Harry J. Brabec
A Look at the Man and His Musical Legacy
as documented in the book,
The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides
by Barbara Brabec
HARRY BRABEC never had occasion to need a formal resume of his entire musical life’s work experience, so I had a difficult time in reconstructing his working life and music activities year by year for inclusion in my biographical memoir about him.
I began by pulling out all the bits and pieces of information he had shared in his nostalgic letters, added information from my journal notes and scrapbooks, and then turned to his scrapbooks, which included other letters and copies of work contracts. Orchestra archivists provided me with details about his tenure with the Civic, Chicago Symphony, and National Symphony orchestras, and I prevailed upon many of his friends to help me piece together his past before I met him.
I’m sure even Harry would have had a hard time coming up with the exacting details I managed to pull together here, and I’m just as sure that he quickly would have pointed out where I had erred in making assumptions about some periods of his life before we met. I also know he would forgive me for any errors I may have made.
• J. Sterling Morton High School. Graduated in 1944. While in school, Harry performed professionally as a marimba soloist, at community functions as a member of the school’s bands, its concert and symphony orchestras, and as a jobbing musician in the area.
• Civic Orchestra. Chicago Symphony’s training orchestra, 1944–1945; and Grant Park Orchestra in the summers.
• Chuck Foster Orchestra, February 1945 to May 1946. (May have gone back to Civic as an extra playing timpani; perhaps played Grant Park in 1946 as well.)
• National Symphony Orchestra, Washington D.C. Premier percussionist (June 1946 to April 1949) working with conductor Hans Kindler during the regular seasons. During the Symphony’s summer Watergate season, he worked with conductors Richard Bales (1947) and Howard Mitchell (1948).
• Grant Park Orchestra and Lyric Opera. In the off seasons of the National Symphony in 1948–1949, Harry played with the Grant Park Orchestra (June and July) and the Lyric Opera in Chicago (September-November). He continued to play with both orchestras off and on until the mid-eighties.
• Wayne King Orchestra, 1949–1951. Toured with the band and played “The Wayne King TV Show,” broadcast from Chicago.
• NBC Studio Orchestra, Chicago. On staff part-time in 1949–1951 when not working with Wayne King; on staff full time in the latter part of 1959–1960 until Studio closed. (During these periods, also apparently did extra percussionist work with the Chicago Symphony, Grant Park Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and some jingles and recordings at Universal.)
• Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Section percussionist (1951–1952); principal percussionist (1952–1956), working with Rafael Kubelik, Fritz Reiner, and many guest conductors; extra percussionist (1957–1965). Assistant stage librarian (1966–1968), and stage manager and extra percussionist (1968–1971).
• Professional activities unknown, 1957–1959. This is a blank spot in Harry’s working life. No records available to indicate whether he played anywhere at all during this period of his life. Believed to have been doing part-time menial work of one kind or another for awhile, plus being a top Proctor & Gamble salesman for about a year. (See chapter 8 of The Drummer Drives memoir for the full story of this traumatic period of Harry’s professional and personal life—stories you won’t find anywhere else.)
• Full-time jobbing musician in Chicago, 1961–1965. Did recordings, worked as an extra man with the Chicago Symphony, Grant Park, and the Milwaukee Symphony; played the Lyric opera, the ballet, and other entertainment events in the city, plus the Shubert and Melody Top tent theaters (1962–1965) before going back into the Chicago Symphony in 1966.
• Teaching in Chicago area. Percussion classes and private instruction at North Park College (1963–1966); Maine Township North and South High Schools (1964–1965); and Northwestern University (1966).
• Walt Disney World Marching Band and drummer in other Disney venues, 1971.
• Freelance musician and teacher, Orlando area, 1972–1973; taught percussion classes at Valencia College for these two years and had a few private students as well.
• Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO, 1973–1974. Coordinator of the City’s annual fall “National Festival of Craftsmen.” On the faculty at the School of the Ozarks for the 1974 summer term.
• Independent crafts show producer. Produced Busch Gardens’ “International Crafts Exposition” (1976–1977); and crafts festival for Marriott’s Great America Theme Park (1978).
• Freelance jobbing musician, Chicago area (1978–1982).
• Springfield Symphony Orchestra, General Manager, 1982.
• Barbara Brabec Productions, 1982–1995. Office assistant and manager of the company’s mail order division.
• Freelance jobbing musician, Chicago area, 1984–1995. Member of the Windjammer’s Circus Band (1981 to mid-nineties); and the Bensenville/Wood Dale Concert Band (1982–1992). Retired from performing in 1995.
Adapted from the author’s memoir, The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides—The Musical Life and Times of Harry Brabec, Legendary Chicago Symphony Percussionist and Humorist.
Harry Brabec, Legendary Chicago Drummer. [PDF] A collage of "young Harry photos" with his percussion instruments and medals.
Harry Brabec, Humorist. “Anything for a laugh” could have been his motto. This collection of music-related photos shows a side of Harry only his family and friends knew.
Remembering Harry Brabec [PDF]. A special widow’s tribute that documents Harry’s unusual and amazing professional life, with historical music information and colorful stories; includes 32 photos that could not be included in the book.
Show Drumming: Learning the Trade, Designing Your Setup [PDF]. This unpublished article by Harry was found among his papers.
For more about the world of music in Harry's day,
see ARTICLE categories of Books, Music, and Stories.