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‘Ode to Joy’: Jenny Oaks Baker recounts miraculous recovery of stolen cello in Italy

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SALT LAKE CITY — In the case of Sarah Baker's broken cello, what started out as a bad dream, then became an international nightmare, eventually transformed into an unforgettable blessing.

It's a story that will likely be passed on for generations.

While the Latter-day Saint family of renowned violinist Jenny Oaks Baker was sightseeing in Italy, a thief broke into their rental van and stole most of their luggage and possessions, including her daughter Sarah's cherished cello.

"We were horrified, in tears. … How could this happen? Why did this happen? We made the best of it, did what we could," Jenny Oaks Baker, the daughter of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said of the burglary. "Then we saw how (repairing the cello) was the key element to getting the cello back. It was a really good lesson. Sometimes our trials can be our greatest blessing."

Remarkably, previous efforts to repair the cello set in motion events that led to its recovery before the family returned to the United States a few weeks later.

The Bakers started their European journey with a week in Italy, where Jenny, her husband Matt and four children Laura, Hannah, Sarah and Matthew, visited Venice, Rome and other places.

After arriving in Italy, they discovered Sarah's cello was broken. Through friendly connections, the Bakers eventually found Mathias Menanteau, a reputable violin maker who fixed Sarah's cello. He stamped his name on the bridge of the cello, which later proved to be significant, Baker said.

Back on track, the family made a quick stop in Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. They parked on a busy road across from a hospital, a couple blocks away, and spent about 30 minutes walking around and taking photos.

They were not prepared for what they found when they returned to the vehicle. A thief had taken five or six pieces of big luggage, a large keyboard, Sarah's cello, an accordion, sheet music, computers, wallets, passports, backpacks, Baker's purse, her grandmother's pearl earings, at least 20 books from the Davis County Library and sadly, Baker's journal with more than 10 years of entries.

"After we opened the van and found that everything had been stolen, we were all either crying, screaming or in shock," said Hannah Baker, a daughter. "We all said many prayers asking Heavenly Father to help us get our stuff back and thanking him for saving the violins."

Incredibly, the thief somehow missed two violins and a guitar, one of which had belonged to Jenny Oaks Baker for more than 20 years. This special instrument was made in 1795, and when her mother died, Baker used the money from her inheritance to pay it off. Baker considers the instrument to be her "violin heart and soul," as well as her mother's legacy, she said.

"Not losing the violins kept us from having a complete breakdown. If I had lost my violin, I don’t think I would have ever recovered. I think we would have packed it up and come home," Baker said. "It's priceless and super sentimental. I know it was protected by God and angels. I will forever be grateful. … I don't know how Heavenly Father worked that miracle, but it was somehow shielded from the thief's view."

The Bakers spent the rest of the trip trying to get back on their feet but managed to keep their schedule. They filled out a police report, picked up new passports at the U.S. consulate in Florence, and used a few remaining credit cards to buy new clothes and other items. While the burglary was devastating, the family acknowledged it could have been worse. The trial also served as a family bonding experience, Baker said.

Again using a network of friends, they found and purchased a new cello and made it to scheduled performances and other activities in Salzburg and Vienna, Austria.

While filming a music video of the famous composition "Ode to Joy," the family received a welcome call from Menanteau with good news. He had tracked down the stolen cello.

The thief happened to take the cello to some of the same shops where the Bakers tried to have it repaired. It was recognized by one of the violin makers, along with Menanteau's stamp. A friend of Menanteau's paid 500 euros (about $590 in U.S. dollars) for the stolen cello and made sure it was returned to the Bakers.

Retrieving the cello involved Matt Baker making a 24-hour round trip train ride, but everything went smoothly and the family flew home on time with not one, but two cellos.

Baker expressed gratitude to many people for their prayers and generous help, especially Menanteau and the nameless person who paid the thief for their cello. She summarized the experience by referencing a scripture in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:2, where the Prophet Lehi teaches his son that the Lord will "consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain."

"Everything had to work like clockwork for us in order to get that cello back and it did," Baker said. "We saw the hand of the Lord from start to finish with this process. He really cared for us and our instruments. There were so many miracles along the way. The Lord cares for us and what is most important to us. We are super grateful."

The gospel principle was one of several Baker discussed as she recently recounted the trip to Europe in June. At the same time, the violinist's joy was full as she celebrated the release of a music video, "Ode to Joy," which her family filmed while in Vienna, Austria, on the same trip. The recording of "Ode to Joy," from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, is part of her latest album, "Awakening," and brings the experience full circle, she said.

"For me, the message of 'Ode to Joy' is that God is there, and that even though we will go through trials in this life, through these trials he will be ever near, showering down great blessings upon us. Recognizing God's hands in our lives will bring us great joy!" said Baker.

"We will never forget (this trip). If this is what truly teaches my children to rely on the Lord, to trust him and know he is there, then it was worth it."

Sarah Baker added one last bit of advice.

"Don't ever leave your things in a car in Italy!"