careful rearranging of his schedule, Baker also performed with DFOM associate professor Elroy Friesen’s University Singers, and counts their NORD concert program as one of his favourites learned and performed in the faculty.
“I’m glad that Steven was able to work out his Jazz Studies schedule to join University Singers for the last year of his music degree,’ says Friesen of working with Baker.
“He was always SO keen for our rehearsals. He has a passion for singing and for people – his future students will be lucky to have him,” says Friesen.
Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, the Desautels Faculty of Music had to cancel all of its remaining events for the 2019-2020 season. In addition to final ensemble performances, about 40 student credit recitals were cancelled, including those of graduating students, whose final credit recitals serve as a sort of capstone project showcasing what they have learned throughout their studies. Unfortunately, Baker’s credit recital was among the cancelled.
For his credit recital, Baker had curated an impressive program of eight works. Because he is clearly an overachiever, he arranged four of the works himself (“Look For The Silver Lining/Like Someone in Love,” by Jerome Kern and Johnny Burke; “How Great Thou Art” a Swedish Folk Melody, based on a poem by Carl Boberg; “I’ll Be Seeing You,” by Sammy Fain, and “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin.
For his recital, he had also composed original lyrics to accompany his performance of Gerry Mulligan’s “Festive Minor,” and planned to perform one of his own original compositions, “Unfinished Business.”
Baker is a true renaissance man
As if his talents for music and hockey weren’t enough, Baker is also a committed outdoorsman, having also found ways to work forestry and fishing into his time in the faculty. We’re not entirely sure how he has the time!
“My summer employment through my whole degree has been with the city of Morden in the parks and urban forestry department,” he says.
“My boss and crew have been awesome and getting the chance to work with people I already considered best friends doesn’t happen often. I can operate a bunch of different heavy equipment like tractors and woodchippers, including being proficient with the skid steer,” he says of the unique bragging rights.
“I really enjoy planting trees and flowers to make the community look so nice,” he says of his work in his home community.
As far as fishing goes, it was a great source of fun and relaxation for him when he wasn’t studying.
“I love fishing. I really caught the bug for fishing during my degree and tried to go out as often as I could,” he says.
Baker, who has now earned his Bachelor of Jazz Studies in vocal performance, intends to continue his multi-faceted life in his career. In the fall, he will begin his post-bachelor studies in Music Education in the Faculty of Music, and is looking forward to being able to weave his different interests into his teaching work.
“I would absolutely love to be a guide or something like that one day. Being a teacher, I know that parts of summer will be open, so it’s a match made perfectly!” he says.
His love for both the outdoors and his rural hometown is leading him towards a goal of being a music educator in a rural area.
Baker’s mentors in the faculty include both faculty members and students in the faculty.
“Connor Derraugh [who graduated from the DFOM in 2019] was someone who helped me get through my first year with his friendship and positive attitude,” says Baker of his gratitude for the relationship.
“I would like to thank all the faculty and staff that work in the Desautels faculty,” he adds.
He has a few that he would like to single out.
“Specifically Jon Gordon, Will Bonness, Derrick Gardner, Karly Epp, Karl Kohut, Fabio Ragnelli, and Larry Roy. I have had individual learning and moments with all these people and the program looks very exciting for the future,” he says.
“Karly Epp has been great to have lessons with for the past two years. She brings a calm and organized presence that gives me confidence” he says of his major practical study instructor.
“Jon Gordon has been huge for me with his words of wisdom and friendship,” says Baker.
“I found lessons with him extremely valuable,” he says.
Gordon, a DFOM associate professor of jazz, loved his time working with Baker.
“Steven Baker is an exceptional young man, whose effort and growth during the years I worked with him at our school was excellent!” exclaims Gordon.
“He’s a gifted vocalist, with a distinct sound and approach. He’s also an extremely kind and decent person, which comes through clearly in all he does. His work in class, ensembles and lessons with me was terrific! And watching him grow into the kind of musician he is now over recent years was a really a joy. The sky is the limit for him!” says Gordon.
Baker, in turn, has made an equally strong impression on the jazz faculty.
“Steven is a committed student and always looking to improve in all areas of his musicianship,” says Bonness, an associate professor of Jazz piano in the DFOM.
“He’s a kind and generous person, and I wish him all the best in his career moving forward!” he adds.
“It was an absolute pleasure working with Steven Baker during his time at UofM,” echoes Fabio Ragnelli, assistant professor of jazz drum set in the DFOM.
“Steven’s determination to better himself as a musician inspires all of those around him. Working with Steven in ensemble was a great experience for me and I look forward to hearing him in the coming years!” says Ragnelli.
“I had the pleasure of coaching Steven in a small jazz ensemble in my first year of teaching at the U of M,” says Karl Kohut, assistant professor of jazz bass in the DFOM.
“This was quite an advanced ensemble, and we covered lot of contemporary material with sophisticated harmonic movement and odd time signatures. I am pleased to say that Steven was enthusiastic in meeting the challenge of this repertoire, asked a lot of intelligent questions and received feedback well, and ultimately did a great job of fronting this ensemble. Working with this group was one of the highlights of my year, and Steven set a high standard with his musicianship,” says Kohut of his experience working with Baker.
“I really enjoyed my final year learning from Catherine Robbins, Jody Stark, Elroy Friesen, Bill Kristjanson and Mel Braun,” adds Baker.
“Stephen has been a delight to have in class and in the Faculty,” says Stark, a DFOM associate professor of music who teaches music education course.
“He has proven himself to be bright, dedicated, and an outstanding citizen in the DFOM community. Because of his work ethic, people skills, and ability to reflect deeply, Stephen will be an amazing music educator in the future. I am excited to see where Stephen’s path will take him!” Stark adds.
Baker was also thrilled to have a faculty mentor who encouraged him in music daily, and also shared his love of hockey.
“Thank you to the custodians, and especially Mike, who I was able to chat about the Jets with!” he says.
Advice to incoming students
“Don’t take this opportunity for granted,” says Baker.
“Go all in – there is so much knowledge to gain and areas to explore. Be proud of the challenge. Treat others in the faculty with kindness and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself!” he says.
“I have had a chance to thank a lot of people which is great, but I will briefly go over it here,” says Baker.
“First and foremost, my parents. They have been so supportive and helpful through my whole life, let alone degree,” he says of the people who have raised such a uniquely talented man.
“My girlfriend and her family have also been very supportive. I would like to thank my friends through the years, including friends I’ve made here and through UofM,” says Baker.
“Finally, thank you to all my peers at UofM whether it be ensembles, English classes, intermural hockey, choir, gym, masterclasses, or just simply hanging out in the library or hallway. Special shout out to the improv class I was a part of where we bonded over the difficulty of the music and our musical growth. You guys made it enjoyable to come to school each day.”
Steven has one final thing to get off his chest before he leaves the faculty.
“Now that I am out of the faculty, I can talk about all the different types of music I like. I try to appreciate it all. Along with a deep respect for jazz and classical music I love listening to classic pop and rock. Some of my favourites are Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Hall and Oates, Foreigner, April Wine, Pearl Jam, and Boston. I have a guilty pleasure for listening to rock ballads, 90s rap, and country,” he says.
“There I said it… yes country. Only the good country though!” he adds.
Steven Baker’s generous spirit, immense talents, team-oriented thinking, and diverse interests are sure to make him an amazing teacher wherever he goes. He is an incredibly positive influence on everyone around him, and we are so grateful that he chose to make his home in the Desautels Faculty of Music. His signature will be one so many things throughout his life, whether in music, hockey, fishing, forestry!