Grammy nominee Jenny Oaks Baker. Photograph courtesy of Shadow Mountain Records
The life of a classical musician can often seem like more of a nightmare than a fairy tale, but if Washington is looking for a real-life local princess, it won’t do much better than Jenny Oaks Baker. The violinist, Virginia resident, and self-professed “soccer mom” who performed with the National Symphony Orchestra for seven years found out this week that her newest album has been nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category. And even more appropriately, the album, Wish Upon a Star, is a record of popular Disney songs, performed by Baker and arranged by Emmy-winning composer Kurt Bestor.
Wish Upon a Star is Baker’s tenth album, but marks her first Grammy nomination. “I have four children, so for the past ten years I’ve been living and breathing Disney,” says the 36-year-old. “I love the message, I love the magic, and the melodies are some of the best that we have in pop culture, so it was a really exciting project to come up with and to perform.”
Baker grew up in Utah, and earned her bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and her master’s from Juilliard. She moved to Washington with her husband in 2000 and joined the NSO, which she describes as a wonderful experience. “I loved the people, the music, the conductors, and being able to work at the Kennedy Center. I’d always planned on playing in a symphony, so every time I drove to work, I thought, Wow, this is awesome.” But after the birth of her fourth child, balancing work and family became tough. “That wasn’t what God wanted for me anymore,” says Baker. “He wanted to be at home with my family. It was so hard to give up, because it was something I’d worked for my whole life, but my solo career has really taken off since I’ve left the NSO. I can be the mom I want to be and the performer I want to be.”
After years of practicing between six and ten hours a day, Baker says she can get away with doing less now. She spends a few hours each day playing music with her kids, who are all learning instruments themselves. “When I have a concert, I put as much as I can on hold and try to fit in more when they’re at school,” she says. “But my daily routine is pretty much that of a mom, just with a lot more music thrown in.” Making Wish Upon a Star, however, gave her the opportunity to glam up a little—on the album cover, she sports a dress most little girls can only dream of. “ It’s a six-foot-wide poofy princess dress. I think deep down that was one of the reasons I wanted to do the album,” she says. But she won’t be wearing it to the Grammys next year: “They’d be like, ‘My goodness, she only has one dress.’ Plus, I’m not going to pass up the chance to buy a new gown.”
Jenny Oaks Baker’s Grammy-nominated album, Wish Upon a Star, is available through Amazon and iTunes, as well as through Baker’s Web site, jennyoaksbaker.com. This weekend, you can also catch her performing live in two free shows at the Washington DC Mormon Temple’s Festival of Lights.