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Jenny Oaks Baker: Mormon, mom, musician

McLEAN, Va. — Her music has been heard far and wide, but violinist Jenny Oaks Baker will take her music and her message to a home audience Sunday, Aug. 16, when she presents "Music and My Testimony" in a regional Mormon fireside.In addition to speaking and performing solo violin selections, Baker will be joined for some numbers by daughters Laura June, 8, on violin; Hannah Jean, 6, on piano; and Sarah Noelle, 4, on cello. (Son Matthew Dallin, 2, is not yet old enough to start lessons, but his parents expect him to take up the violin or viola soon.)"I'm excited to be able to play close to home and have my kids join in," she says.The fireside, sponsored by the LDS Institute of Religion that serves the northern Virginia area, begins at 7 p.m. in the McLean Stake Center.Often, when strangers see the violinist with her four young children, they ask, "Are all these kids yours?'" says Baker, 34, who has cut back on her own performing to enable her children to develop their musical talents. She's frequently mistaken for their nanny or their older sister.But to her kids, she's Mom.In early 2007, Baker announced her decision to retire after seven years as first-chair violinist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and performing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Library of Congress. She'd also been guest soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony, the Orchestra at Temple Square, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But she felt her family needed more of her time.Baker works hard to balance the roles of mom and musician. A lifelong Latter-day Saint, the super-busy violinist credits her own skills in planning and organizing as well as Heavenly Father's help in accomplishing all she does. "I do all I can," she says, "and Heavenly Father makes up the difference."During eight weeks away from their home in northern Virginia this summer, no one has put down the instruments for a long vacation. Baker taught at the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute and made sure her girls all put in adequate daily practice time in addition to visiting with family and seeing the sights.The Bakers take the violin and small cello along on trips, and arrange in advance to use a piano at a church meetinghouse or someone's home. Baker sets aside four hours a day for the children's practice and fits in extra time for her own when she has a concert coming up.__IMAGE1__"They know they practice, then we play," she says. "You can make it work if it's a priority, and for our family, music is a priority." She adds that her husband, Matt, is good at "pitching in" and sits with Hannah at the piano for an hour and a half each day.While in Utah this summer, Baker finished recording an album — her ninth since 1998 — on the Shadow Mountain label, produced by Deseret Book. Sam Cardon's arrangements enhance the collection of hymns and sacred music. "Then Sings My Soul" is planned for release next March.Released earleir this year was her "Silver Screen Serenade," movie themes with lush orchestral arrangements by Kurt Bestor. Both albums were recorded in Salt Lake City. "I've been blessed to work with the best of the best," she says.Baker was delighted when her seventh album "O Holy Night," landed at No. 7 on the national Billboard classical charts the first week of November in 2007, followed by Yo-Yo Ma at No. 8 and Joshua Bell at No. 9. Her albums have sold more than 100,000 and won numerous Pearl awards from the Faith-Centered Music Association."I love recording," she says. "It gives me a way to perform and still be home with my kids."She's also a presenter at Time Out for Women programs around the country and has a few concert opportunities on the East Coast. She says the less-demanding schedule than was required as a symphony member turns those short-term excursions into a "long date night" for her and her husband.The youngest daughter of Dallin and June Oaks, Jenny was born in Provo while her father was president of Brigham Young University. An early start at age 4 with the Suzuki violin method, combined with a lot of practice at her mother's knee, led to her first performance at age 8 as a youth soloist with the Utah Valley Symphony. Years later, in the fall of 1998, she performed the Brahms Violin Concerto with the symphony, shortly after the death of her mother.She earned a bachelor's degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and a master's degree from the Juilliard School in New York City, attending BYU for summer terms at the Provo campus and Jerusalem Center.Baker thinks it fitting that she should be speaking and performing at this fireside for hundreds of Institute students, since she met Matt Baker when he visited her singles ward in Manhattan in August 1997. He was a soon-to-be Utah State University graduate, interviewing for jobs.She considers that meeting a miracle because her mother had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and wanted her daughter to be taken care of before she passed away."Matt and I met on the day our family was having a special fast for my mom," she explains. "It's interesting: Our prayers weren't answered, but hers were."Jenny and Matt were married the following March, and June Oaks passed away in July.In tribute, she titled her second CD "Songs My Mother Taught Me."