Soprano  Julianne  Baird

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Julianne Baird (born December 10, 1952) has been hailed as "one of the most extraordinary voices in the service of early music that this generation has produced. She possesses a natural musicianship which engenders singing of supreme expressive beauty" (New York Times). She maintains a busy concert schedule of solo recitals and performances of baroque opera and oratorio.

Ms. Baird has also appeared as soloist with many major symphony orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi, the Brooklyn Philharmonic under Lukas Foss, the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her seasonal New York City performances as soprano soloist in Handel's Messiah continued in 2009 with Musica Sacra in Carnegie Hall, has consistently won praise from the New York Times. James R. Oestreich, in his comprehensive survey of New York performances of Handel's Messiah recently concluded with special praise for Julianne Baird's interpretative skills: "in that respect, Ms. Baird remains the model." Most recently Anthony Tommasini wrote: "She is an admired exponent of early music and sang with focused sound and grace." (New York Times, Dec 2009).

Julianne Baird's performances include appearances at the International Lufthansa Festival in London in solo cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach and at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall in the Mozart Requiem, Bach's Magnificat in Bach's own Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and at the International Wroclaw Festival of Song in Warsaw. With over 130 solo recordings to her credit on Decca, Deutsche Gramophone, Newport Classics and Dorian, Julianne Baird is considered one of America's most recorded women. In addition to her major roles in the acclaimed series of Handel operatic and oratorio CD premieres, she has recently sung leading roles in a series of Gluck Operas CDs. The New York Philharmonic's box set commemorating it's century of recordings includes her recording of Reich's "Tehillim." Other recordings include "Dance on a Moonbeam", featuring Julianne Baird and Meryl Streep. For her recent recording of "Flaming Rose" (Neun Deutsche Arien) [shown below] the London Sunday Times had the following: "Baird - a fine American soprano prized for her outstanding contribution to recordings of Handel operas sings with a delicate timbre - the singing is exquisitely stylish."


Julianne Baird is recognized nationally as one whose virtuosic vocal style is firmly rooted in scholarship, with degrees from the Eastman School and a Diploma from the Salzburg Mozarteum in performance. She also earned a PhD in music history from Stanford University. Her publications include "Introduction to the Art of Singing", from Cambridge University Press now in its 3rd printing is used by singers and professional schools internationally. Recognized internationally as one of the few who can both demonstrate the full range of the singer's art and explain it, Dr. Baird is regularly asked to provide master classes at universities and music schools throughout North America. She also reaches large audiences through regional and national broadcasts including a series of recent "Performance Today" National Broadcasts of Handel's Deutsche Arien which she performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2008. The New York Times described her voice on that occasion as "alluring, with body, color and earthy expressivity" She is a distinguished professor at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

In April of 2002, Baird returned to Chicago for The Creation of Haydn, with the Apollo Chorus led by Stephen Alltop [photo in CD illustration below-right].  She was staying at a hotel just east of Michigan Avenue and the
‘Magnificent Mile’, and I mentioned having just played the Parking Game when looking to store my car and not pay a huge fee to put it in a garage.

Bruce Duffie:   [With a wink]  Do you play the
singing game, and do you always win?

Julianne Baird:   [Laughs]  For me it’s a win because I mostly get to sing what I like to sing, meaning what shows my voice to its best advantage.  I don’t find myself too often in positions where I feel I have no business singing the repertoire.  Because I’m regarded as a person who specializes, I have a tendency to attract other people who like what I specialize in.

BD:   Do you like specializing in Baroque and Classical music?

Baird:   Yes, because it suits my voice, and I love the repertoire.  The only downside is that occasionally people who are more mainstream don’t necessarily know what it entails to perform Baroque music.  Any time you’re regarded as a specialist, you might be confined to that specialty.  I’ve been lucky because my recordings span everything from Fanny Mendelssohn to Steve Reich, and back to Mediaeval music.  So I’ve had a chance to have a go at most periods of music, but I’ve been careful about the circumstances.  I might not even want to sing Machaut if it had an orchestra of a thousand!  [Both laugh]

BD:   A thousand little fiddles and rebecs???

