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Heartbeat of the Valley: Music ties Railroad Days parade marshals to community, each other
Snoqualmie Railroad Days brings a kaleidoscope of memories to retired music teacher and bandleader Harley Brumbaugh.
The North Bend resident grew up in the vanished Snoqualmie Falls neighborhood of Riverside, and spent his childhood working and playing in a tight-knit community.
As a budding trumpet player with his sights expanding beyond the Valley, he still remembers the day when he grew just a little more famous locally.
A sophomore in high school, he sat in the bleachers with classmates, playing as the Railroad Days parade rolled past.
During a lull in the parade, announcer Dick Carmichael called out, “Let’s have a solo from Harley Brumbaugh.”
So young Harley crossed the main street for a solid rendition of ‘Stormy Weather.’ Years later, long after he left the Valley, people would come up and remind him of the solo.
“There you are, they’d say. You played ‘Stormy Weather’ as a kid!” recalled Harley, who was named grand marshal with his wife Cathy Brumbaugh for the 72nd annual Snoqualmie Railroad Days.
Harley’s stock of memories include playing his horn with bandmates on the Railroad Days Ferris wheel, listening as the players rotated up and around, and getting a sinking feeling in his stomach as the wheel dropped him down, still trumpeting.
“I feel so privileged to be in a place where I can reflect on those things,” said the new grand marshal.
“This is a privelege,” added Cathy. “I’m so surprised, just overwhelmed.”
Harley and Cathy have lived in the Valley for nine years, taking active roles in the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church Choir and the new Voices of the Valley Community Choir, which will perform during Railroad Days.
Music has been a thread connecting the couple to each other and to their communities.
The Brumbaughs met while attending Central Washington College in the 1950s. After Harley graduated, he became an itinerant musician before being drafted into the U.S. Army. They married during his Army career, and Cathy became lead vocalist in his service band.
“We would play the soldiers’ club,” the only hangout for young men in boot camp, Harley said. “They hadn’t seen a girl in eight weeks. They would just crowd around,” asking Cathy for autographs.
“I signed hands, I signed inside hats,” Cathy said. “The guys didn’t have anything with them.” She was chagrined when one young soldier asked her to sign a folded piece of paper that turned out to be a photo of his girlfriend. She signed it anyway.
Their traveling life continued when Harley took music teacher jobs in Alaska and Washington, but they settled down when they reached Renton, where Harley founded the Hazen High School music program. His alma mater song is used to this day, and his choir programs were very popular.
“They were dropping out of football to join boys glee,” Harley recalled.
Meanwhile, he took music gigs in Seattle, working two nights a week. Cathy didn’t mind, because “it was just the way we did things,” she said.
After Hazen, Harley helped found the Bellevue Community College music program before moving to the Valley.
Performing together, Harley and Cathy grew closer over time.
“I’ve seen her under the pressure of performance,” Harley said. “We’ve seen each other at those high points and low points.”
“Sometimes it makes you nervous and complicates your life, but when you see people smile,” it’s all worth it, Cathy said.
Forming the Voices of the Valley choir, Harley, as conductor, and Cathy, as librarian and music organizer, help singers, some of whom have not sung under direction in decades, excel together.
“There is no such thing as a neutral singer,” Harley said. “Either you’re reinforcing the sounds, or you’re distracting from the sound. The Greeks said, as in music, so in life. That means there is no such thing as a neutral person. Your action or inaction is going to help one side or the other.”
Harley believes he got his approach from his early days in Snoqualmie Falls. He learned not to take himself too seriously, but also that he didn’t have to be a logger all his life.
“Everybody knew each other, and you were accountable for your own actions,” Harley said. “I was able to build upon that. I could bring that into my playing, my teaching and into our marriage.”
Harley and Cathy call on Valley residents to take stock of local heritage and work to preserve it.
“Know the roots of the area that you’ve moved to,” Cathy said.
After living through World War II, “and seeing boys I knew leave for war and never come back, it tears me up to see vandalism and the things that happen in this community,” Harley said. “Where is our value system? Is it ‘me first and everything else second’?”
“You’re only as rich as your memory,” Harley added. “Cling to the things that brought you here, and don’t be talked out of it.”
• The 101 Voices of the Valley choir performs at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, during Railroad Days.