Magazine article The Tracker

Obituaries: WILLIAM ERNEST BAKER

Magazine article The Tracker

Obituaries: WILLIAM ERNEST BAKER

Article excerpt

WILLIAM ERNEST BAKER, age sixty-nine, passed away on Friday, August 31, 2007, in Tucson, Arizona. Bill was born May 12, 1938 in Denver, Colorado. His early years were spent there and in Caspar, Wyoming, following which he enlisted in the United States Air Force as an in-flight computer technician. Subsequent to his discharge, he studied organ playing at the University of the Pacific and later at the University of Colorado. While in Denver, he worked with Fred H. Meunier & Associates, respected organbuilders in the area; it was during that time that he met Hugh Turpin, a former J.W. Walker & Sons employee, who made a profound impression on the young Bill Baker. Later in life, Bill often cited things that he had learned from Hugh Turpin, even to the point of adopting some of Mr. Turpin's British expressions.

Bill's early work took place in California and Nevada. In 1963, he rebuilt the 1877 Johnson organ in Sacramento's St. Paul Episcopal Church, the first contract to bear his signature. Nine other instruments followed before he relocated to New York City in 1968, where he was hired as organist-choir-master at St. Savior's Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. The church's original 1911 organ by Reuben Midmer & Sons had been rebuilt by Midmer-Losh in 1924, one of that company's earliest works. Bill further rebuilt and enlarged the organ to its present size of two manuals and forty ranks, completing the work in 1976, three years after moving his shop to the Northampton, Massachusetts, area.

Eventually Bill purchased a picturesque wooden-frame building in the rural setting of Hatfield, Massachusetts, and it became his permanent shop for the remainder of his career. The lower two floors of this building were given over to his work; his apartment occupied the top floor and was furnished with antique furniture, musical instruments, books, and all manner of curious artifacts. In this facility he would rebuild instruments from the surrounding tri-state area, along with the occasional new organ. His work was renowned for being meticulous, if somewhat belated in completion. In the pattern of so many other small firms, Bill was a better builder than he was businessman. No detail escaped his attention; sometimes he proceeded with frustrating deliberation in his goal of getting the job done exactly to his satisfaction. …

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