Tribute to Harvey Gleiser: Music Leaves Incredible Legacy

Music leaves incredible legacy’, an excellent tribute to Harvey Gleiser, original and long-time euphonium player in the Winds and who passed away last January, appeared in The Record Monday, October 25, 2010.

Music Leaves Incredible Legacy

Harvey Gleiser of Kitchener
Born: Aug. 31, 1922, in Kitchener
Died: Feb. 22, 2010, age-related illness
October 25, 2010

By Valerie Hill, Record staff

HarveyGleiser2005Imagine the disappointment of seven-year-old Harvey Gleiser when something called a euphonium was placed in hands, not the clarinet or saxophone he’d hoped for.

The hurt was so deep, he once told The Record he cried all the way home, then tossed the horn into a corner. Of course this was the 1920s, an era before child indulgences so Harvey would have to learn to play, like it or not.

Little Harvey not only grew to love the instrument but composer-conductor Michael Purves-Smith suggested that at his peak, Harvey was the finest euphonium player in North America.

“Harvey was an absolute perfectionist,” said Michael, who conducted Harvey in the Wellington Winds. “He was very passionate about music.” The euphonium, though beautiful, has an unusual tone, yet Harvey was able to bring remarkable sounds from the instrument, often filling in the gaps when other orchestra members were absent.

By age 11, Harvey had garnered 36 gold medals in competition. By age 12, his uncle, principal of the Kitchener Conservatory of Music, promoted the boy to the all men’s band. Here he really cut his chops as a musician.

“I sat beside a wonderful euphonium player and tried to replicate how he played,” Harvey once said. “I learned a lot from him and when he died, I was the only euphonium player.”

After high school, Harvey worked in data processing at Mutual Life Insurance. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force hoping to become a pilot. At least until he crashed a plane during training.

“I’ve always been rather an excitable person,” he explained. Transferred to the military Central Ceremonial Band, Harvey toured North America, playing with headliners such as Ingrid Bergman and Jeanette McDonald.

After his discharge in 1945, Harvey returned to his insurance job, rising to management before retiring in 1982. Yet he always centred his life on music and, at first, it seemed love had eluded him.

Harvey cared for his mother after his father died and his only sibling, Merner, left to marry. He once said his own marriage seemed unlikely, at least until he met Burgie, a dress designer who worked parttime at the insurance company. By then his mother had passed away. At 50, Harvey married Burgie in a happy union that lasted 18 years until she died of cancer.

Harvey likely used music to sooth his broken heart. He held a diploma in harmony and music theory, an undergraduate degree in performing from Wayne State University and he completed conducting classes in the U.S. His performance background included long stints with the Stratford CNR Band, the Kitchener Musical Society Band, the Wellington Winds and the Twin City Operatic Society, and he was the first euphonium player with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony when it started as an amateur orchestra. He played with the orchestra for 50 years and served as assistant conductor.

“He had beautiful sound and exquisite musicianship,” said Jane Maness, principal tuba with the symphony and a parttime instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University. Harvey conducted master classes at the university and donated two euphoniums along with seven boxes overflowing with music, much of which he had adapted for his beloved instrument. The balance of musical scores were donated to the symphony.

“I see this act of giving, bigger than giving money,” said Jane, hoping students will play Harvey’s euphoniums and feel the love he had for the instrument.

In 2008, Harvey made the news again, this time after a Second World War practice bomb was found behind a wall during renovations of the Union Boulevard home he had occupied for 60 years, before moving to long-term care a year earlier. The bomb had slipped behind the wall from a hole in the attic.

“I knew it wasn’t loaded,” he said. “I carried it in a cloth bag across Canada several times.” His little forgotten souvenir created havoc, including an evacuation.

He later said, “I’m a rat packer. So I kept it. Tell them I’m not a terrorist.” Harvey cheekily asked the authorities to return his souvenir. The military, called in to remove the bomb, denied his request.

Harvey, never one to sit still, had been active in the community, serving as president of the Kiwanis of Rockway as well as choir director and founder of the hand bell choir at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. He had been a tennis and handball champion and nearly made it to the Olympics for wrestling. Then there was his penchant for motorcycles and Jaguars. He took up boat building and sailing, entering regattas, and he made models of everything from ships to airplanes.

Close friend Bob Doerner recalls driving along Harvey’s street one day in 1976 and spotting the man polishing his J-type Jaguar, the same car Bob drives.

“He drew people in,” said Bob, recalling how Harvey was a fixture on the street, polishing his car and motorcycles while wearing little more than tennis shorts. Fit and tanned, he cut quite the figure but it was his personality that attracted Bob.

“He was dedicated, unique, eclectic and certainly eccentric,” said Bob. “I’ve never met a stronger, more decent person.”