Joanne Baker, 1923-2004: pianist, teacher, adjudicator, MMTA member
The Joanne Baker Piano Scholarship (c/o Linda Robbins, Director of Development, Conservatory of Music, UMKC, 4949 Cherry, KCMO 64110).
The Joanne Baker Prize (Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, 138 West Broadway, Suite 220, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101).
One of the most beloved and sought-after piano teachers in America, Joanne knew from the start that she would become a musician. At age four, she gave her first solo piano recital in a career that would take her to Carnegie Hall and around the world.
One stormy night in 1944, lightning and thunder tore through Phoebus, Virginia, where Joanne was giving a recital. Somewhere in the middle of Chopin’s C# Minor Scherzo, the lights blew out. In total darkness, unable to see her hands or the keyboard, she forged ahead to the piece’s conclusion. She couldn’t see the standing ovation the audience gave her, just as they couldn’t see her bow.
After the war, she continued her education at the University of Michigan, where she earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees, was elected to Pi Kappa Lambda, and graduated number one in her class. Among her teachers were Quincy Porter, Joseph Brinkman, and Carl Friedberg, a student of Clara Schumann and Brahms.
As a young composer, Joanne wrote music for church, band, and choir, then went on to string quartets and solo piano pieces. After her piano sonata won a national competition, Joanne was invited in 1954 to play the piece at Carnegie Hall, where it was broadcast on national radio. But it was her love of teaching that would emerge as the primary focus of her career, and her students became a second family to her.
In 1948, Dr. Wiktor Labunski invited Joanne to join the faculty of what is now the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). She became its longest-serving faculty member, teaching at the school for 49 years and chairing the Keyboard Division for the last 25 of those years. She was designated a Curators’ Professor, the University’s highest honor.
Joanne chaired the prestigious Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition for two decades in Salt Lake City and was the first American artist invited to teach in China after the Cultural Revolution. In these and other capacities, she was an ambassador for the UMKC Conservatory, attracting the finest talent from around the world to build a first-class Keyboard Division.
Her many awards include the Burlington-Northern Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, the Conservatory Trustees’ Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Standard Oil Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and the Award of Merit from Mu Phi Epsilon. She was on the board of directors of the annual World Piano Pedagogy Conference, and a longtime member of Mu Phi Epsilon, the Music Teachers National Association, the Missouri Music Teachers Association, and the Kansas City Musical Club.
Her legacy continues in the form of The Joanne Baker Prize, to be given in perpetuity at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, recognizing that she is “known throughout the United States and the world as one of the most charismatic and exceptional musicians and teachers by her students and colleagues.”
In 2003, The Joanne Baker Piano Scholarship was endowed by the Women’s Committee for the Conservatory of Music, UMKC. Joanne’s presence is audible to all in the musicians she trained and in the music they are making throughout the world.