Baird:   Exactly!  [More laughter]  So, it’s how many accompanists there are.

BD:   Handel used 24 oboes and 12 bassoons for the Fireworks Music, so that’s getting close.

Baird:   You’re right, but there were no singers!  [Even more laughter]  On the other hand, it’s really the kind of hall, and the intimacy of the hall, as well as how sensitive your conductor is, to say nothing of the string players and the rest of the orchestra.

BD:   Do you prefer singing Baroque music with Baroque instruments or modern instruments?

Baird:   I’m at home if I’m with a Baroque orchestra because they’re all specialized, so they know what’s involved.  But these days, if you’re doing a Baroque piece, the chances are that you will have somebody leading the orchestra or playing first violin who is a specialist.  They’ve taken care to bring in someone who is going to help lead the strings in a style that’s going to be copacetic with the music.

BD:   A crash-course for the rest of the orchestra, perhaps?

Baird:   Yes, as is the case here in Chicago.  Stephen Alltop plays the harpsichord himself.  No one could be more educated about styles than he, but he’s also taken the extra provision of having Marilyn McDonald from Oberlin, who specializes in both Baroque and modern violin.  She’s completely at home in both worlds.

BD:   As a vocal soloist, is it your responsibility to come knowing this style, and perhaps even help to educate the conductor and the orchestra?

Baird:   I take it as that way.  I certainly don’t preach if I’m not asked, but these days I am often asked what I do in this situation.

BD:   So you must be completely prepared.

Baird:   Yes, with my ornaments and with my style, I’d say ninety-eight per cent prepared.  One has to leave a little room open for adjusting.

BD:   You let the conductor allow your performance to grow?

Baird:   Of course I do!  In this current performance, we’re using an Oxford University Press score, which includes a lot of ornamentations written at the bottom as a footnote, stating that the singers from a certain time used a specific manuscript.

BD:   These are options, and you can try this or that?

Baird:   Right, and with several options and ideas that came from conductors or singers of the past.  They’re written in the score.

BD:   But you should do your own ornaments?

Baird:   I do my own ornaments, but some of the others are good, and sometimes I take an idea and add my own piece.  I frequently find that when I look at ornamentation written by a singer from another period, I discover a part of it which fits, but not all of it.  It will give me a kernel of inspiration to do something added on to that.  So, I take it and try to make it my own, or do something that works for me.

BD:   Does it make you at all schizophrenic to know that you are performing music from three centuries ago for audiences who have now come through a couple of World Wars and Depressions, and are heading into a new Millennium... or does that even cross your mind?

Baird:   It doesn’t for the most part cross my mind.  If I were composing music, one wouldn’t be able to do it without taking into consideration the whole culture.  It’s not that when we do Baroque music that we lock ourselves in time and place.  It’s still extremely accessible music.  Any radio station, for example, which decides to adopt a largely nineteenth-century repertoire
which I find is the case in several major cities that I knowI don’t think does themselves any favor.  At the Salzburg Festival a few years ago, they recognized how much audience attrition there was, and tried to figure out the kind of pieces that would most bring in the younger audiences, and they determined that it was Baroque music that had more of a crossover appeal.  So radio stations which are looking for demographics in playing a steady diet of nineteenth-century music, are basically undoing what they could be doing.

BD:   So, it’s variety, variety, variety?

Baird:   It’s variety.  Baroque music in particular is easily accessible to people.  It’s not dreary!  When I went through the Eastman School, I was as much of a Mahler and Wagner fan as you could find.  In that way, I feel like my education has really been a very broad and full one.  I love all kinds of music.

BD:   Do you ever want to sing Brünnhilde?

Baird:   I don’t think that’s in my cards!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Do you regret not being able to sing Brünnhilde?


Baird:   No!  I don’t.  There was a time I might have said I regret not being able to sing Mimì, but I love what I do.  It’s like asking if I regret not being able to fit into a Size 3.  If I try to fit into a Size 3, I wouldn’t feel very good.  I wouldn’t be very comfortable.  The same thing is true with the singing.  Anytime I’ve tried to step into repertoire that I’m not comfortable with, I have a sense of unease.  Life’s too short.  It’s not worth it to be worried about those things instead of worrying about making music.

