HIS SONG: Harry Wilson, violinist with Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
HIS SONG: Harry Wilson, violinist with Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

How losing 40kg helped me play the violin better

HARRY WILSON
MUSICIAN, 60

WINDSOR

I consider myself a lucky person because I enjoy my own company and I have varied interests. I've worked as a violinist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra since I was 17. I also play the didgeridoo as a soloist. I started playing the violin at Churchie (Anglican Church Grammar School in East Brisbane) when I was 12, which was a late start compared to other musicians. I was just assigned the violin when I started high school and never thought to ask for a different instrument, but it turns out I was good enough to get a job with the QSO. It's turned into a very long career, and as part of the orchestra I've accompanied everyone from Pavarotti to the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. The most interesting experience was playing as part of the accompanying orchestra at Sanctuary Cove in the 1990s, one-and-a-half metres away from Frank Sinatra.

The didgeridoo playing had its origins when I was about four and began annoying my parents by playing the vacuum cleaner pipe. Then when I was 18 and studying my first year at Queensland Conservatorium of Music, the trombone lecturer gave me some lessons in the didgeridoo and I started to teach myself, drawing on all the same circular breathing skills I was using at four, as it turns out. I also got some lessons from David Blanasi, who was a well-known traditional didgeridoo player from eastern Arnhem Land.

I've been invited to all sorts of places to play the didgeridoo, including to the top of the Alps in Austria with the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra; this month I'm touring with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra travelling to cities like Washington and Chicago and Boston, performing as a didgeridoo soloist.

I've lost 40kg over the past 18 months, which has helped my didgeridoo playing because I've got more space for my lungs to expand; my violin playing's improved too because my fingers are thinner. I've got type 2 diabetes and I was just not very healthy so I had gastric bypass surgery in January 2018. It was radical and not cheap but I'd tried diets for many years and they never worked and my weight got to the point where I couldn't walk 20 feet without puffing. After the surgery you have to relearn how to eat because the surgery is a major re-plumbing of your digestive system. I've been really disciplined and my whole life has changed for the better. I now walk many kilometres every day, most of them up hills around my home. I've gone from a 5XL to a medium in shirts and it's no longer hard to get up off a couch. I had some old tails I used to wear in the orchestra in 1984 and they fit nicely again now, so I'm glad I kept them.

Outside of music, I write poetry and do a form of graphic art that I describe as techno-glyphs, some of which I get put on my body as tattoos. They aren't in places where they can be seen because for me my tattoos are a personal thing.

I'm happily single these days, but I've been married twice and I've had lots of tough times. My first wife sadly committed suicide, which was a really hard time, and my first child, with my second wife, died full term during his birth in 1995. We went on to have another two children - John who is now 23 and Amy, 18, and they are busy forging their own lives; I'm very proud of them. I've suffered with depression most of my life but I got through that eventually with a lot of work. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger is the moral of the story with my life. Difficult times create a certain amount of depth emotionally and I draw on that when I write poetry and also when I play the didgeridoo. I would have preferred not to have gone through those tough times in my life but since I did, you can't help but be a better person for them.

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