Music of The Mind

by Margaret Nilsson

Seated at the piano in the gracious living room of Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Hall, Amy Baer has come to write. The abundance of natural light and the spaciousness of the room provide the right atmosphere.

She arrives with a particular melody or rhythm, or perhaps a poem that has inspired her.A pad of staff paper is positioned in front of her. Like all empty pages, it is daunting, but not for long. Her hands begin to “play” with the melody or the rhythmic motive she has in her mind until something clicks. Hurriedly, she jots down the first three measures. “Coming up with the beginning of a piece is like finding a treasure,” she explains.

Amy Baer is a composer.

Already a talented vocalist and pianist when she came to Scripps, Amy began to write her own music during her sophomore year. She loved the way Romance languages sounded when sung, so she looked for a text to set to music. After much research, she chose “Egeia,” a French poem by O.V. de Milosz.”The words had so much imagery and emotion, and after reading the poem I immediately had a melody and texture in mind for the name ‘Egeia,'”Amy explains. Her composition helped earn her a spot in the highly selective California Summer Music Program at Pebble Beach where she was one of only eight students in the country—and the only woman—chosen for the composition group.While there,Amy wrote a string quartet in less than a week.

Scripps Professor of Music Hao Huang explains Amy’s uniqueness, “She is a fine performer as well as a composer. Many composers come from non-performance backgrounds. She’s a throwback to a time when we had some of our greatest composers.”

Amy’s solid grounding in theory from her Scripps music courses, her excellent ear for music, and her understanding of the range and strengths of various instruments have enabled her to write in different styles for wind and string instruments as well as voice and piano. “She has a natural instinct for making music that fits the instrument and makes it sound good,” explains Dr. Huang.

In the fall, Amy will attend NYU to pursue a master’s of fine arts specializing in music composition.

May 7, 2005: Amy Baer is seated not at the piano but in the front row of Balch Auditorium. At her senior composition recital she listens as fellow musicians from Scripps and other Claremont Colleges perform eight of her compositions.The audience of family, friends, and professors is captivated.

When the time comes for the last piece on the program, Amy rises from her seat to conduct her fellow musicians. What began as an empty page and a desire to put Sara Teasdale’s poetry to music is now a four-piece movement beautifully sung and played by six friends and fellow musicians and conducted by composer-conductor-singer-pianist Amy Baer.