BD:   Do you have to fit the voice the same way you fit your clothes?

Baird:   They describe composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as tailors.  One person may look great in a jacket, and that same jacket may look horrible on someone else.  It’s the same with the singer.  The parts may fit for a while, but maybe other parts don’t.  The majority of the clothes might fit from neck to the waist, but the sleeves are too long.  Most of it fits but not all, so those are the parts we adjust.  That’s the beauty of Baroque and Classical music.  We’re allowed to make adjustments!  In fact, we’re encouraged to make those changes which make it better for us, and better in general.  If it’s better for us, it’s probably better in general.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve sung a lot of Handel.  Is there as secret to singing his music?

Baird:   Clarity of voice, an ability to sing fast coloratura, and to ornament a cantabile line.  Those are basically the ideas.  Too much vibrato doesn’t work too well.  It makes too heavy a sound.  I was just reading about all this today, because I’m giving a lecture on French music when I return to Philadelphia.  That requires both the ability to sing with vibrato and without vibrato, which were valued in the eighteenth century.
BD:   Being done by the same person?

Baird:   The same person, yes.

BD:   So, you can’t be a specialist in vibrato, or a specialist in non-vibrato?

Baird:   No.  You have to be flexible enough to do each of them when the occasion calls for it.

BD:   Did the composers ask for too much of each individual singer?

Baird:   No, the composers were there to try to fit the voice of each individual singer.  None of us has a stamped-out cookie-cutter larynx.  Every singer has a completely different aspect to their voice, and for us to just try to fit ourselves belies who we are.

BD:   Do you ever wish you could take the voice out of the throat and put in a little box, like a violinist puts the instrument in a case?

Baird:   Recently they replaced a larynx!  They actually wired one person’s larynx into another person’s body, and it worked.

BD:   [Truly amazed]  They’ve changed hearts, and livers, and kidneys, but a voice???

Baird:   A voice!  This was not a singing voice, but it was someone who lost their voice through a car accident or something.  Many times I have wondered what it would feel like to have somebody else’s voice inside me.  The voice alone isn’t going to do it.  It’s your sound concept.  I know that I could make my voice vibrate into large decibels, but the trouble is that my mind wouldn’t let it.  This is because I have a sound in my head that I want.

BD:   You want to be appropriate?

Baird:   No, I just want to sing the sound that I hear more than anything.

BD:   Is it the sound that you hear, or is it the sound you think the composer wants to hear?

Baird:   It’s both.  Handel or Haydn could have wanted something that maybe I can’t offer, or something different that I have, but I’ve become skilled in making the music fit what I do have.  It’s an interesting way to turn it around.

BD:   How do you divide you career between operas and concerts?

Baird:   I mainly record opera, and I have started singing recitals that have themes.  Something which is exciting to me is that I developed a program called The Jane Austen Songbook.  This came about maybe five years ago.  I was called by a colleague who said,
We have two weeks to come up with the repertoire to record the music that Jane Austen had in her private library, but if we don’t have the music, then the recording is off, and they’re going to choose another project.”  [The recording was made, and is shown at right.]  They faxed me the catalogue of Jane Austen’s private library.  I didn’t need to go to London or Chawton House in Hampshire, where it’s held.  The Library of Congress has about eighty per cent of her holdings.  So, in two weeks we had the music basically from the Jane Austen Songbook.  Since then, I have gone to Chawton House and looked at the manuscripts, and have begun making an edition.  Meanwhile, I tour a program that is interspersed with Jane Austen’s comments on music, and the function of music in eighteenth and nineteenth century English society.  It’s great.  It’s the music she heard, with descriptions of the way that she saw music.

BD:   Do you do the speaking also, or do you have a narrator?

Baird:   I do some of the speaking.  Some of it’s in dialogue, and I also have a narrator, along with the fortepiano or piano.

