Landis Portraits: Mark Baptiste

By Nolan Marciniec

Mark Baptiste

Mark Baptiste’s unique blend of folk music and clas­sic Amer­i­can songs is famil­iar to con­cert­go­ers at the Lan­dis music series. But the tran­si­tion from can­cer research to music is no doubt unfa­mil­iar to Arbore­tum mem­bers, and indeed to all his fans.

In 2007, Mark retired from a more than three-decade career that includ­ed not only med­ical research, but also work for the New York State Depart­ment of Health and teach­ing epi­demi­ol­o­gy at SUNY Albany. Since then he has had the time to devote him­self to both writ­ing and per­form­ing music. Music is a lot more fun than epi­demi­ol­o­gy,” he said. 

You might say that I came to music nat­u­ral­ly,” he added. His father was a clas­si­cal pianist who put aside music to make a liv­ing. Mark nev­er heard him play until the fam­i­ly acquired a piano when Mark was in his teens – and he was blown away.” In high school, Mark began play­ing the gui­tar, and like his father put aside his tal­ent due to the demands of fam­i­ly and career.

One might say that he found his way to the Arbore­tum nat­u­ral­ly” too. He cred­its his wife Jan, a ded­i­cat­ed gar­den­er, as the dri­ving force since she appre­ci­at­ed the Arboretum’s plant sales. Then Mark was invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in Lan­dis’ active musi­cal scene. The cou­ple has always found peace and beau­ty at Lan­dis, par­tic­u­lar­ly walk­ing to the Old Growth For­est and pass­ing the Great Oak. The trees have been here for so long .… [I am ] remind­ed how small we human beings are, how tiny a part of Nature we are. It puts you into per­spec­tive,” he mused. 

His par­ents moved from sun­ny San Diego to the North­east when he was a child – and I nev­er for­gave them,” he quipped, adding that he and his wife had his and hers snow blow­ers” to deal with the harsh win­ters at their home in Delan­son. Yet it was in the North­east that Mark met Jan at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts at Amherst dur­ing fresh­man ori­en­ta­tion. We’re as close to high school sweet­hearts as you can get,” he said, not­ing that Jan has inspired many of his songs.

Nature is also fea­tured in many of them. The beau­ty of the Schoharie Val­ley in par­tic­u­lar was the moti­va­tion for tunes such as In These Hills” and O Schoharie.” Even the dis­agree­able win­ter has yield­ed a song: Even Snow Can Be Pretty.” 

Per­form­ing at the Arboretum’s Meet­ing House, with its expan­sive view of the Val­ley, seems a nat­ur­al fit for Mark. He is as appre­cia­tive of his audi­ence here as they are of him. They come here to lis­ten .… to the words as well as the music,” he said. He, too, comes to lis­ten to the musi­cians whom he most admires. 

While the Bap­tistes have relo­cat­ed to Half­moon to be clos­er to the newest of their three grand­chil­dren, Mark insist­ed that they will con­tin­ue to vis­it the Arbore­tum and active­ly par­tic­i­pate in its programs.

Some of us take that road less trav­eled” – or the detours. In Mark’s case, both have led him to music – and the Arboretum.

Winter 2017

Volume 35 , Number 1

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