Sabrina Lake Sketchbook

Julia Scott Carey

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Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

I have lived by Sabrina Lake since I was three years old. I have walked around the lake many times. When I was very small, I would walk up to the lake from my house to catch frogs. It is a special place for me, a very beautiful place. But as I have been able to learn more about it, I have also become aware that it embodies the life of an extraordinary individual. My music is about that.

Sabrina Lake was the centerpiece of the Ridge Hill Farms Estate, which straddles the present-day towns of Wellesley and Needham. It was one of two large, manmade lakes on the estate, which was the creation of William Emerson Baker (1828-1888). Mr. Baker was one of the most important early manufacturers of sewing machines, with several patents to his credit. A resident of Boston, Baker began buying the land for his country estate in 1868. His sewing-machine business wound down after 1870, and for the rest of his life he devoted himself to improving the estate, using the large amount of money he had made.

By all accounts the estate was a fantastical place, a ?Circus, Amusement Park or Fairyland of the Beautiful and Bizarre.? Covering more than 750 acres, the Ridge Hill Farms, which Baker regularly opened to the public, included such diverse attractions and features as the Octagonal Bear Pit (complete with Seneca bears brought from Florida), the Boston Fire Monument (four decorative granite columns surviving from buildings destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872), the Monument to the Departed Spirits (a huge assemblage of empty liquor bottles representing the consumption at a combined ?reunion? Baker held at his estate in 1875 of Union and Confederate Civil War veterans), a Sanitary Piggery (Black Berkshire pigs, obtained by Baker form Queen Victoria, living in conditions of exemplary cleanliness), and the Hotel Wellesley (a large building with more than 200 rooms that Baker had removed from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 after the Exhibition closed.

Sabrina Lake, built 1871-76 by 80 Irish workmen Baker brought from Boston, was a lovely, spring-fed body of water, one-and-one-half miles in circumference, complete with three islands, several bridges, fountains, steamboat (the 50-foot ?Lady of the Lake?), statuary, and formal promenades along the banks. After Baker?s death in 1888 the Ridge Hill Farms became the site for other people?s dwellings (including, eventually, mine), and the character of the estate in Baker?s time was gradually lost. The buildings burned or were dismantled, and land was divided into many different properties, though some land has been set aside over the years for conservation. Sabrina Lake survives as a tranquil, apparently natural preserve, entirely concealed on all sides behind houses and woods from nearby streets. Almost every trace of the human imprint on the lake has long since crumbled away or been removed; the fountains and statues have vanished; and the Lady of the Lake is only a ghost. Nature has instead put its stamp on Sabrina.

Baker was a larger-than-life figure. Brilliant and astute in business, he was full of fun and pranks when not working. The Ridge Hill Farms displayed the full range of his whimsy. At the same time, Baker was very broadly public spirited and worked seriously on issues of public health and social reform. Infant mortality and safe cooking practices were particular concerns of his. He was also instrumental in helping Boston cultural and educational institutions in their early stages of development, including the Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ?Everyone loved Mr. Baker. He was of medium build with a round, smiling face and a shiny bald head edged with curly white hair which blew in the wind.?

My music is intended to be very strong sounding, like Mr. Baker. It represents his ability to shape nature to his will, as he did by building Sabrina Lake. The underlying syncopations represent the mechanical rhythms of his sewing machines and the mass production of his sewing-machine factories. There is also a section with calmer, slower music, which conveys the serenity of Sabrina Lake today, as I know it. William Baker had many musical entertainments at his estate. It seems fitting to tell his story and the story of his lake with music.

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Wellesley Cultural Council abd funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council
Composition Date 2000
Duration 00:08:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 2(E.H.) 2 2 - 2 2 0 0; Timp., 4Perc., Hp. Strings
Premiere May 6, 2001. Wellesley, Massachusetts The Wellesley Symphony, Max Hobart/Cond.