In this episode, I joined William Baker and Patrick Neas of the Choral Conversations Podcast to discuss a variety of topics including the distinctions and practices that set the amateur choral ensemble apart from the professional ensemble, and in what ways they are similar. Is a professional ensemble “better” than an amateur one? Are they so structurally different, that a comparison is useless? We discuss programming for large and small ensemble, the development of a sound ideal, as well as the business aspects of running a choral organization. Dr. Baker is the founder of the William Baker Choral Foundation . Patrick Neas is an arts contributor to the Kansas City Star and KC Arts Beat and serves as the moderator for the conversation.
For the Festival Singers recordings you heard in the episode. You can find the Kantorei KC recordings on their site, or on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon or most music streaming sites.
William O. Baker has earned a reputation as an entrepreneurial conductor and creator of choral organizations. He founded the DeKalb Choral Guild in 1978 at the age of 19. By the age of 21 he had conducted Brahms’ German Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Schubert’s Mass in G, and Handel’s Messiah with professional orchestras, launching a career of ambitious artistic leadership that now has extended over forty years. In the last few years he has conducted the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor of Bach, and the Sacred Service of Ernest Bloch, at the time of the performances the only Kansas City-based conductor to lead the works in over a quarter-century.
Baker created the Atlanta-based William Baker Festival Singers, originally called Gwinnett Festival Singers, in 1985, and established the William Baker Choral Foundation in 1990. In 1998 the conductor moved his home to the Kansas City area and created the Kansas City ensemble of the Festival Singers. The Choral Foundation has created over a dozen ensembles based in three states, involving hundreds of singers during the course of any year. His choirs have performed for numerous conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Association for Music Education, and the American Guild of Organists, in addition to the 1982 World’s Fair and music festivals in the United States and Great Britain, most notably appearances before capacity audiences at Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival since 1989. He has led the Festival Singers in the production of 25 nationally released recordings and in television and radio appearances across the nation, including The First Art, The Sounds of Majesty and National Public Radio’s Performance Today.
No stranger to the orchestral podium, William Baker created the Mountain Park Wind Symphony in 1994 and the Kansas City Wind Symphony in 1998. Recent orchestral performances have included Vivaldi: The Seasons, Sibelius: Finlandia, Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Bizet: Suite L’Arlesienne, Haydn: Symphony No. 59 “Fire,” Mozart: Symphony No. 41,Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 9. Choral collaborations have included projects with members of the Kansas City Symphony, the Kazanetti Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, the Baton Rouge Symphony, the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and, in recent years, the Atlanta-based Orchestra of the American Heartland.
An Atlanta native, Dr. Baker studied voice and choral conducting at Mercer University and the University of Georgia before culminating his formal education at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago where he earned the Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting. His accomplishments have been recognized in his home states through proclamations by two Georgia Governors, Joe Frank Harris and Sonny Purdue, by Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer, by United States Congressman Phil Gingrey, by proclamations from the cities of Kansas City, MO and Roeland Park, KS, by the Johnson County (KS) Commission, and by a 2015 proclamation by the State of Georgia House of Representatives. In 2012 he was honored for his contributions to the cultural life of his hometown by the Pro-Mozart Society of Atlanta. In 2015 he was named Conductor Emeritus of The DeKalb Choral Guild.