Although he can't read a note of music, Ralph Baker has conducted a tireless crusade the past 14 months for a symphony orchestra in Utah's second largest city.

His efforts along with those of 90 volunteer musicians will pay off on Saturday, Oct. 26, with the premier performance of the West Valley Symphony Orchestra. Baker can hardly believe it himself."I am absolutely overwhelmed, amazed," Baker said this week following the orchestra's fifth rehearsal. "It's a real symphony."

A retired engineer, Baker said he began thinking about a West Valley orchestra after his son, Stephen Baker, quit the troubled Murray Symphony. Robert Lentz, the Murray Symphony's conductor, also had left that organization.

"That started me thinking. West Valley is Utah's second largest city, it has very little in terms of cultural activities and, I thought, why not do this?" Baker said.

He approached Lentz with the idea, and they launched their search for musicians. Cards and fliers were distributed wherever musicians gathered or visited, including music shops and music schools. Notices were posted on bulletin boards, and Baker informed the West Valley City Council and Mayor Brent F. Anderson.

"Everyone was very supportive of the idea. I can't describe the enthusiasm. The mayor said it was wonderful, Granger High's principal said we were welcome to use the auditorium, and the musicians began contacting us."

Before the first rehearsal was held on Sept. 4, Baker hoped to have a minimum of 30 or 40 musicians on hand. Anything less, and the project would have been deemed a failure and abandoned, he said.

But 72 showed up, and the number gradually grew to 90. They range in age from 14 to 78 and hail from throughout the valley and as far away as Evanston, Wyo. Baker said he offered to pay for the gasoline for the musician from Wyoming, but she refused the money.

"They give of their talents and don't ask a thing in return," Baker said. "One young woman came to me with tears in her eyes and said she had been playing for eight years and that she never expected to have the opportunity to play in an orchestra. Now she has that chance."

View Comments

And that, said Baker, is what community orchestras are all about: opportunity for musicians and entertainment for the community.

Much of the success is being attributed to Lentz, whose extensive orchestral experience began as a child musician with the Hollywood Baby Orchestra. He later played in a number of studio orchestras, the U.S. Navy Band and the Utah Symphony for 25 years. Lentz founded the Utah Youth Symphony and became the director of the Murray Symphony.

Baker said West Valley businesses, schools and civic groups have supported the endeavor. "We're all very enthusiastic, and we believe the West Valley Symphony will become a major cultural asset to the community."

The premier is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, in the Granger High School auditorium, 3690 S. 3600 West. Admission is $5. Tickets may be obtained by calling Baker at 969-4480, and also at Granger High the night of the performance.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.