MAGNIFICENT SEVEN - Whitburn claims historic seventh consecutive Scottish Open title

Issue 6119

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FOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE - Brett Baker meets American music dynamo, Lee Harrelson

James Gourlay on River City, his life in music and following the star

Sunday 7 November, 2021

The musical life of tuba virtuoso James Gourlay has been beset with fascinating twists and turns. From his grounding in brass bands in Fife, Scotland, to getting his first orchestral job as a teenager, James enjoyed a meteoric rise. As a performer, educator and conductor, he has worked all over the world and currently finds himself based in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, as the general and artistic director of River City Brass Band.

The 65-year-old chats to British Bandsman editor Mark Good about his glittering career so far.

(Image: Lorne Campbell | Guzelian).

 

How are you and how are you enjoying doing some more in-person music making after the bizarre experiences of the past 19 months or so?
 
JG: I’m absolutely fine. I’ve had three shots of the Pfizer vaccine so my arm is a bit like a pin cushion but I feel safer because of it. Now we’re back giving concerts and teaching in person, it’s fantastic. I don’t think there’s a musician alive who will ever take this profession for granted again. There used to be a joke that went ‘how do you cheese off a musician? You give him a gig’ because there was always something to moan about. What’s amazing in the profession at the moment is the sheer joy at being back, performing to alive audience.
 
Let’s talk about the River City Brass Band, which is hosting its first composer competition, with composers from all over the world welcome to get involved. Tell me about the competition, and how the idea came about.
 
JG: I was planning my season, which starts shortly and runs until May. We’re always trying to innovate at RCB and what better way to do that than by showcasing new repertoire. Then I came up with the idea of using some money for prize money and encouraging composers, young and old, to submit new works and build them into the programmes. Four will be chosen as winners, with each receiving a prize. Those works will be performed five times each and that’s an important point; it’s hard to get people to do a series of concerts but that’s what will happen here. Then we’re asking the audience to vote for their favourite and the band will have a vote. We have a distinguished panel of judges; Peter Graham, Martin Ellerby, myself and two members of RCB. People will get feedback on their pieces but the main thing is the opportunity to have the piece performed so many times.
 
What will you be looking for in composers’ submissions?
 
JG: We’re looking for ‘finishers’. It needs to be entertaining and a work that would finish a typical brass band concert. That will be useful for other bands.
 
We can’t duplicate one piece from one concert to the next in each of our seven concerts in our season so we eat through a lot of repertoire and bringing new music into the mix will be great.
 
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Issue 6115 digital November 4, 2021