Harry, about 19, playing with the Chuck Foster Band
Harry (left) performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Harry loved these girls from the musical, Sound of Music (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.
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
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,
and Carol Channing.
Details about all these "musical adventures"
many percussionists, musicians, entertainers,
bands, orchestras, and
conductors Harry worked with during his fifty-year
career as a musician are detailed in my memoir,
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
To Harry Brabec Book/CD Collection
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Copyright 2005-2014 © By Barbara Brabec