July 19, 2010

Steven Baxter, former dean of the Peabody Conservatory, dies at 63

Steven Baxter at the fall 2007 signing of the second agreement between Peabody/JHU and Yong Siew Toh/National University of Singapore. Photo: Will Kirk/Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Steven Baxter, dean of the Peabody Conservatory from 1996 to 2002, died on July 5 from mesothelioma at the Gilchrist Hospice Center in Towson. The Cockeysville, Md., resident was 63.

An oboist, Baxter came to Peabody in 1984, teaching in and coordinating the Music Education Department, then serving as assistant dean for academic affairs and, from 1994 to 1996, as acting dean. Among many accomplishments, he helped rebuild the Music Education Department, strengthen the wind instrument program and launch the bachelor’s degree in jazz studies. His various roles at Peabody, his colleagues said, prepared him to take on a challenge he initially judged to be “totally impractical”: the creation, from scratch, of Singapore’s national conservatory.

Founded in 2001 through an agreement between the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and the National University of Singapore, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Peabody’s sister conservatory, opened its doors in 2003.

Goh Yew Lin, Yong Siew Toh’s chairman, wrote in a remembrance of Baxter: “It was the clarity and strength of his vision, down to the last detail, that compelled us to follow his lead. Like Moses, he brought us along strange and sometimes risky paths towards the promised land.” Baxter was the director of Yong Siew Toh from 2002 to 2005, briefly returning to the position before the appointment of the current director, Bernard Lanskey.

Peabody Institute Director Jeffrey Sharkey remembered a tour in 2006 of Yong Siew Toh’s magnificent new building at which Baxter seemed “almost like a proud parent.”

“He told me, ‘You’re going to see a lot of Peabody in this building,’” recalled Sharkey, who worked closely with Baxter and Gayle Ackley, Peabody’s senior associate dean for finance and administration, on the creation of a second agreement between Peabody and Yong Siew Toh. “Steve was a brilliant thinker with a deep appreciation of Singapore’s role in Asia and a complete commitment to what has become a unique international partnership,” Sharkey said.

A Michigan native, Baxter earned his bachelor of music degree from Western Michigan University and his master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees from the University of Kentucky.

He is survived by a sister, Constance Jones of Kalamazoo, Mich., and two brothers, David Baxter of Tucson, Ariz., and Rod Baxter of Holt, Mich.

The Peabody Symphony Orchestra concert scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23, in Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall will be dedicated to Baxter.