“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me sings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas – His hand the wonders wrought.”
In a large, open field, sitting at her piano with the glow of the sun setting around her, with friend and Cellist Amanda Burns by her side, Pianist Anna Harbuck places her hands on the keys and starts to play an arranged melody of a favorite hymn “This is My Father’s World.”
Her brother, Philip Harbuck is behind the camera catching flickers of light, Anna as she walks through the open field, glimpses of her writing music, and then he finally captures his sister playing the hymn alongside Amanda.
“There’s a part of the song, about half way through, that I wanted to make sound like as if it started raining,” Anna said. “So you’ll hear about half way through the song, we kind of finish off, the cellist and I. Then the cellist starts the melody and you hear one note, and then two notes, and then you hear three, and it’s like the beginning of rain that starts.”
At the age of eight Anna started to play the piano. As a part of her home-school routine Anna was required to take two years of piano. At the end of the two years she could choose if she wanted to keep playing. Even though she said she wasn’t a fan of practicing, and still isn’t, Anna continued the lessons because she loved to play.
“I was not a piano prodigy; I was at the piano because I was supposed to be, and I continued to love it,” Anna said. “Really what I loved about it was there were two different things that kept me going: One of them was the composer Chopin. He was a composer who wrote very melancholy music, and I loved that. Sad music just speaks to me. Besides that, I just loved playing hymns.
“I think you can find the essence of God in all music, but the words of hymns are by people who have gone through something, or people who have had a difficulty,” she continued. “Because there’s a lot of words in the hymns that talk about God being our peace, and I think it’s such a comfort to people. That has always spoken to me, because when I play hymns I just think of those words, and it’s just a comfort.”
Years later, Anna is still playing. She is the organist and handbell director at First Baptist Church in Lufkin. She is working on completing her Masters Degree at Stephen F. Austin State University in Instrumental Music Education, while she is working as a piano instructor at Angelina College. Anna also arranges hymns, mixing notes and melodies to make a different tune – more triumph or more simple, whatever the occasion calls for.
“What I do is take a pre-existing song, for me it’s specifically church music, and then I rearrange it and put unique chords in it and put a different style on it,” Anna said. “For me, when I am re-arranging, a lot of it starts with the words. That’s what I’ve loved about hymns is the words of the hymn. …I’ve been working on something for ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’ and ‘To God Be the Glory.’ Those are a bit more triumphant, but those are ones I just imagine anything majestic. I imagine cathedrals in Europe. I imagine the Bible verse that says, ‘There is going to be trumpets when Jesus comes back.’ Just things that are big and glorious, I want to make it sound like that.”
Looking back on recording the video, Anna said it took two days to film the music video. Her family of seven brothers loaded up her piano in the back of a trailer and took it to the open field in East Texas. She initially wanted to create a video to show what type of arrangements she writes, but when a college class required a video to be made she knew exactly what she would create. The video has been viewed over 6,000 times now, and Anna said she was inspired by the reaction. The gracious comments on the video posted from strangers and a call came from a man in Louisiana who wanted to purchase the music gave Anna “a confirmation of ‘I can do this.”
“It was a confirmation of even though it was so simple, because if you look at the cello part, if you look at the piano part, every thing about it is transparent and simple, and yet, people just loved it,” she said. “I’ve noticed I’m not a powerhouse pianist; my skill is not going and playing the big triumph things. My thing is playing the very minimalist, simple, little melody. To me that is what the video is. If you’re a musician who looks at that piano score, it could be played by a 12 year old, 15 year old. …It was a very simple piece. It’s my heart; it’s my favorite.”
As Anna looks to the future, she said she wants to do more directing and more arranging, along with continuing to teach piano and show others “it doesn’t have to be giant and grand to be beautiful and to be a gift for him.”
“My dream is to play for him (God). That’s really it, to play for him,” Anna said. “I’ve really thought about it the last few weeks, ‘What am I here for?’ I know different people are here for different things. For me, it is to play for him – just me and my house and my piano and my dog, howling next to me. I could be happy living to be 90 and someone asking me, ‘What did you do with your life?’ and me saying, ‘I played for him.’ And to me, I would be proud of that.”
For more information on Anna, visit harbuckmusic.com.