Harry in his office at Silver Dollar City
Harry with our beloved dog, Ginger
In Florence, Italy, searching for old world artisans
Harry, sharing a technique with percussionists in the Marine Band when it
came to Naperville.
Comments from other percussionists
So much of what I am came from Harry." - Fred Wickstrom
"I admired Harry's playing and his expertise in percussion. We made several
Windjammers' meets and I always enjoyed playing alongside Harry." - Doug MacLeod
"Harry was my mentor in school, and I emulated him. He blazed the trail for me."
- Gordon Peters
"I always enjoyed hanging out with Harry, talking about big bands, symphony
stuff, and life in general. He was my tympani teacher." - Bob
Page 2: "In Memory of Harry Brabec,"
as recounted by his widow, Barbara
Moving in New Directions
In 1971, as Walt Disney World was preparing to open in Florida, Harry
was invited to join the
Walt Disney World Marching Band, so we moved to
Orlando. Always a lover of band music, Harry jumped at the chance to do
this work, and he was there playing the bass drum the day they threw open
the gates to let in the first visitors. Of course, I was there, too,
sharing the excitement of the moment with Harry.
After playing a season at Disney World, however, the physical work of carrying
drums became too much for Harry’s arthritic back, which by then had
begun to give him a lot of pain. Clearly he had to find less strenuous
work, and that’s when the direction of both our professional lives
began to change.
Artisan Crafts & Silver Dollar City, Missouri
As I became interested in arts and crafts in the late 60s, Harry
developed a keen appreciation for fine craftsmanship. While he continued
to play professionally in the Chicagoland area, we launched our first
homebased business, a magazine we called Artisan Crafts. We often joked
that it was a literary success but a financial flop, but it served an
important purpose in that it brought us a world of new friends across the
country and showed both of that we had skills and talents we had not been
using up to that point. As this publishing experience led me to write the
first of several books, it also led Harry into the production of craft
shows for several years. I was rather surprised to find that my drummer
husband was also an exceptionally organized individual who could
meticulously plan any event down to the last detail.
When Harry was appointed coordinator of the Fall Festival at Silver Dollar City
in 1973 (an event he managed for two seasons), he happily exchanged his symphony
tails for a pair of blue overalls, a red handkerchief in his back pocket,
and a rope belt around his waist when he was walking the park during the
festival. Inside the office, however, he looked every bit the part of an
executive. We lived in that area of Missouri until Harry could find a
good excuse to move back to the Chicago area, which he missed so much.
Missouri gave us the most wonderful gift we ever got – a stray dog we found running in the
wild, very much in need of love and attention. We
rescued her from certain death, named her Ginger, and she graced our
lives for 14 years – a whole story in itself.
The International Crafts Exposition
in Williamsburg, Virginia
In 1976, Harry was invited to produce the first
Exposition for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. This
first-of-a-kind event involved bringing together forty highly-skilled
traditional American and European artisans and craftsmen who would
demonstrate and sell their wares to an estimated quarter of a million
visitors. The work required two six-week trips abroad to search for
interesting artisans who would demonstrate old-world skills. Harry found
not only the unusual, but the rare. Many of the crafts he discovered had
never been seen in America before and a few techniques demonstrated at
the Exposition were being practiced by only a few people in the world.
Invited foreign craftspeople came from England, Scotland, France,
Germany, Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The first show was so
successful that another show was held the following year, requiring
another two lengthy trips abroad, this time including Russia. I was
fortunate to be able to accompany Harry on the second of each of those
trips, assisting him as secretary as he signed the individual artisans to
contracts to do the show. These trips were, indeed, once-in-a-lifetime
trips filled with unforgettable people and places. Later, Harry also
produced a major crafts show for the Marriott Theme Park in California.
Winding Down a Musical Career
After awhile, the theme parks were forced, for economic reasons, to
stop producing events of this nature, and Harry went back to playing
whenever and wherever he could find work. Meanwhile, he was also my
full-time helpmate in my growing homebased writing/publishing business,
and without his help and support, I would not be here today with a
following on the Web.
As Harry’s health began to fail, he still played, but not as often,
and usually with small orchestras or bands such as the fine
concert band in
Bensenville, Illinois (where he played for ten years) and
Windjammers, a circus
organization whose members still gather once a year in Florida to play circus
music just for the fun of it. He taught percussion classes at
Northwestern University and North Park College and often coached other
professional drummers, not for pay, but for the pleasure of helping them
grow professionally. Some have since told me that Harry’s help made all
the difference in their success as professional musicians. (See comments here.)
Giving up music as a profession was one of the hardest things Harry
ever had to do. Although he did many other creative things in his
professional life and, to my way of thinking, had a life more exciting
than most men could dream of, he always thought of himself simply as
"a drummer." But he was much more than that. He was a musician
who was highly respected by his peers, not only in the Chicagoland area,
but across the country. And his sense of humor was legendary, as were the
stories he always used to tell whenever he was among other musicians.
Once, when he was the older drummer playing a job with a bunch of younger
percussionists, they were all sitting around talking music and telling
drummer stories with me listening in. After one fellow told a story about this anonymous drummer who
once pulled a fast one on the infamous Fritz Reiner, Harry knocked their
socks off when he laughed and said, "I was that drummer."
"My training came by way of hard knocks," Harry once said in
an interview. He got a lot of laughs every time he delivered this little
quip: "They say I’m one of the best drummers in the country,"
he would say seriously. Pausing for effect, he would then grin and add,
"Not very good in the city, but really good in the country."
NOTE: Details about all these "musical adventures" and the
many percussionists, musicians, entertainers, bands, orchestras, and
conductors Harry worked with during his fifty-year career as a musician are detailed in my memoir,
The Drummer Drives!
available in both print and eBook editions.
Page 3 - Moving
from This World to the Next
A poignant account of Harry's last days and his very peaceful death, made possible by Hospice; plus his very special
urn, and the thing that prompted his last smile.
Back to Harry's T/C Page
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Copyright © 2005-2014 by Barbara Brabec.