BD:   It sounds like a wonderful concert.

Baird:   People love it, and I actually love singing it because I want to bring ideas to my concerts and recitals.  I find that as our audiences get older, and we start losing some of them, it’s important to bring other fields in the arts, in English and in literature, because it’s only since the twentieth century that music has been so much out of the context in which it was.  It was music at Court.  It might have been interspersed with badinage, the clever speaking between people, or in the midst of theatrical pieces.  Another program that I love to do is called Shakespeare’s Music.  I just did it last weekend in Pittsburgh with a troop of actors.  They did scenes from Shakespeare’s plays that had featured music, and I sang the music that Shakespeare had in his plays.  So, these are the kinds of ideas that I am excited about.

BD:   I would think that would really pique your interest, and the audience’s interest.  Is it also bringing in the young people?

Baird:   My sense is yes!  I toured it at a lot of colleges, for example, so I don’t know if they’re required to come because of a class, but I find that it’s a typical college audience.

BD:   I would think that would be great to co-ordinate reading some Jane Austen, and then hearing your Jane Austen concert.

Baird:   Exactly.  I think it works well.  It’s just the kind of crossover thing that we need to do, just to make it tie back together, to put it in its context.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is the music that you sing, for everyone?

Baird:   I think Baroque music is for everybody.  Without being on a soap-box for all the great things that music does for us, because I’m sure you’ve heard it all, it’s imminently listenable music.  Unfortunately, the major symphony orchestras do not dedicate a big portion of their rosters as they used to, like the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Stokowski
s orchestrations of Bach.  He arranged them, but that music was there and he was there.  We have lost that piece of musical history... not that they ever went back to Renaissance or Medieval music, but still, it’s a very important part.

BD:   Let me play Devil’s advocate for a minute.  A huge orchestra is not at all what Bach was thinking, so are we now getting the right kind of Bach?
Baird:   By having him performed by smaller forces, it suits the quality of the writing much better for Bach particularly, just because it’s so contrapuntal, and it gets so muddy.  How many times have you heard the B Minor Mass where they get out of sync just because there are so many people that can’t really hear one another in the intense fugal writing?

BD:   But of course, we need to study the reverberations of his church to know exactly what it would have sounded like.

Baird:   I had the experience of performing the Magnificat in Bach’s church, one to a part, and in the Passion led by Joshua Rifkin, and by all reports we could be heard, and it worked well.  I do think he probably worked with what he was lucky enough to scrape together, but he must have created some immensely talented musicians just by what he put in front of them.

BD:   Let’s jump to the twentieth and now the twenty-first century.  Are we losing that today?

Baird:   Of being able to sight-read well?

BD:   Yes, and of having new music in front of people all the time that they can really get their teeth into.

Baird:   I haven’t thought about this question the way a composer would think about it.  I haven’t given it that kind of depth, but it seems to me that music was in a rarefied atmosphere for thousands of years, and then comes along the eighteenth century and it becomes much more popularized.  Then in the nineteenth century we have music that is too difficult for Jane Austen to play in her living room anymore.  It’s just too complicated.

BD:   We’ve lost the idea of Hausmusik?

Baird:   Right.  Now, that tradition has continued through a lot of twelve-tone music and the art music world, but there has re-emerged the common tradition again.  The fact that folk music features so much with large folk festivals all around the world, and the fact that we have such an emphasis on film scores, makes me think that tradition is as healthy as it can be.

BD:   You don’t think the salvation of music is the
garage band?

Baird:   No, I’m not saying that.  I think music still has its place.  It’s once again taken a background because it’s the background music to films.  I wouldn’t put folk music exactly in that category, because it’s something that people can participate in.  But the tradition of art music
where the audience sits in chairs below the Proscenium of the stage, and views the performers standing on the stage singingis harder and harder for this modern audience to take.  Whether it be for a Lieder recital, or the most cacophonous modern composition, or the most wonderful modern composition, it doesn’t really matter.  It’s the footlights that I see as part of the problem.

BD:   Putting up that
fourth wall?

Baird:   Yes.

