Dave, Come Play Your Horn

May 20, 2020

Principal Trumpet David Harler Follows a Winding Road to the Gulf Coast Symphony

Growing up in Northern Virginia, David Harler was handed his first horn when he was eight years old. And that day led to a musical and life-long adventure that wound its way to Southwestern Florida and a position as principal trumpet at the Gulf Coast Symphony.

It was a 1930s King Liberty brand trumpet that his uncle first put in his hands. “Why he gave it to me I don’t know. He just said: ‘Here, if you want to play it, play it.’”

And play Dave did. In high school, he caught the eye of band master Everett C. Buskirk, who steered him toward Larry Tichenor, a player in the U.S. Marine Band, with whom Dave studied through high school.

Dyslexic at a time when that condition was little understood, Dave was frustrated by school work, save for music. “I saw letters and numbers upside down and backwards. I kept flunking tests. So when I’m supposed to be in math class, I’m in the band room doing duets with a friend. We weren’t playing hooky by going out to have a smoke. We were in the band room practicing.”

While Dave made it through high school, he had little prospect for university, given his dyslexia. That’s when luck touched him on the shoulder.

‘You’re in the Army Now’

Dave’s mother was a senior nurse in the Army hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., and a patient just happened to be in charge of the Army’s bands. Dave’s mom mentioned her son played trumpet and won him an audition and a promise. “I go marching into the Pentagon with my little trumpet. I’m in my senior year of high school. I go into his office, and he pulls out a book of duets that, as turns out, I had been studying in my private lessons. I just nailed it and passed the audition.”

After graduation from high school in 1965, Dave was drafted into the Army and assigned to the Army concert band based at Fort Meade, Md. Promise kept.

That was during the Vietnam war, which touched upon Dave, who besides band duties was detailed to play taps at some 180 military burials.

Dave left the Army after three years and moved to Atlanta, Ga., where he joined a brassy rock band called The Seventh Circle. “It was the late 60s early 70s. It was the age of Aquarius.”

The eight-member Seventh Circle played the college circuit and night clubs throughout the Southeast. It even opened for big name acts, such as the Allman Brothers Band, the Doobie Brothers and Linda Ronstadt.  “We did a lot of openings for some serious players. We were on the road all the time. I can remember many months writing rent checks for an apartment I seldom saw.”

But blowing horn in a rock group can take its toll. “How high and how loud can you play and for how long — that was the nature of playing in a rock band. It just destroys trumpet players.”

After four heady years, Dave left the Seventh Circle and headed back to the Washington, D.C. area, putting down his horn to do what so many of us regrettably do: retire from music for decades while we follow other pursuits.

For Dave, those pursuits included working in computer operations for Boeing Co. and later establishing a residential cleaning business in the D.C. area.

But that wasn’t all. It turned out Dave wasn’t quite through Rockin’. “I drag raced speed boats for 17 years. They were jet boats that would run about 130 mph and do a quarter-mile drag in nine seconds. I was a professional on the national circuit.”

Forward To the Past

Toward the end of his successful speed-boating career, the past reclaimed Dave. “When I was thinking about ending racing, I needed to find something to do next in my life. So I picked the horn back up. I was still racing, but I started taking weekly trumpet lessons.” 

He found a mentor in Chuck Seipp, longtime solo trumpet with the Army Band. “Chuck and I completely changed the way I played. I had been an all-state player in my youth, but had some issues. It took us two years, but we did it.” So Dave moved on from fast boats. 

By the time he left D.C. in 2004 to be near his parents in Southwest Florida, Dave was in his 50s and active on the Northern Virginia musical scene. He was in the National Concert Band of America, which was a collection of top ex-military players. He also was in the Alexandria, Va. Band, the Falls Church, Va. Band and the Veterans Administration Orchestra — all quality groups, Dave says.

That all changed. “I come to Florida, and there was nothing. It was like the music desert of America.”

Dave did find a local concert band in Lee County. But he wasn’t happy there. Then luck tapped him on the shoulder again. As Dave was walking out of the band room for the last time, a colleague suggested he look into the Gulf Coast Symphony. That was the tonic. “I said anything, anywhere. Give me that address.”

So Dave approached GCS music director Andrew Kurtz and found himself a musical home, where he has been for the past 16 years. “I never really played with a symphony until I got here. I was always a band guy. It’s totally different in an orchestra. And I’m not a jazz guy. I love the show stuff and the classical music.”

Dave says his biggest thrill in the GCS was playing solo trumpet in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony six or seven years ago. “It’s one of the biggest parts for trumpets out there.”

And the second was playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in 2009, which was reprised by the orchestra in March 2020. “I don’t know what else I would do if I couldn’t play in the symphony any more.

Meantime, Southwest Florida hasn’t just gifted Dave his musical love. He also met his wife Kim shortly after he settled in the area. And there has been a day job. During his time here, Dave and Kim have run a residential cleaning business.

By Art Mooradian

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