Who's who in North Bend - Harley Brumbaugh

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NORTH BEND - Harley Brumbaugh may consider himself lucky, but it is a different concept of luck than most people have. While some may see luck as coincidence, Brumbaugh believes personal responsibility has a lot more to do with it.

"Luck is a combination of opportunity and preparedness," said Brumbaugh.

That attitude toward luck was developed in the Valley, where Brumbaugh grew up. After decades of teaching and making music, Brumbaugh will now be noticed on a wider scale when his biography is added to next year's "Who's Who In America," a book published annually that lists prominent Americans and their achievements. Brumbaugh filled out a long list of accomplishments for his biography in the book and realized there has been little time in his nearly 70 years of life to just sit and watch life go by.

"I can say I have never been bored in my life," Brumbaugh said.

Brumbaugh can trace his drive to succeed back to an incident when he was about 5 years old. As a young boy playing around his Seattle neighborhood during the Great Depression, Brumbaugh got into an accident that caused him to lose almost all of the vision in his right eye. He was given a patch that covered his good eye in an effort to repair the damaged one. For the year he wore the patch, he couldn't keep up with the other boys and got an early taste of what rejection felt like.

"I think in the long run, that probably was a blessing," he said. "It gave you something to overcome."

That feeling stuck with Brumbaugh his entire life and he hated auditions because he couldn't stand to see anyone experience rejection, so when he started teaching and leading bands, Brumbaugh wouldn't hold auditions unless he was required. He would always ask his students if any of them had ever been mocked for their musical abilities, and many would raise their hands. Knowing how much that stung, Brumbaugh always wanted to encourage his students since one's voice and musical talent is a natural attribute of a person.

"People get shot down when it is that personal," he said.

He found such encouragement with the friends he made when he moved in 1943 to Snoqualmie Falls, a now defunct town that housed mill workers and their families when the Weyerhaeuser mill flourished. He remembered becoming part of a group of friends who dubbed themselves the Riverside Rats, and Brumbaugh has many fond memories of the community center and school in Snoqualmie Falls where he spent so much time. He credits his friends and neighbors for the encouragement he felt all the way through school, whether it was playing trumpet in his home or playing football for Mount Si High School.

His first paying gig was playing trumpet for a band that played at dances at the Green Lake Fieldhouse in Seattle. The leader of the band, Jim Blake, was talking to Brumbaugh's cousin one day about his need for a trumpet player and the cousin had someone in mind. Brumbaugh, who was in eighth-grade but tall enough to fool the band leader, was invited to play along with a band comprised of high-schoolers and college students. He was paid $2.50, a payment that almost covered the $2.75 it cost him to get to Seattle.

"I lost 25 cents every time I played. You can see why I didn't go into business," he said. "Once you got the taste of that [paying gigs], you just wanted more."

Brumbaugh continued to make money playing in various bands and that became the means for him to go to Central Washington University. Just going to college was a big step for Brumbaugh, the son of a logger at the Weyerhaeuser mill. Brumbaugh's father left school after the eighth-grade to work, and Brumbaugh himself spent some time working the wood setting chokers and on fire patrol. While he appreciated the work ethic he learned as a logger, it didn't take Brumbaugh long to realize it wasn't a lifestyle he wanted to pursue.

"I heard more often than not, 'Hey kid, don't go into music, it's a rough life,'" Brumbaugh said. "Well, anything is a rough life, but it's not much rougher than setting chokers."

From then on, Brumbaugh made his living in music. He played in ballrooms and on radio shows. When he entered the Army, Brumbaugh found a place in the Army band where he ran into another horn player named Herb Alpert. He went on to teach music, both band and vocal, at several high schools and colleges, starting many programs along the way.

When Brumbaugh went into education, he often thought of the Greek phrase that translated into, "As in music, so in life." Brumbaugh came to believe that music was not just a skill for performers, but a part of everyone's life. The well-proportioned person knew the arts not so they could be the best at it, but because it was a part of everyone's existence.

"It was the crux of their [Greek] educational system," Brumbaugh said. "They saw the inherent discipline and the value of studying music that transcends all of life."

Brumbaugh said he has, regrettably, seen education and society put the wrong value on music. He recalled a story he heard Dwight D. Eisenhower tell when he was asked what the difference was between soldiers in the first World War and the second World War. Eisenhower remarked the soldiers in the first World War sang. Brumbaugh believes that is ndicative of the commercialization of entertainment and music, which are no longer inherent parts of people's personal lives.

"We turned it over to the professional," Brumbaugh said. "When we hear a performer, we think of how we can capitalize on it."

Brumbaugh feels blessed, though, for being able to make a living with his talent. He formed a vocal group called Celebration at Bellevue Community College. He traveled to Hollywood and rubbed elbows with Lawrence Welk and Count Basie. Wherever there was music was where Brumbaugh wanted to be.

Brumbaugh is currently retired, but he is unsure of what the word "retirement" is supposed to mean. He has been working with retirement homes on a program that allows residents to learn the old songs they grew up listening to. He still practices his trumpet for at least one hour every day, and recently calculated all of the hours he has spent practicing and performing music. His conservative estimate was something near 77,000 hours. Not one second of it has been wasted time.

"There is a kind of music to fit every emotional need a person will have," he said. "I know what music has done in my life and that is what has been the underpinning of my career."

In the meantime, those searching for a full list of Brumbaugh's accomplishments can look him up. He'll be in the book.

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