Writings

Return to the scene of the awakening…

In 2012, I was fresh out of an undergraduate program in classical guitar performance and deeply engrossed in a commercial music production program in Florida. At the time, my mentor Dave Greenberg had asked me to assist with the formation of a student organisation that would allow a group of delegates to attend the Audio Engineering Society Convention in San Francisco. My experience as the assistant to the attorney who developed the curriculum for the Legal Issues for Musicians class, more than prepared me for the host of paperwork and parliamentary procedure necessary to establish a student organisation in enough time to present a professional proposal to the student government for AES trip funding.

At the same time that I was working towards creating a solid foundation for my peers to attend the AES and other audio engineering field trips, I was at a crucial decision making point in my life. After spending several months in the Paralegal Studies program at the community college, working as an assistant to their lead instructor, I realised that though I had a proclivity towards the law (my boss always said my case briefs were better than advanced students in law school) and thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual challenge of finding holes in logic, I still had an unquenchable desire to pursue my talent as an artist.

Due diligence is paramount to any life altering decision; thus, I faithfully sought advice from the professors that I most trusted. I spoke to them at length about their experiences at various institutions and ultimately arrived at the conclusion, that if I was to leave Florida to pursue new artistic freedom and professional opportunities, it would be in California at a liberal arts institution or conservatory. Dave Greenberg, my primary mentor in the world of audio engineering, was a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, CA. Discussions with Dave about the culture and available resources, heavily influenced my consideration to move both the college and San Francisco Bay area to the top of my list. When we went to the AES convention in San Francisco, Dave encouraged me not just to simply attend convention exhibits, but to explore the city and consider the artistic resources that it had for someone who was interested in music composition, performance, and avant-garde practices.

Market Street – San Francisco, CA (2019)

The freedom during this initial exploratory venture emblazoned a special place in my heart for the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember ambling down the streets finding the sweetest little neighbourhood cafe with delicious coffee and avocado toast. Attending a concert at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, seated behind the orchestra — and most poignant was a four hour and thirty-three minute immersive performance of the works of John Cage at the Yerba Buena Arts Center. This  free public presentation, was the first time that I was exposed to an experimental event during the day, with an audience that ranged from youths barely able to talk to octogenarians barely able to walk — all quietly and deeply immersed in the sights and sounds surrounding them.

In that specific moment, I was hooked on the cosmopolitan nature of a city that was as bustling as NYC, but without as much of the baseline taxing energy and overt competition that causes one to be on top of their game ALL THE TIME through fear and simultaneously growing a stress ulcer in the pit of one’s stomach. Both afforded chances for artistic development and growth, but the pace of life was markedly different.

When I returned to Florida and received my acceptance letters, the reality of a cross-country move set in on several fronts — first, the financial investment, even with financial aid the San Francisco Bay Area is beyond expensive and not conducive to those with few means or job prospects whilst involved in a time intensive artistic academic program, going to school in California meant taking out more loans and digging myself deeper into student loan debt; second, uprooting one’s life to the other side of the country meant decreased access to the resources and artistic network that had been cultivated over years of performing and interning. Ultimately, we know that I took the road less travelled, I used the money that I would have spent out of pocket for tuition to finance the travel, performance, gear acquisition, research materials, and recording expenses that were crucial to the growth and evolution of my artistic self.

In January 2019, I returned to San Francisco, not as a young girl in search of success, but as a professional artist ready to prove how much she had blossomed in the last half decade. A simple sentence, rife with the stress of expectations and pressure to bring my best energy to performance, workshopping, and interviews.

On the day of my concert at the Center for New Music, I started the day as a ball of nervous energy. I did about forty minutes of yoga before getting dressed and heading out the door to see some relics that I had not laid eyes upon in the better part of the last decade — the buildings and sculptures around the Yerba Buena Gardens. As I passed over Market Street, everything just clicked and suddenly a sense of home and familiarity washed over me. A drizzly rain stuck to my hat and scarf, as cold wind nipped my nose and stiffened the bones in my fingers. Immense gratitude filled my heart as I stood in front of the iconic waterfall that graced cover of my first set of solo piano works… here I was again, but everything was different.

I made my way back to the warmth of my hotel, and curled up with my score of Nathan Corder’s Sashay, with the sobering knowledge that this would be the first time I had performed the piece in his presence. (Sashay appears as the first track on my debut album on Aerocade Music, and Nathan had sifted through several recorded versions before the live performance.) I studied the notes carefully, making pencil markings to remind myself of things we had discussed over the past three years since Nathan had composed the work for me.

Suddenly it was time to walk to the venue. And all of my trepidation, seemed to have washed away, as I strolled downhill on Taylor.

