When the children of former Air Products president and CEO Dexter Baker ’50 and his wife, Dorothy, pondered the best way to honor the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary in 2001, they approached Lehigh professor of music Paul Salerni with a request that he write a piece honoring the couple’s life together.
The commission resulted in a composition for violin and piano that Salerni titled “A Dance Across Life.” It includes, Salerni says, “an element of romance, a tribute to achievement, a lullaby for their children, and a return to a romantic waltz at the end.”
The piece was performed by Salerni and colleague Paul Chou, associate professor of music and Ronald J. Ulrich Chair in Orchestral Music, in Baker Hall (named after the couple) and videotaped for a special presentation to the Bakers four years ago.
The Bakers liked it so much that they asked if Salerni could write a full orchestral arrangement of “A Dance Across Life.” That piece will be performed by the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra and debut tonight at the Paul C. Empie Theatre at Muhlenberg College’s Dorothy and Dexter Baker Center for the Arts, as the Chamber Orchestra kicks off its 25th season.
”Always connected to music”
“Paul did a great job in pulling together so many of my parents’ interests,” says Ellen Baker Ghelardi, one of the Bakers’ four daughters. “It’s classical, but also danceable—almost Copelandesque, in a way. It’s easy to visualize it choreographed as well, with a combination of ballet, jazz and musical theatre all wrapped together.”
Ghelardi and two of the couple’s four daughters will be on hand when the Bakers are honored for their long-standing support of the arts in the Lehigh Valley tonight.
“They’ve always had an interest in the arts, and that was their primary focus when the family was in a position to start a foundation,” Ghelardi says. “They’ve expanded it to encompass youth and social services, but they were both always connected to music.”
Dorothy Baker, her daughter notes, was a vocal major at Syracuse University and sang with Bethlehem’s Bach Choir for many years. “And my father played the trumpet in the band at Lehigh. That’s one of the reasons why this piece was so important: It really does capture their lifelong love of music and has very deep meaning and significance to our family, and to the Chamber Orchestra.”
The Bakers will be honored prior to the performance of “A Dance Across Life,” for what Leanna Boylan, former executive director of the Chamber Orchestra, called “their extreme generosity and high level of support with not only funding, but talent and expertise.”
“The whole event, kicking off our 25th anniversary of the Orchestra, is very exciting,” Boylan says. “It’s a wonderful way to honor the Bakers and to have this fully orchestrated piece make its public debut at the same time.”
Longstanding loyalty to Lehigh
Both Dexter and Dorothy Baker have a long history of involvement with and generosity toward Lehigh.
Dexter Baker earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in 1950, and his M.B.A. from Lehigh in 1957. In 1981, the university awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Engineering.
Baker began his career with Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., in Allentown, a producer of cryogenic equipment, industrial gases and other chemicals, cutting and welding equipment, in 1952.
He was named president and chief operating office of Air Products in 1978, and assumed the position of chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1986. He retired in 1992.
Throughout his career, he’s maintained close ties to his alma mater. In addition to establishing the Dexter F. and Dorothy Baker Merit Scholarship Program, he is a Trustee Emeriti of the University's Board of Trustees, and served as chairman of visiting committees for Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Music. He also helped raise funds for several campaigns and departments.
Baker was also chairman of the $35 million capital campaign for the construction and endowment of the Zoellner Arts Center. He and his wife have made a substantial personal contribution toward the cost of Baker Hall.
Dottie Baker has sung in and for numerous organizations in the Lehigh Valley area, including the Bach Choir. She is active on the Boards of the Community School in Allentown as well as the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. She has also served on the Board of Muhlenberg College. The Baker Foundation supports merit scholarships in the arts at Lehigh University, as well as several other area schools and colleges.
The Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra will perform Paul Salerni’s “A Dance Across Life,” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Empie Theater at Muhlenberg College. For more information, please call (610) 868-95.