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Chance encounter brings award-wining harpist to Pacific City

Sharlys performs at the Tillamook Library on March 16

A harp. Irish culture. And the Sportsman’s Pub in Pacific City. What do they all have in common? Each play a role in the trajectory of Sharlys Dugan Leszczuk’s life.


At the age of four, Sharlys remembered wanting to be just like her older brother.


 “My mother’s goal was when we both turned six, she would start us on instruments,” Sharlys said. “My brother, Connor, turned six first and he started playing the fiddle. So, when I saw him playing, I just felt left out.”

Growing up, music was always present in the family’s home. Sharlys’ mother was a well-trained pianist, and eventually a harpist.


“I only knew the fiddle, the piano, and the harp because those were the instruments in my house,” Sharlys said. “So, when it was my turn to choose an instrument, I chose the harp.”


Sharlys started on a much smaller harp than she plays now. But she remembers that at four, her arms still could not reach all the strings, so she would just play the ones closest to her.

Sharlys at age four

 “Every day I would come home from school and practice for 30 minutes to an hour. My mom made me practice every single day through thick and thin and I just stuck with it,” she said.


Sharlys described her parents as blue-collar workers. Her father is a first-generation American from Eastern European descent and worked as a mechanic for the United States Postal Service. Her mother is of Irish decent and worked as an esthetician and hair and makeup artist. Sharlys said her parents hoped music would equip their children with skills that could open future opportunities.


“They knew when they had kids that they weren't going to have the means to send us to college,” Sharlys said. “My mom also knew all the educational benefits from playing music.”

As the children became proficient in their instruments, the family formed their band: Dugan's Hooligans, a Celtic eclectic ensemble. “Dugan,” the maternal family name, paired well with the band’s Irish-style music and is a name that Sharlys embraced as her stage name.


“My mom played the piano and a little bit of the harp. I played the harp, the tin whistle, sang, and Irish step-danced. My brother played the fiddle,” Sharlys said. “With us side-by-side, it was this cute little recipe for a successful family band.”


The band started with just the three family members. After some time, another element was added.


“My dad was our roadie for the longest time, and then my mom said we needed a drummer,” Sharlys remembered. So, Dugan’s father took up the bodhrán (Irish drum).


Dugan's Hooligans

Living less than an hour from New York City, Dugan’s Hooligans performed at various venues in the New York / New Jersey area.


“My family would always have dinner together and then, if we had a gig coming up, we would play music after dinner. Music was our priority.”


As young musicians, Sharlys and her brother would also compete in music competitions. At eight, Sharlys won her first North Atlantic Irish Harp championship which she held for three consecutive years. When she was 10, the siblings both advanced from their regional Fleadh Irish Music Competition to the world-wide competition hosted in Ireland.


“I definitely feel really connected to the Irish community just because I've met so many people from Ireland, or who play Irish music. I grew up hearing the Irish accents and being surrounded by the Irish community,” Sharlys said. “My harp teacher came to the U.S. from Ireland when she was very young. I heard so much about it through these connections. Plus, every song about Ireland talks about how beautiful it is and its history.”


After graduating high school, Sharlys went off to college and focused on her studies in public relations, taking a break from playing the harp.


“I originally declared a music minor, but I ended up not pursuing that path,” she said. “But, growing up performing taught me how to be on a stage, public speak, put together a program, and engage an audience. It helped build a lot of confidence in me.”

Photo by Jon Bewley

Her degree in public relations came in handy when she decided to start performing again.


“I was learning about marketing, email newsletters, social media, and I grasped onto that,” Sharlys said. “I started email newsletter campaigns and that's how I kicked off my solo music career in New Jersey.”


 Beyond music, Sharlys is an avid traveler. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Sharlys was working remotely and decided to take a couple road trips around the country; one would alter her lifepath.  


“People always told me to visit the Northwest because I’d really like it,” Sharlys said. “I flew to Eugene and rented a car. I was driving up the Oregon Coast and I had two days to kill before I was meeting up with a friend in Portland.”


Sharlys said on her second day she found herself at the Sportsman’s Pub in Pacific City.


“It was the middle of the summer and this guy knew that I wasn't from town,” Sharlys recalled. “He came up to me and his first question was: ‘Where are you from?’”


Sharlys told him she was from the area, a response she always uses as a safety precaution when traveling solo.


“He replied: ‘Okay, first lie out of the way,’” Sharlys laughed. “It’s crazy that he knew I was from out of town because our community is so small and he knows everybody who walks into Sportsman’s. So, that was a cute little icebreaker.”


Their happenchance meeting at the pub proved to be the start of their story as a couple. The two both offered to uproot their lives to move to either coast to be with one another. In the end, Sharlys decided to relocate to Pacific City.


“As soon as he said that we would sell his tools and business and move to New Jersey, I said: ‘Great. Thanks for offering. I’m going to close my laptop, get on a plane, and move to Oregon.’ People always tell me that it sounds like a book…and it does.”

Photo by Jon Bewley

After taking some time to settle in and acclimate to the community, an unexpected job situation brought harp playing back into Dugan’s life.


“I was working remotely and I got laid off,” Sharlys said. “So, one of the first ideas that came to my mind was to start harp playing.”


She hadn’t brought a harp with her in the move, so she sought out a secondhand one from a seller in Portland.


“I started playing again and designing my program. Then, late last year I started my email marketing. I researched the local libraries and sent out emails to those people. I mentioned that I'm here and that if they're looking for live music performances, I'm available.”


Her outreach worked: the Tillamook Library invited Sharlys to play at the main branch on March 16. It was her first performance on the west coast.


“It's extremely generous of them and shows how focused and dedicated they are to bringing live music and different kinds of culture to the area. It’s not easy to find local musicians when you’re so far from a major metro area.”


Her first performance was met with a full house and Sharlys was invited to return for additional performances within the Tillamook Library branch system.


“I think people always associate the harp with slow, boring, sing-songy things,” Sharlys said. “But the way I structure my programs is fast-paced, engaging, funny, and incorporates so many elements. Some people are just mesmerized by how fast my fingers can move.”


When not playing the harp, Sharlys is a licensed real estate agent with Windermere Pacific City, works part-time in the office of Nestucca High School, and is the Bobcat’s JV volleyball coach.


“I was working remotely and I just felt like I was locked in a little room in my house; I had no connection to this community,” Sharlys said. “When you live in a small town and you walk out the door and realize you're not contributing anything to it, it's kind of demoralizing. So, once I had the layoff, I wanted to get more involved.”


Sharlys also serves as the vice chair for the Pacific City-Woods Citizens Advisory Committee.


“That has been a really cool way to stay connected to the community and learn about what's going on,” she said.


With all her connections, Sharlys writes a blog that highlights hyper-local businesses and upcoming events in Pacific City.


In May, Sharlys plans to travel back to New Jersey to once again compete in the Fleadh Irish Music Competition.


Catch Sharlys’s next harp performance at the Rockaway Beach Library on April 27 at 11 a.m.


For more information on Dugan’s music, visit


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