Center for New Music – San Francisco, CA (2019)

It is one thing to present your own work, it is another thing to act as an emissary for the work of another creative being. Performing a composer’s work in front of them is not about trying to impress them — in a sense you have already impressed them enough to allow you to perform their work — rather presenting the work of a composer is always a representation of who the composer is at their aesthetic core, it is a responsibility that no performer should ever take lightly, and playing a composer’s work in their physical presence is the ultimate test of whether or not your interpretation of the concept that they have turned over for hours in their minds and committed to a page is in line with their overall vision. The most rewarding moment comes when that composer approves of your performance of their work. Although it had been about three years since Nathan penned Sashay for me the first three exposed notes were full of trepidation… suddenly, an old friend appeared in the sonic realm as if to say, “You’ve got this… keep going.” From that point, the rest of the concert was a satisfying blur… mistakes were made, but they were inherently human and largely only known to the woman behind the fourth wall.

Workshopping with Nathan Corder at The Paul Drescher Ensemble Studio – Oakland, CA (2019)

The next few days were a flurry of work, but the pace of everything placed me in a state of meditative contentment that was conducive to putting myself in a place of full artistic exploration — on the rainiest day of my stay, I worked diligently indoors transforming my written sketches into a digital draft for a solo saxophone piece for Toronto-based performer Robert Hess, I spent my last day in a six-hour straight workshop with Nathan at Paul Drescher’s studio experimenting with the electronics for a new solo piece that I will premiere in Brooklyn as part of the mise-en Curator Series in April.

The prospect of returning to Florida, seemed completely foreign, as a familiar feeling of contentment in my work and with my friendships, working relationships, and artistic practice enveloped me — but most of all, I was taken by the same feeling I had only a year ago on a solo drive from Athens, GA to Saint Petersburg, FL as I prepared to switch out gear for a set of solo performances — THIS is what I was put on this Earth to do. I went out into the big bad world and proved that I am meant to be a professional artist. I went back to a place of my directional uncertainty; came out realising my strengths and recognising that there are still more levels of self, friends, colleagues, artistic practice, and the world-at-large to explore. Consumed by the feeling of something beyond happiness — the contentment of a full purpose driven life, the resolute knowledge that this is what I was put on this plane of existence to do; moreover, a still burning urge to help others achieve a similar feeling of contentment on their own purpose paths. I know that this is not the ending of my journey, and I am cognisant that there are many more miles to trod, obstacles to conquer, and wonders to behold.

Saint Petersburg Downtown Marina – Saint Petersburg, FL (2018)

Here I am again, standing on the edge surveying the vast landscape of possibility, ready to soar.

 Let’s fly together!

Yerba Buena Gardens – San Francisco, CA (2019)

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Beginning the New Year on a High Note from 2018!

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay names Elizabeth’s latest solo album Quadrivium, on their list of top albums for 2018!

Elizabeth Baker: Quadrivium CL didn’t get to look around the classical scene much in 2018, but we’re blaming that on Elizabeth Baker, an artist who landed on last year’s best of list before reappearing here thanks to her challenging 13-track 2018 release, Quadrivium, which is is one of those dense, metamorphic works that peels back layers of the psyche with repeated listens. At nearly two hours long, it is not for the Spotify Singles generation, and it’s a mindfuck that left us exhausted in the best way.

https://www.cltampa.com/music/local/article/21038507/tampa-bay-best-local-albums-2018-elizabeth-baker

Ain’t I A Woman Too

As a black woman who composes and performs, Elizabeth A. Baker opens up about fighting for a place in an industry that too often equates successful “diversity initiatives” with the inclusion of cisgender white women. This leaves women of color, as well as non-binary and queer women, feeling erased.

Source: Ain’t I A Woman Too

New Beginnings & Rejuvenation

It seems strange that I am writing about rejuvenation and renewed energy, after being on the road for the past couple of weeks as I sit still far away from home in Austin, TX preparing to perform this weekend.

The last twelve months of my life have been about growth. I have learned a great deal about relationships in the industry, and learned to prioritise the relationship that I have with myself. As working artists we often put the needs of projects and collaborators ahead of our own… many of us are afraid to speak up about things that aren’t working… even more of us are afraid to walk away when artistic working environments are toxic. All of these stressors that we have allowed to fester, become like bile eating away at our insides… they result in physical sickness while simultaneously contributing to problems with our mental health.

Growth doesn’t mean that everyone gets to come along on the journey with you… and it isn’t because you don’t want to see others succeed alongside of you, but it is because some connections in this life are unhealthy and will actually hinder your purpose driven path forward. If there is one thing that I have definitively learned from the trials and tribulations of the last twelve months, it is that boundaries are healthy and you don’t have to say “yes” to everything to be successful in this business.

