Robert Baker, the founding director and a professor emeritus of the Institute of Sacred Music, died in late January in his home in Hamden of natural causes. He was 88 years old.

Baker, who founded the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale in 1973, envisioned an institution that would combine the study of music with religion, according to the institute’s Web site. The school’s present incarnation combines studies from the Divinity School with those from the School of Music. Baker, an Illinois native, was also a well-known organist.

Baker’s colleague Charles Krigbaum, a professor emeritus of the institute, said Baker played an integral role in its founding.

“He was the institute,” Krigbaum said. “He was the force behind it … he brought a huge amount of money, tremendous possibilities [and] additional concerts to the public. It was a tremendous advance.”

Yale President Richard Levin also credited Baker with the institute’s existence.

“He was a distinguished organist and played a key role in getting the Institute of Sacred Music started,” Yale President Richard Levin said.

Baker modeled the institute after the Union Theological School of Sacred Music in New York City. Baker studied there during the 1940s and became the school’s director later in his life. A lack of money forced the school to close in the early 1970s. But when a benefactor provided the funding to start a new incarnation of the school, Baker brought three of his colleagues from the school and founded the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale. The institute accepted its first class in 1974, and Baker served as its director until 1976.

Today the institute has 20 resident and visiting faculty, who teach throughout the University, and 65 students who are enrolled at Yale specifically through the school, according to its Web site. Located at the Sterling Dvinity Quadrangle, the institute teaches students the skills needed to become musicians, religious leaders and teachers.

Even though Baker left the faculty in 1987, his influence remains strong, Krigbaum said.

“I think the people at the school respect his legacy very much,” Krigbaum said. “If he had not been the person he was, it would not be possible. Without [him], they would not have this.”

Baker began studying the organ at the age of 12 and graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1938. His first job in music involved playing the organ for silent films. After moving to New York City to pursue further studies in music, Baker decided to attend Union and received a doctorate in sacred music in 1944.

Krigbaum remembered Baker for his kind demeanor.

“He was a Midwesterner and a friendly person,” Krigbaum said.

A memorial service was held for Baker in Spring Glen Congregational Church in Hamden Jan. 29.

Baker is survived by two children and two grandchildren.