BD:   We’ve been dancing around it, so let me ask the real easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Baird:   [Laughs]  I was waiting for that one!  I’ll just give you my perspective.  When I perform music, I am in the moment.  There is no ticking of the clock.  It’s a fully-immersing experience for me, and I been told that you’re truly enjoying yourself when you’re in the moment like that.  I believe that, and I find that when I have my madrigal singers sing a Byrd Mass for an hour, they’ve left all their troubles behind.  They don’t remember that they got a C on their Math test, and their parents are going to stop paying their tuition.  For that moment, there’s nothing but music and them.

BD:   Music as an addictive drug?

Baird:   Okay, I’ll go for that!  Nothing can raise your spirits faster than music, so why not be addicted to it?

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve made a number of recordings.  Do you sing differently for the microphone than you do for a live audience?
Baird:   Yes, sometimes.  It depends on the circumstances.  I remember a poignant time looking at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.  It’s above the bank in Troy, New York, and it’s got the most fantastic acoustics.  It’s like you found that secret door in the room.  You go into a bank, and suddenly the top floor morphs into this fantastic concert hall.  It’s got about 1,200 seats, and we’ve had recording sessions with a lute.  It’s you and the lute, and so for the first hour you try to sing to the last seat in the last row.

BD:   Of that empty hall?

Baird:   Yes, and then the engineer comes out and says,
You only have to sing about two inches in front of you.  That’s all we need.  So, that was a big change.  It took a lot of concentration to not try to sing to the hall but just sing to the music.

BD:   Do you sing to the imaginary public that will be listening at a distant time?

Baird:   Lute songs are so intimate that you basically sing them for yourself, and if anyone else has the good fortune to be close enough, so much the better!  It’s very intimate music, and it’s a strong place to record it.  But it turned out wonderfully because it’s just a great hall.

BD:   What about the big Handel operas?  You’re not singing as intimately as you are in lute songs.

Baird:   No, but I still find that it doesn’t make any sense for me, either technically or for the well-being of my voice, to try to sing differently than my sound.

BD:   Do you feel that the mikes capture your sound?

Baird:   I’ve been very happy with a lot of my recordings.  Some not, and there are just as many different recording techniques as there are records.  There can be extreme adjustments with mikes where I love both recordings, but don’t ask me to explain it.

BD:   Is it pleasing to you to know that on one night you’ll perform for a certain group of people in the hall, and on another day, you’ll record for people who will listen for years and years all over the globe?

Baird:   Recording is a bizarre experience.  You come out of a performance elated and pleased, and when I’m in a recording, I feel like a donkey.  The burden is heavy, but it’s just one step in front of another because of the way a recording is made.  It’s meticulous, pains-taking, and repetitive.  It seems like the opposite of my experience when I’m listening and loving the music.  In a recording, I’m very aware of the time because it’s work.

BD:   Does it have to be perfect?

Baird:   Sometimes, the best takes are flawed, but they have great spirit.

BD:   Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?

Baird:   I don’t think so.  Musicians are notorious for always saying it could always be better.  [Both laugh]  No one beats themselves up more than musicians, because music is a hard-task mistress, and the language is perpetually more to be learned.  There will always be some nuisance you won’t get, and even if you start learning music as a small child, there’s always something further, something more.

BD:   Is it something old that you’re learning, or something new that you’re discovering... or both?

Baird:   It’s both!  Music is an amazingly elastic language in that can support many performances and interpretations.

BD:   Are there thousands of right answers?

Baird:   Yes, always!

BD:   Does it please you that you are usually finding new right answers?

Baird:   I am just pleased that it works.  I miss tremendously my days as a member of the Waverly Consort, because part of singing Renaissance music is that there’s no part more important than any other part.  You can’t sing a Renaissance motet without your bass, and your tenor, and your alto, and your soprano.  If anybody leaves, it’s not the same piece.  No one is a star.  We all need one another.  It is wonderful music, and the experience of making this music is equally wonderful.  It’s not just the end product or the recording but the experience itself.

BD:   How long were you with the Waverly Consort?