For several years, I ran an arts nonprofit corporation. I poured blood sweat and tears into the company, in an effort to offer things to my local community and the international music community-at-large. In March 2018, I reached a breaking point… I had a serious discussion with me business partner and who helped me realise that I was blocking so much of my ability to live as a whole person, to excel as a complete artist, and to have a peaceful soul because of the organisation. Most importantly, he helped me by creating a safe space to let go of everything. So much of the remaining stress in my life once I distanced myself from toxic people was tied to the stress of running events and a business practically on my own; meanwhile feeling ostracised from my local community. There was additionally, a great deal of financial stress, over half of my personal income and assets were invested in the business so that I could create a platform for others; however, in so doing, I created a situation that not only reduced my quality of life but also my capacity to invest in myself and my own career.

In closing so many doors, I have found a great deal of peace. I feel more present when I am working with other artistic professionals, which fosters better experiences and higher quality work. Most of all, I feel more present in my own practice. I have the space to do research, to ponder, to create, to live a purpose driven life. I think that the work made in this new space has been the most profound of my catalogue to date.

Which brings me to the next major event on the horizon… MY FIRST ALBUM RELEASE ON AEROCADE MUSIC! I can’t tell you how much excitement and trepidation I’ve had with regard to the release of this work. If you want to talk about levelling up, in the span of six months, I’ve gone from a largely DIY artist self-releasing albums on Bandcamp to having the backing of a label, a publicist, and an intern. As artists, we often want to be in control of all aspects of a project… it is a primal urge on our parts. With Quadrivium, I learned what it was to give up control as well as what it means to delegate, which ultimately resulted in a fulfilling experience for me… for the first time I was just the artist, and that has a freedom that can hardly be expressed in words.

While I’m still adjusting to this new stage in life, I am happy to explore this new territory… to have time to meditate each day, to do yoga, to pray, to set an intention, to be a more present individual that lives with passion and loves with intensity.

Cheers to new beginnings!

Please don’t call me a composer, classical musician, toy pianist…

A strange thing happened to me recently, I was introduced to someone in conversation as a “composer” and immediately, I felt an oppressive set of walls rapidly closing in on my soul. I felt artistically constrained by the meaning of the word “composer” but moreover I felt that in assigning this label to my person, that I was betraying the other parts of my creative self. I’ve always had my hand in a lot of different media and each one has brought me a sense of centeredness.

Pianist. Toy Pianist. Author. Composer. Engineer. Lecturer. Non-Profit Administrator. Arts Entrepreneur. The list has been growing rapidly and it still doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of who I am as a woman, let alone as an artist. We live in a world where “branding” is a reality due to an increasingly commercialised society, which creates a problematic situation whereby I have to create a definition for my body of work. For the past several months, I have been turning over ideas of a group of words that would succinctly describe my current place artistically, but would afford enough flexibility in meaning that I would not feel the dark foreboding walls surrounding me for quite some time, if ever again.

I thought about calling myself a “multimedia artist” but that rings with so many connotations of a visual body of work, particularly a digital media portfolio, that I wrestled for weeks with trying to accept the term. Eventually, an epiphany… New Renaissance Artist!

The word renaissance as most adults may recall from grade school history class, signals rebirth and revival. Historically, the term Renaissance has referred to people who were well versed in a vast array of subjects including art, philosophy, science, and literature. As an artist and personally, I feel as though I am constantly going through a revival, a transformation, and a rebirth. I’m always looking to push myself further in my sonic practice but along the way I become fascinated with other subjects that I may or may not have studied previously. I return to old subjects with a new outlook. Infamously, one of my mentors declared “…most people change their molecules every seven years. Elizabeth changes her molecules every seven months.” While Renaissance may conjure images of dusty Renaissance fairs, with people in ornate costumes and giant turkey legs, my purpose in prefacing Renaissance with New, is to signal that we are and I am in a place for a fresh look at revival. There have been many other Renaissance periods, including the Harlem Renaissance (which as an African-American woman, I can identify deeply with from an artistic standpoint.), but my purpose is to embrace the term away from geographical or chronological prejudice. I am a New Renaissance Artist. I embrace a constant stream of change and rebirth in my practice, which expands into a variety of media, chiefly an exploration of how the sonic world can be manipulated to personify a variety of philosophies and principles both tangible as well as intangible.

A change is coming and by the end of the 2016, I hope to have fully integrated this new description of myself. I am now asking anyone seeking to speak or write, about me with the new identification of New Renaissance Artist. I’ve kept this secret for several weeks, as I wanted to be sure that this was the right course of action. I can safely say that the change has been immediate. I feel open to new possibilities. The walls have come crashing down, and a forest of vibrant colors surrounds me with new places waiting to be explored. A fresh spring breeze encircles me, and I feel as though I can finally breathe artistically.

~ Elizabeth A. Baker – New Renaissance Artist ~