by John Iverson
I first became acquainted with the music of Canadian composer Michael Conway Baker many years ago after reading an interesting magazine article about him. In this article, they described his music as tonal, melodic and romantic. The article so piqued my interest that I had to hear this music for myself, and upon first listen, I became a devoted fan. His music was beautiful, melodious, evocative and passionate — elements of a true master of classical music.
Therefore it seemed logical when I began broadcasting my radio program over the airwaves of CKUW that Michael Conway Baker’s music be an integral part of my classical programming. Listeners needed to be enlightened about this remarkable composer, and I was determined to do what I could to facilitate that process. Then, as my program was approaching its fifth anniversary, I decided that in celebration of this milestone I would inaugurate a new program theme, one that was truly Canadian. My first thought was to incorporate the music of Michael Conway Baker. So I boldly decided to contact Michael and ask him if he would consider creating a theme for my program, and to my delight he willingly accepted. After some consultation he suggested that the ‘Buttons’ theme from his “Cinderella: Frozen in Time” score would make a great opening theme for my show, and I wholeheartedly agreed. After Michael did the production work the new theme was unveiled on my fifth anniversary show, and this theme has opened each and every Shades of Classics program since then. Needless to say airing Michael’s music was great for my program and my listeners, but it also spawned a friendship with this wonderful composer!
With this collaboration came an increased desire to meet the extraordinary man behind this outstanding music. On an invitation from Michael and his wife Penny, we were thrilled to make a journey to the west coast. Michael picked us up in downtown Vancouver and toured us around the city, and it was easy to understand how the scenic vistas of this beautiful locale have inspired him musically. I had mentioned to Michael prior to our trip that we wanted to see the “Heron Monument,” which he had been commissioned to score a dedication piece for, and so we also visited this striking sculpture in West Vancouver. From there we headed for Treetop Lane, the charming Conway Baker home in the beautiful mountains of North Vancouver. We now had an opportunity to become better acquainted, and to get a real sense of what the life of a composer is like.
Imagine yourself in the eighteenth century visiting the home of a musical genius like Mozart, and you can easily envision just what this felt like! Michael previewed the scores that he was currently working on, and scores that he had recently completed. He also screened some videos that he wrote music for, including parts of the Cinderella video, and treated us to some spirited improv. What a visual and emotional treat this truly was for us! And perusing the awards area in the Conway Baker home reveals just how distinguished a composer Michael is – among his numerous awards, he has won a Juno and several Genies, and has been honoured with the Order of British Columbia. He has also been inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Among Michael Conway Baker’s finest works are “Through the Lions’ Gate”, “Vancouver Variations”, and “Pacific Suite”, breathtaking pictorial trips through the Vancouver area. Also of note is his magnificent Piano Concerto that won him and pianist Robert Silverman a Juno Award, and the romantic Symphony No. 1. Among his many scores for television is music for the CBC series “A Planet for the Taking”, and among his film credits is music for “The Grey Fox”. And not to be missed is the aforementioned “Cinderella: Frozen in Time”, a score written for Dorothy Hamill’s Ice Capades show. But there are so many more wonderful scores to explore in this composer’s opus that includes ballet music, chamber music, orchestral works, choral works, and even pop tunes.
Throughout his career Michael has defied the establishment that insists that classical music should be atonal and inaccessible, instead choosing to create music that is discernible and will touch the hearts of listeners. And in the above mentioned magazine article Michael stated that “I don’t try to cut myself off from the past…”, and to this day he maintains that same conviction. His advice to young composers is to “participate in your art with integrity”. He is a remarkable man, and he has stayed true to where his heart lies. His music will touch your heart and soul, and open your eyes to a world of classical music that you thought was left behind long ago!