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Harry, about 19, playing with the Chuck Foster Band

Wayne King, standing in front of his bus.

Harry Brabec, performing in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with chum, Gordon Peters
Harry (left) performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra


Harry Brabec, with the girls from the
musical, SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)</div>

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Harry loved these girls from the musical, Sound of Music (1965)

Harry Brabec playing a show at the Shubert in 1965.
Playing a show at the Shubert

BELOW: Playing Chorus Line. Everyone got a kick out of the way Harry organized his mallets for fast changes in his tight working space.

Harry Brabec's method for arranging
his sticks when space was at a premium.

Page one: "In Memory of Harry Brabec,"
as recounted by his widow in 2005

The Last of a Dying Breed

Harry’s lifelong career as a drummer began at the age of seven. By the age of 14, he had played a few performances with the then-widely-known Cole Brothers Circus, which in turn led to a lifelong interest in the circus, and in circus and band music. Before Harry met and married me in 1961, his musical skills had been recognized in every sort of setting from lounges featuring the jazz greats of the nation to the bands of Wayne King, Woody Herman, and Chuck Foster, to major symphony orchestras.

He was a member of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. for three years and a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago for one season. In 1951, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a section percussionist and a year later was appointed Principal Percussionist by then-music-director Rafael Kubelik, a conductor he admired greatly. When Fritz Reiner took over the baton, however, Harry and many other CSO members found life more difficult.

For some reason Harry never understood, Reiner did not like him, and they constantly tangled horns over the years until Reiner finally had Harry removed from the orchestra in 1956. (Part of this interesting story is documented in Sam Denov’s book, Symphonic Paradox, The Misadventures of a Wayward Musician.) Sam was in the percussion section with Harry during this period of his life. (See also this page, which recounts two Harry Brabec/Fritz Reiner stories.) After leaving the Chicago Symphony, Harry was on staff at NBC for two years, where he played with the NBC Symphony of Chicago.

Later, after we were married, Harry was rehired by the Chicago Symphony as assistant Stage Librarian and then appointed Stage Manager in 1968, a position he held until June 1971. During this second tenure with the CSO, Harry frequently performed as an extra percussionist, and seeing him perform on stage in his white tie and tails always gave me a thrill.

An Exceptional Musician

Harry played all percussion instruments, including keyboard instruments and tympani, but he was best known among his peers for his superb snare drum playing. He was both a fine classical musician and a great jazz drummer who could make any band rock! He was never better than when he played Melody Top Theater for three seasons right after we were married. This summer tent theater in Hillside, Illinois (now gone) featured leading stars of the day and, as his wife, I always had a ringside seat for every show he played there, including Hit the Deck, Kiss Me Kate, Wonderful Town, Fanny, Sound of Music, The Music Man, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

In 1962, Harry became the house drummer at the Shubert Theater in Chicago, where shows usually ran for several months. Once again, I had a front row seat for every musical that came into town, including Carnival, Stop the World, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Oliver. As a freelance musician, Harry had his pick of available work, and when he wasn’t doing shows at the Shubert or Melody Top, he might be playing with the Lyric Opera, Grant Park, or Ravinia. He also played Cabaret and A Chorus Line (see photo below) when these shows came to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.

During his life-long career as a professional musician or orchestra manger, Harry worked with countless orchestras and entertainers, including Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Danny Thomas, Danny Kaye, Sonny & Cher and many others. As his wife, I was privileged to meet such greats as Pete Fountain, Ella Fitzgerald and Carol Channing.

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 2 - Moving in New Directions

A look at Harry's work with the Disney World Marching Band, Artisan Crafts Magazine, Silver Dollar City's Fall Festival, and the International Crafts Exposition in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Back to Harry's Cover Page

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Copyright 2005-2014 © By Barbara Brabec