20 Questions with James Gourlay - Houghton Horns

20 Questions with James Gourlay

James Gourlay is a Tuba virtuoso, Artistic & General Director of the River City Brass Band, newly appointed Director of Bands at Duquesne University’s Mary Pappert School of Music and all-around renaissance man. 

Gourlay was born in Scotland, where, at the age of ten, he was “volunteered” to play in his school brass band. Being the tallest in class, he was serendipitously given the tuba, an instrument he loves and continues to promote all over the world.

After much success as a solo champion, Gourlay entered the Royal College of Music but left after a short time to become the Principal Tuba of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the age of eighteen. He continued working at the BBC Symphony Orchestra for ten years, then performed for an additional ten years with the Orchestra of the Zurich Opera. Gourlay’s career as a chamber musician and soloist continues to flourish. He has been a member of the Philip Jones and English Brass ensembles with which he has toured the world, and also continues to perform as a soloist extensively. He has recorded five solo CDs, the latest being British Tuba Concertos recorded for the Naxos label with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, which has since received international critical acclaim.

Gourlay’s early work within the Brass Band Movement forms a vital component of his creative output. After early success with the Brass Band Berneroberland, he became music director of the Williams Fairey Band with which he won the English Masters and British Open contents. Gourlay has also been the professional conductor of the Grimethorpe Colliery and the Etoiles, with which he has won the Swiss National Championships, the Swiss Open Championships, and second place at the European as well as at the World Brass Band Championships.

Gourlay’s commitment to music education is a continuing passion. He has been Head of Wind and Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music and Deputy Principal and Music Director at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Salford University, a Masters degree from Leeds University, a Fellowship of the Royal Northern College of Music, a Fellowship of the London College of Music, and is also a recipient of the Henry Iles Medal, presented by the Worshipful Company of Musicians for services to the Brass Band Movement. Currently, Gourlay is International Vice President of the International Tuba and Euphonium Association and Artistic Director of the River City Brass.

  1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started? 


Eb bass tuba, I was 10.

  1. Could you describe what would be your perfect day? 


Everyday I can make music. 

  1. Most memorable performance? 


I Played Mahler 6 with the Vienna Phil.

  1. Significant teachers/mentors in your life? 


Only one: Mr William J. Ross, my school’s janitor.

  1. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it?


RV camping.

  1. Favorite symphony? 


I don’t really have one!

  1. When was the last time you cried, and why? 


Recently in a rehearsal of the Duquesne Wind Symphony. The energy of the young musicians was overwhelming.

  1. If money was no object, what would you buy? 


A large farm, where I would grow food I could give to the poor.

  1. One thing most people don’t know about you? 


I once knitted a sweater for Karlheinz Stockhausen.

  1. Opera or ballet? 


Both! I played in the Zurich Opera for about ten years where I met the love of my life; a ballerina.

  1. First job? 


Picking potatoes for a Mr Tom Anderson. I was only 13, but I saved money to buy a used tuba. My first music job was the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I was 18 when I won the job.

  1. Favorite sports team?


Pittsburgh Pirates.

  1. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be? 


Mahatma Gandhi.

  1. Coffee or Tea? 



  1. Favorite book? 


The Bible.

  1. Favorite movie? 


Brief Encounter 

  1. Siblings? 


Two brothers and three sisters. Only one brother and one sister are still alive.

  1. Favorite piece to play? 



  1. Least favorite piece to play?



  1. Dogs or cats? 


We have a cat now, but did have a dog. He was so amazing that it would feel like a betrayal to have another. He was unique, and I miss him.

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