Harry Culley was surrounded by music from an early age. His parents, Harry and Ida, were professional pianists who practised several hours before their daily radio show. As a child Harry took piano lessons, but said he didn't think he was very good - it would have been hard to live up to his parents' expectations.
It wasn't his parents who started Harry on his musical career, but his grandmother Kate. When his parents went overseas to work during the Depression, he and his brother Ross went to live with their grandparents. Kate bought Harry a clarinet. Then she passed on a saxophone that one of her boarders had left in her basement. Armed with lessons from his Uncle Ed, Harry began his musical career.
He started working in a band in Deseronto, Ont., in 1937, travelling around Prince Edward County in a large Cadillac and playing dances in parish halls and pavilions. In 1938, Harry had his best summer ever, playing in a trio at the Royal Hotel in Honey Harbour, Ont. Rowing and swimming during the day, he entertained the guests with Gershwin tunes at night.
With the advent of the Second World War, Harry joined the Royal Canadian Air Force No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre Band. He met his future wife, Helen, at a dance he played in Ottawa where she was a volunteer server. They married in 1946 after being apart for four years while he was overseas.
Returning to civilian life in Toronto, Harry played in Norman Harris's big band at the King Edward Hotel, where he not only played saxophone and clarinet but learned to play the flute too. He grumbled that he wasn't paid the "tripling" rate for three instruments - the bandleader bent the union rules that time.
When big-band music went out of style, Harry began working for the Ontario government as an accounting clerk in 1952. He continued to play on Saturday nights and New Year's Eve, the biggest night of the year, when he was paid overtime - which probably helped make up for the fact he couldn't go out with Helen.
When Harry retired in 1979, his taste turned to classical music and he picked up the flute again. He joined a flute choir and had fun playing with musicians half his age. People said he was channelling his grandfather Teck, who had played flute in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout the years, Harry supported and encouraged the musical talents of his three children, Brian, Joanne and Norman, and four grandchildren by lending his instruments and giving practice tips.
Wherever Harry is now, I'm sure he's either playing or listening to music.
Joanne Culley is Harry's daughter.