LIBERTY — In July of this year, Danny Baker will mark 13 years as the director of liturgy and music at St. James Catholic School. Initially, the plan was to be a music teacher, but his full-time calling took a different turn.
Baker, who grew up in Raytown, went to Northwest Missouri State University. His focus was vocal music performance and piano. During his college years, Baker served as a student accompanist in five voice studios. In the summer of 2001 he was hired as a staff accompanist at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan.
Baker’s role at St. James is almost all things music related. He directs the Parish Choir, Youth Choir, The Music Group, Contemporary Youth Ensemble and the Handbell Choir. On top of his full schedule at the church, Baker teaches private piano and voice lessons.
“My main role is to oversee musical and liturgical services,” he said. “We have four masses and I choose the music. I coordinate all the ministers in the churchsuch as the sacristans, the lectors, the servers, the greeters and the ushers. If there is something special such as the right of Christian initiation, I will create scripts for the pastors to help the flow of the service.”
Along with the various music responsibilities, Baker helps manage some of the social media. With coronavirus not allowing face-to-face worship, Baker offers daily readings from Scripture as well as a Psalm which he sings.
“I also have the hymn project,” he said. “I put out a question a week or so about favorite hymns. I have found hymns in the public domain and I record them for families. That’s about two or three a day. They are going on the church Youtube channel. I have had a request about 50 hymns so far.”
What would surprise people most to learn about your job?
“Everyone knows I love my job,” Baker said. “I am really lucky. I know so many musicians and people in the world who live gig to gig. Some musicians have to work a regular job just to be able to play music on weekends. I get to create music for a wonderful community of people. It’s also the realization that I can make a living.People might be surprised I didn’t major in church music but rather, music education. If someone would have told me when I was a sophomore in college that I would be doing this, I would have laughed.”
What do you like best about your position or this field in particular?
“I love the collaboration which appeals to the pianist in me too,” Baker explained. “I love to work with other people too. I don’t have a fear of failing. If I do, I try again. Father Mike Roach is so super supportive of the whole team and he trusts us to do our job well. We are good at being a team that tries its very best to reach the community.”
Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this field or position?
“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” he said. “I had chickens, rabbits, a horse. ... I was going to be a singing vet. I think 10-year-old me would be glad I am still in music, but would be surprised it’s full time in a church.”
What’s the most common question you get asked about what you do?
“It’s ‘Oh, that’s your full-time job?’ So you play piano, sing, direct a choir?” Baker said, chuckling. “This is my vocation. I am the music director at a large suburban church that has more than 2,000 families.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
“It’s keeping a good healthy balance between work and life,” he said. “Most people have a normal work week butI have challenging hours. Saturdays and Sundays are out. When friends and family want to go out on Saturday or Sunday, I can’t. Sunday is a full day from 7 a.m. to about 6:30 p.m. Then when some people get time off during holiday weeks, I am usually putting in 60 to 80 hours a week. When people tend to be off work, it’s often a feast day or holy day.”
What advice would you give someone who is starting a job similar to yours?
“Be open to finding a mentor,” Baker said. “We have the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. I’m the Kansas City-St. Joseph chapter director. We are trying to reach out to younger students and get them involved, to share our stories that you can make a living doing this. My biggest piece of advice is to set aside your own ideas when it comes to music at a church. There are people who love chants and those who hate chants. It’s the same with organ, piano, gospel, contemporary. … There is either love or hate. When you are appealing to a multigenerational church, you have to just listen and be open.”