Dr. Begian was born in Michigan to Armenian immigrants in 1921. The influence of his Armenian heritage was the motivating factor in his commissioning Alfred Reed to compose his work for band entitled "Armenian Dances" parts 1 and 2 and subsequently "Praise Jerusalem." Begian was a frequent contributor to such band publications as The Instrumentalist.
At the secondary level, just after studying at Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Dr. Begian began his tenure as band director at Detroit's Cass Technical High School,1947 through 1964. At Cass Tech, Begian honed his skills as a band director before advancing to the University level after completing his doctorate.
He pursued a doctorate and college career at the urging of his mentor at Cass Tech, Larry Teal of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). Begian also later recounted that Teal had offered to help pay for his degree. Other influences at this time that Begian credited with shaping his approach to music were William D. Revelli, who showed him that "a band could be a refined musical instrument," Leonard Falcone, who's solo playing taught him what musical expression is, and his trumpet teacher, Leonard Smith, principal chair at the DSO, who taught him the importance of accuracy and dynamic control.
During Begian’s tenure at Cass Tech, the program developed a reputation for excellence and was invited to perform at venues such as the prestigious Mid-West Band Clinic in 1954. The Library of Congress created a permanent Harry Begian Collection that now houses 26 recordings of Begian’s respected Cass Technical High School bands.
Following Begian’s tenure at Cass Tech, he earned an EdD (Doctor of Education) degree from the University of Michigan in 1964 (Proquest Dissertations & Theses), and started his college teaching career. After serving three years as Director of Bands at Wayne State University and three years as Director of Bands at Michigan State University, Dr. Begian began his fourteen-year tenure as only the third person to hold the position Director of Bands at the University of Illinois in 1970. Dr. Begian retired from the University of Illinois in 1984. In 1985, he was lured out of retirement to become the director of the Purdue University Symphonic Band from 1985-1987. Then director of bands at Purdue J Richard Duncan stated, "We think he's going to bring the same kind of excitement to the concert band that Bill Moffit is bringing to the marching band program" about recruiting the "internationally known conductor." After officially retiring, Dr. Begian returned to the world famous Interlochen Center For The Arts where he had previously served as a facuty member, 1961–1964 and in 1973. Jeffrey S. Kimpton, Interlochen's seventh President, performed in Dr. Begian's University of Illinois Large Symphonic Band (the premiere performing band at the time) as a cornetist during the early 70's.
During Begian's tenure at the University of Illinois, he continued the LP recording project established by his predecessor, Mark Hindsley. After his retirement from the University of Illinois, many of the recording of the Symphonic Band under Dr. Begian's baton were re-distributed as a set of 20 CDs which are now included in the Begian Collection of the Library of Congress. Dr. Begian was especially known for his recordings of the works by Percy Grainger, as well as his interpretation of the tone poems of Richard Strauss.
Dr. Begian was the recipient of numerous awards, including induction into National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors on February 5, 1994, The Edwin Franko Goldman Award, and the Notre Dame St. Cecelia Award. Begian was a charter member of the American School Band Director’s Association, the Goldman award being their highest honor.
In 2003, Begian was honored in a tribute to his professional accomplishments including 50 years as a nationally and internationally known music educator, having conducted over 65 performances now housed in the Library of Congress, and for his many contributions to music education by the U.S. Senate. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) read the tribute on the Senate floor immediately prior to the presiding officer of the Senate reading a Presidential report on the "emergency" of fissable nuclear material proliferation in the Russian Federation.
Dr. Begian died July 26, 2010 at the age of 89. The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music houses the Harry Begian Papers, which consists of correspondence, scrapbooks, research materials and personal arrangements that document Begian's career as a band conductor and teacher.
- Music Article Guide, Information Services, 1986, p.10
- Jordan, Douglas M., Alfred Reed, A Biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, P.49
- Wallace, Carroll, The Life and Work of Harry Begian, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994
- Teweleit, Russel D., Dr. Gary Garner, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, P.27
- Crider, Paul, The Conductor’s Legacy, GIA Publications, Chicago, IL., 2010, P.23
- Levin, Senator Carl, Tribute to Harry Begian, Congressional Record, Volumes 109-122, page 14204 (Senate, June 10, 2003)
- Long, Sarah A.; Kelly A. Carlson (2011). "Finding Aid for Harry Begian Papers, 1926-97". The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
- Staff, Harry Begian Leading Purdue Symphony Band, The School Musician (Magazine), Volume 57, Phi Beta Mu, Newark, Ohio, P.30
- "In Memoriam: May 2011". Interlochen Center for the Arts. Interlochen Center for the Arts. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
- "Jeffrey S. Kimpton". Interlochen Center for the Arts. Interlochen Center for the Arts. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
- "University of Illinois Large Symphonic Band". Retrieved 6 September 2012.
- Frank, Brendan. "The Legacy of Illinois Bands". Illinois Bands. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
- "Tribute to Dr. Harry Begian". Congressional Record - Senate. U.S. Government Printing Office. 10. Retrieved 6 September 2012.