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Local History

Norman (Buddy) Baker

 Springfield Daily News, March 14, 1960, p. 5 & 8

Onetime Greene Countian Slices Successful Swath in Music World
by Don Bedwell

"Norman (Buddy) Baker, musical composer and arranger for Walt Disney studi[o], is a native Greene Countian who has cut a swath of success through the glitter and tinsel of Hollywood's never-never land.

"During Baker's climb toward the summit of his chosen profession he has worked with personalities whose names most Springfieldians hear with a feeling of awe. He has conducted musical programs for Jack Benny and Bob Hope, arranged for such name bands as Bob Crosby and Stan Kenton, and -- endearing him to the small fry -- even had a hand in the creation of the Mickey Mouse Club television series.

"Baker, son of Mrs. Rilda Baker, 720 East Lynn, launched his musical career at the age of 6, when he began working out a hunt-and-peck system of piano playing. While attending Pipkin junior high school he started studying trumpet, and played in the Central High School band and the famous Boy Scout band here under R. Ritchie Robertson.

"After studying trumpet under E. W. Peter's and Mickey Marcell at Drury College, he went to Southwest Baptist College, Bolivar, where he began preparing for his career in the composing field. After a few 'gigs' with dance bands in Springfield area night clubs, the budding composer packed away his horn to devote full time to writing. In this he was encouraged by Paul Mitchell, Springfield musician, who at the time was playing with Tommy Dorsey and Winston Lynes, now associate professor of wind instruments at SMS.

"Scoring pencil in hand, young Baker went on the road with the 'Kollege of Musical Knowledge' on radio. After a period with Kyser, he moved on to the Eddie Cantor show, then arranged for radio's 'Standard hour' with Robert Armbruster, featuring music in a semi-classical vein with a 40 piece orchestra.

"Moving in a few years' time from arranging Dixieland to swing to dance work to semi-classical music would prove a frustrating task to a less skilled writer, but Baker shrugs it off like a Dizzy Gillespie shrugs of blowing high 'C'. 'You get pretty flexible in this business,' he says.

"The recording field called next to Baker. He began composing original works, in addition to arranging for top vocalists of the day such as Billy Eckstine, Herb Jeffries and Frances Wayne.

"'I left the recording field six years ago because I couldn't stand rock 'n roll, which was taking over the business,' is Baker's sad commentary. 'About the only place left where one could write music was in the Hollywood studios.'

"He began making studio calls for independent movie producers, but soon moved on to Walt Disney's studios in Burbank, Calif. 'My first work there was with the planning of the Mickey Mouse Club shows for TV.'

"He soon found that writing music for the antics of Disney's animated cartoons offered problems not met with by composers for live action movies.

"'Animation is more precise than live action, requiring closer timing in musical scores,' notes Baker. 'After using a stop watch for timing for a while, as most composers of musical scores do, I developed a new system. This system developed out of work with Jimmy MacDonald, who devised the animation system for Disney.'

"Disney's composers, he explains, fill in the music after the movie had been filmed and edited. Working with a Movieola—a tiny projector—before them, the composer's job is to create music that will fit in with the action of the animated figures on the screen.

"Some composers may rely on inspiration for their skill, but Baker has found mathematics to be a more reliable guide. 'I measure everything by the frame of the movie,' he says. 'Since the cartoonists must do their drawing to a pattern, fitting within 24 frames a second, one can calculate mathematically how the music should fit in.'

"With his system, Baker can create music within one twenty-fourth of a second of perfect synchronization with the action on the screen. 'The job, for instance, is to get the music in tempo with the rhythm of the wings of a bird on screen.'

"He became so convinced of the flexibility of this system that he later used it when creating scores for live movies. It proved to be more satisfactory than the stop watch system, he says.

"'The secret of producing a good musical score,' Baker believes, 'is creating good, solid themes on which you can tie the whole musical score.' This may be done in two ways, he explains.

"'A composer can create a different theme for each character in the movie. Or he can develop a single overall theme, and vary it to fit different situations and actions.'

"'While with Disney, Baker drew some definite conclusions as to the ability of colleges to produce arrangers and composers capable of moving directly from the campus of a music school to a Hollywood studio.

"'I taught composing and arranging at Los Angeles City College for three years, prior to joining Disney. I have found that most of the music being taught can't be used commercially. Schools are up to date as far as producing teachers of music is concerned. But, from a commercial standpoint, we need some adjustments in order to give students a broader sense of the mechanical aspects that must be applied to music today.

"'At the studios, we have found it difficult to get young composers with even the slightest understanding of how to apply their music to the everyday timing problems in the movies and TV.'

"After being with Disney a while, Baker was assigned to score a 3-D movie to be shown at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. He later began working with five other composers on the regular television show, 'Disney Presents.' A documentary he scored, 'Donald in Mathmagicland' – featuring the famed Disney duck --- is being considered for an Academy Award. It deals with the history of math as it applies to all fields of human life.

"Disney's new movie, 'Toby Tyler,' presently showing here, is the latest evidence of his work. Baker spent seven weeks creating the music for the movie, his first full-length picture.

"When his vacation here is ended Tuesday, he will return to Hollywood to begin another short for Disney, called 'The Wheel'.

"'We've also scheduled another live action feature.' Baker says, 'but due to the present strike of actors there's no telling when it will get underway.'

"While in Springfield, Baker, who is 42, has been visiting his mother and his sister, Mrs. Noreene Doss, 1510 East University."

The Apple Dumpling Gang and A Tiger Walks, both scored by Buddy Baker, are part of the Library's collection. For histories of Walt Disney see Walt Disney's Missouri and Walt Disney: the triumph of the American imagination.

Read more about Norman (Buddy) Baker's life and career in Wikipedia.

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