James scores tuba role with Melbourne Symphony

MORE than two decades ago James Harvey swapped a career in the US as an orchestral tubist for a life in outback Australia playing the didgeridoo.

This Saturday the Mullumbimby musician will make his comeback on the tuba with no less than the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

The 65-year-old musician was a professional orchestral tubist in America for 20 years, performing with the Denver Symphony and other ensembles, before coming to Australia in 1988 when he was gifted another bass instrument - his first didgeridoo - by Aboriginal elders in Arnhem Land, NT.

"I got sucked into Arnhem Land, and I stayed on there doing cross-cultural work," Mr James said.

"Playing the didgeridoo is very similar to a tuba. I was able to play it as soon as they gave it to me. Essentially, the vibration produced by the lips moves air through a column," he said.

Mr Harvey has produced two CDs of original didgeridoo music, but hasn't performed professionally as a tubist for close to 20 years.

On Saturday he makes his comeback among 138 amateur musicians selected to join forces with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for Symphony in a Day, with a performance at Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday night.

PLAYING FROM MEMORY: Musician James Harvey from Mullumbimby is heading to Melbourne this weekend to play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He is pictured in Byron Bay. Inset is an historic photo of the former orchestral tubist.
PLAYING FROM MEMORY: Musician James Harvey from Mullumbimby is heading to Melbourne this weekend to play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He is pictured in Byron Bay. Inset is an historic photo of the former orchestral tubist. Patrick Gorbunovs

Mr Harvey said he felt drawn to playing the tuba again and applied "on a whim" to be part of the Melbourne Symphony project after hearing about it on ABC Classic FM Breakfast early one morning.

"I've always wanted to play in an orchestra again, so dropping in for a day to rehearse and play a concert is a dream come true," he said.

To get back in shape, for the past month he has been practising on a borrowed high-school student's horn.

"I discovered all the muscle memory was there; my fingers knew what to do; my lungs are strong and all of the training I've done since I was 13 years old was still there," he said.

Tomorrow James will be in Victoria to take charge of the first tuba he's owned since moving to Australia, a five-valve instrument he found on Gumtree.

"I've heard it played on video, so I know this horn has pedigree. I just need a few hours with it to learn its nature," he said.

"It's totally irrational, but a great adventure I'm going on."



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