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Harry Brabec bass-drumming
at Disney World, 1971.
 
Harry Brabec, coordinator of Silver Dollar City MO
crafts festival, 1973.

Harry in his office at Silver Dollar City

Harry Brabec with his beloved dog, Ginger.

Harry with our beloved dog, Ginger

Harry and Barbara Brabec, 
in FLorence, Italy, 1976.
In Florence, Italy, searching for old world artisans

Harry Brabec playing traps for
a Bensenville Band concert.

Harry Brabec sharing a tambourine
technique with percussionists in the Marine Band.
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 Cousins

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 International Crafts 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.

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Copyright © 2005-2014 by Barbara Brabec.