Baird:   For seven years.

BD:   You learned a lot, I assume?

Baird:   I learned a lot about performing on the big stages, because we performed on all the major boards of the major cities.  When you’re with a group, you learn how to accept it when you don’t do your best, and how to manage when you’re not feeling well.  You learn how to get along musically and personally.

BD:   Do you find it has held you in good stead becoming a soloist and recording artist?

Baird:   Yes, because it’s not about competition.  It’s about working together for a great purpose.

BD:   Cooperation?

Baird:   Cooperation.  That’s a good word.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You do a lot of teaching also?

Baird:   Yes!

BD:   Do you enjoy the teaching?

Baird:   Sometimes as much as the singing!  If it’s gone as I planned it, or if I see the lights go on in a student, and see them take what we’ve worked on together and make it their own, that’s it!  Nobody can take credit for someone else.  We’re all just mile-posts along the way.  I had a very good friend who said he went to a teacher and learned everything from that teacher that he could, and mimicked it all.  He did everything to submerge himself into that style, and then upon going to a new teacher, he did the same thing.  It was only after doing this complete immersion two or three times that he was able to decide what his style would be.

BD:   At least he was able to throw off the mimicry, and become his own person.

Baird:   Yes, but that’s a lot of what it is.  It’s the language of sound, and how do we learn language?  We learn by mimicking.  We have to mimic until we can fly.

BD:   Do you teach vocal technique, or repertoire, or both?

Baird:   I teach most of it, including the history of music as well.  In the summertime I have workshops.  I have a funny workshop this summer... it’s actually not funny, but my class will be a lot of fun.  The Lute Society of America is having its annual conference in Cleveland, and I’m teaching a class that’s called ‘Seventeenth Century Baroque Vocal Technique’, and the only prerequisite for it is a sense of humor!  This is because they’re going to be trying a lot of sounds that singers don’t make too often these days.

BD:   Is this for singers or for lutenists?

Baird:   For singers.

BD:   Should lutenists take a voice lesson or two?

Baird:   Sure, and we singers should take lute lessons.  I tried the lute for a while, and it’s given me a lot of appreciation for lutenists.

BD:   What general advice do you have for singers who want to perform your kind of music?

Baird:   Listen!  Listen to lots of recordings.  Read lots of music.  Get together with groups and sing madrigals.  Sing as much of it as you can.  Get together with the keyboard player, and sight-read through reams of Handel, and Telemann, and Lully, and whomever else you like, because no composer’s ornamentation is completely separate from his regular writing.  It’s not like they turned on a switch and said they’re going to stop writing ornaments in, and make the singers figure it out.  It’s all a hodgepodge, and very mixed.  It a mélange, a varied mixture, so if you want to understand about the style, sing a lot of that style and study a lot of that style.

BD:   What advice do you have for instrumentalists?

Baird:   Pretty much the same, I’d say.  Listen to a lot of the music.  Of course, in the eighteenth century they said the instrumentalists should listen to the singers!  If they could imitate the vocal sound, they will have perfected their instrument.  But mainly there are so many wonderful performances on recordings of eighteenth-century style.  If you are interested in French Baroque music, you could learn a lot by following scores and listening to William Christie’s operas, as well as other performances.  There are many other groups, too numerous to mention, but one shoe doesn’t fit all.  I was lucky enough to get training in ornamentation when I was really young, about eighteen.  I had a wonderful task-master who taught me about the basic ornamentation, and since I specialized so early, I just made that my life.  I perused thousands of scores in the library at Eastman.  I was in the vault all the time.  I copied lots of cantatas from manuscript, and performed them.  I also bought a harpsichord kit.  I have a friend who helped me build it.

BD:   To build a harpsichord takes a lot of pluck!  [Both laugh at the terrible pun]

Baird:   Oh, doesn’t it ever!  I’m just lucky it didn’t kill us.  It weighs a ton.  It was an old Hubbard Harpsichord Kit, and they weren’t made for ease of moving.

BD:   One of the local performers here is a pre-eminent harpsichordist, David Shrader...

