John at the carillon in St. Nicholas
On 3rd May 1926, on the eve of a National Strike (and so heralded as a peacemaker) John Stewart Bevan Baker was born in Staines Middlesex, to an English father Bevan Braithwaite Baker, Professor of Mathematics at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and a Scottish mother Margaret Stewart Barbour of Edinburgh, (daughter of Prof. A.H.F Barbour). John was the youngest of 5 children (3 sisters and a brother). He had a natural talent for Art, Music English and Mathematics. From Preparatory school at The Downs in Colwall, England, he proceeded in 1939 on an Art Scholarship to Blundells school in Devon. Finishing here in 1944, his pacifist disposition took him down Newbiggin coalmine in Northumberland as a Bevin Boy from 1944-46, thus fulfilling his war service. Then in 1946 he entered the Royal College of Music to study Organ and Composition.
In 1949 he was chosen from college to become Assistant to the Organist of Westminster Abbey. This position included playing services and recitals and teaching the choristers at the Abbey school. Exciting prospects lay ahead - but the stifling atmosphere of the cathedral close was too oppressive for the young, free-spirited and imaginative John and so he stayed a brief 2 years before releasing himself to have the freedom to develop his composing. During the following 5-6 years he gathered a considerable following for his Adult Education lectures and free-lance organ playing in London. But then his Scottish heritage began to stir and in 1958 he bravely moved north to Aberdeen to take the position of City Carillonneur. This was musically and physically demanding job, but John liked challenges and the bells rang out over the city all manner of tunes, from the classics and opera to traditional Scottish melodies, all arranged by John for carillon.*
It was in Aberdeen that he met June Findlay, a research scientist whose roots were in the North East, Montrose. The belfry was a romantic rendezvous! Marriage in 1960 in Aberdeen, a full time teaching post in Robert Gordon's college, home building and children all followed in quick succession. Sarah, Peter and Kate were born in Aberdeen; Janet and Rachel in Inverness after the family moved to Fortrose in the Black Isle where John was Principal Teacher of Music at Fortrose Academy. In 1975, to find more musical opportunities for a developing musical family, some years were spent in Glasgow. It was there that John first met William Conway, a gifted young 'cellist (and later son-in-law). William encouraged and inspired John to write, and some works were written especially for him. In 1982, John and June with Janet and Rachel returned home to Fortrose. The older children were then fledged students. John had the chance to let go the ties of teaching and at last his musical creativity had the freedom it deserved.
A view from John's garden.
His last 12 years in Fortrose were full of music making, both in the community and with professional musicians. He loved the Black Isle, its forests and seashore, the history and archaeology of the area. These were all reflected in his music. He fought to preserve the landscape, speaking out against the Forestry policy (of that time) of non-native tree plantations. In his own 1/2 acre with tireless devotion he created a wonderful garden. In every way he was an inspiration to all who knew him. His legacy is in his compositions, and in his children and grandchildren, talented in many different ways.
* St. Nicholas Church in Aberdeen has the largest
Carillon in Britain and consists of 48 bells. These bells are arranged
in chromatic sequence, and tuned to produce concordant harmony when
many bells are sounded together. It is played from a keyboard on
which keys are struck with the half-closed hand. Additionally the
larger bells are connected to foot pedals.