Anne Barker: For the love of music and family

Thu, 05/25/2023 - 9:45am

Anne Davis Barker is a familiar healthcare provider in the Boothbay Region as advanced practice registered nurse-family nurse practitioner at Family Care Center in Boothbay Harbor. And for the past 21 years, she has been at Boothbay Region School Health Center in Boothbay Harbor three mornings a week before heading to the Care Center.

When Barker hangs up her stethoscope for the day, she trades that medical instrument for her favorite at home – the piano. She has loved the instrument since childhood and has played all her life. For the Davis family of Orem, Utah, music was like the air they breathed: Mom Betty Jo and dad Duane played in the Utah Valley Symphony for 20 years. All eight kids would learn how to play one or more of the house instruments: piano, violin, viola, clarinet, saxophone, trombone and bassoon.

“We were like the Osmonds,” said Barker, laughing. “We had lots of instruments at the house. Everybody played something and we had our own Dixieland band, and oh my gosh … two of my brothers are in symphonies, one was into rock and had his own bands growing up. So, he was responsible for teaching me about music other than what I was playing.”

When Barker is not playing for her own pleasure, she is giving lessons to her grandchildren. Like her mother before her, Barker tried to teach her own kids – with mixed results.

“I’ve started a new teaching method, called Piano Safari, that incorporates animals (there is always a stuffed animal audience on the piano) and a lot of creativity and play to engage young students. It is fun! Definitely not the drudgery I had to endure as a young, dyslexic kid ... My dad famously said, when he watched 5-year-old me struggling to read the notes on the staff, ‘If she ever figures this out, I’ll eat my hat!’ … I’m really looking forward to introducing this method, with my own additions from 30 years of teaching, of course, to my students. It moves a little slower, but I think the payoff of smiles instead of pouts and tears at the piano will be worth it!”

Barker, also like her mom, has been the accompanist for Y Arts shows. In 1999, Barker’s mom moved across the country to Maine to help with the kids while her daughter was earning a master’s degree. That was also the year Ginny Bishop founded the Y Arts Chorus. The Barker kids were in that chorus and Grandma Betty Jo stayed to watch the fun. What she saw was Bishop struggling to lead and play piano simultaneously. Betty Jo Davis offered to play piano for her, which Bishop thought was a fantastic idea.

From that very first rehearsal, Davis played right through the years – right up to the first trip to the Junior Theater Festival, the year the Y Arts troupe of 165 kids won it all! However, once Ginny started directing musicals, Davis’ interest began to wane. Bishop asked Barker if she would like to be in the pit band with Bob Zimmerli on drums. Barker went on to do several Y Arts musicals with Bishop. When the Y Arts reins were passed on to Bishop’s daughter Emily Moore (now Mirabile), Barker continued for a short while until Mirabile began using tracks, or tapes.

Barker has never thought of herself as a performer and the last thing she wants to do is be out on a stage with people watching her. By the time she was 5, her mom had found another piano teacher for her daughter, and then another until Barker began taking lessons with the music professor at Brigham University. When Barker was 15, the professor asked her to play for his student master class.

“I was practicing three hours a day, half in the morning and half after school, and all of the music had to be memorized,” recalled Barker. ‘He said I would show them how it was done.’ I didn’t even know what a master class was or what he wanted me to do. He said to play the Brahms. I started, but forgot where I was, he’s singing it and saying, ‘Come on you know this.’”

Barker had won town, county and state and music competitions, but none of that recognition reversed her thinking about being a performer. “Then there was my mother (before a competition) saying, ‘Oh Anne! We’ll get you a new dress…’ My parents played in the symphony and held a youth artist concert series. Kids learned Mozart or Rachmaninoff or whoever to audition. I loved the music. But it wouldn’t matter if my back was to the audience or not … I’d still have known they were there!”

Betty Jo Davis died in November 2021. Throughout her lifetime, she taught hundreds and hundreds of children the piano, and her daughter has certainly followed suit.

“When my mom passed I knew what I was going to do to honor her memory: Establish a fund so all kids who wanted to could take piano lessons,” said Barker.

Barker bought a clavinova piano for piano lessons and all things Y Arts for Boothbay Region YMCA. The need was discovered while she was accompanying one of Emily Barker’s violin students on the portable keyboard at the Y. “I was accompanying a violinist playing Vivaldi! If someone’s going to go to all of the trouble to learn a piece of music they need better accompaniment.”

“I love piano. I love music,” said Barker with increasing emotion in her voice. “I love listening to difficult pieces … Brahms, Mozart … But Beethoven? I keep thinking ‘Can you stop already and finish your song? How many times, how many times will you keep repeating?” At this point Barker is really laughing, and then she said, “There’s that ethereal genius; things you have to go through, (or listen through) to reach those universal truths of love, beauty and connection … We grew up listening to the symphony and it was really, really good. All of us kids were running around that beautiful tabernacle, and I guess it just got into our DNA.”