Baird :   Yes, I know him!

BD:   ...and he’s got one that fits in a bag, and he slings it over his shoulder.

Baird:   That’s great to have such variety now.

BD:   What advice do you have for audiences?

Baird:   Audiences should never forget that hearing something live is an experience that’s not captured by a pressing ‘PLAY’ on the CD player.  [Laughs]  I’m just as guilty as anybody, because for me, going to a concert is a busman’s holiday.  It just happens that I’m married to a devoted Handelian who never wants to miss any Baroque music, but especially Handel if it comes anywhere nearby.  Even though I’d rather go to the theater, or do something else
because it’s hard for me to turn off that critical facultyI go because it’s so important to him.  However, I never, never come away without being immensely gratified.

BD:   Is he also a performer?

Baird:   No, no!

BD:   It is best that you not be with another performer?


Baird:   It’s hard for me to say for anybody else.  I certainly know that musicians understand one another probably like no one else can.  Music has chosen us in lots of cases, rather than it being a conscious decision.  We can’t live without it, so these people understand one another.  But also, anytime you marry right into your field, it increases the dimensions of other fields.  That’s one of the reasons why I love to teach at Rutgers, which is a liberal arts university.  I will have classes in Women and Music next fall.

BD:   Do you perform any modern music at all?

Baird:   I’m doing Britten’s Les Illuminations next spring, and I’ve done the Górecki Third Symphony, and Tehillim by Steve Reich, and also the Berio Folk Songs.  [Pauses a moment]  I sang the Mahler Fourth Symphony last year.  That’s not modern, nor even twentieth-century...

BD:   No, but it’s not in your usual Fach.
Baird:   Exactly, yes.

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BD:   Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

Baird:   [Thinks a moment]  Yes!  I took a long time to answer because there’s always this idea of wanting to do more, and more, and more, and more, and more, but when one begins to have the pleasure that I have in so many things, it means that the drive to always do something, like the desire to consume, which is not terribly dissimilar.  Ambition and consuming, are probably closely related on the gene chart, but I’d say that it’s quieter in me.  I have different kinds of goals now.  I’d like to start a center for the music of the colonies in Philadelphia, and perform ballad operas.  It’s a desire to connect to the community that I live in and teach in, and provide a forum for other people to do what I’ve enjoyed doing so much.  This is not new to human nature.  I once was talking with a taxi driver who said,
If I won a million dollars, I’d have the nicest taxis.  No one would have to drive a terrible taxi.  I think if I won a million dollars, I’d set up the best forum for young singers to get their start.

BD:   That’s the teacher in you, the nurturer in you!  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with Rudolph Palmer.]

Baird:   Yes, that’s right.

BD:   One last question.  Is singing, fun?

Baird:   Always!  [Pauses again]  Well... always?  Sure!  Most of the time.  It
s a lot more fun than most things because of the ego factor.  You know that you’re getting to do what you’re known for doing fairly well.  You can’t deny that!  But it’s just such brilliant writing, and you’re immersed in the sound of the orchestra.  There are no better seats in the house than the ones we get, and it’s just fun because you feel like you are part of the creative process... which you are!  It may not seem as intense as the creator, the composer who is writing it, but you are part of the re-creation.  Then, when it comes to matters of ornamentation and phrasing, you are part of the creation as well.

BD:   Music has to be such a collaborative process between the composer and the performer, and also the audience.

Baird:   Right!  Yes, it does.

BD:   I’m glad you’re upholding your part of the whole.

Baird:   Oh, thank you!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Thank you for coming to Chicago.   Are you coming back?

Baird:   Not that I know of.  I surely would love to.  I used to be here a lot more often in days of The City Musick.  Around that time I was performing with various groups, and singing at Rockefeller Chapel.  I just gave a masterclass at the University of Chicago this afternoon, and am happy to report that things are alive and well in their Collegium, and with their young singers.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success.

Baird:   Thanks, Bruce.

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© 2002 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on April 24, 2002.  Portions were broadcast on WNUR in 2004, and again in 2014.  This transcription was made in 2024, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.