Key Points:

A man who toured the country for 24 years, bringing music to a generation of schoolchildren, is returning home after two decades away.

Gary Brain left New Zealand nearly 20 years ago after a hand injury ended his career as principal percussionist with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

His wrist was crushed when a suitcase fell from an overhead locker on a flight to the United States. After numerous operations, surgeons finally decided he would never play again.

So Mr Brain - who now lives "right next to the Arc de Triomphe", in Paris - became a conductor, and has since found fame with a number of orchestras, including the St Petersburg Philharmonic and The Paris Opera.

He won a Grammy for Orchestral CD of the Year while conducting with London's Philharmonia Orchestra.

Next month's visit will be his first "proper" trip to New Zealand in almost 20 years, and he will spend time with his Wellington-based daughter, whom he has not seen in nine years.

Mr Brain - who estimates he performed school concerts to a million Kiwi kids - is returning to help launch the Real Art Roadshow.

The show seeks to get students inspired by our art works and two specially-converted trucks will spend this academic year visiting high schools in Auckland, Northland and Waikato.

Real Art Roadshow director Fiona Campbell says she developed the idea based on her memories of seeing Mr Brain perform at her high school.

"Even though I had no interest in being a percussionist ... I thought 'This guy rocks'."

The theory behind the roadshow - which features original works from a range of artists, from up-and-comers to Ralph Hotere - is simple, she says.

The plan is to give students "a positive, uplifting experience... then you kind of bugger off and leave them all fired up".

Ms Campbell got to know Mr Brain following his accident, when he came to her parents, Kevin and Susan Campbell, for help seeking compensation from United Airlines.

Ms Campbell's brother Lee was killed when United Flight 811, on which he was a passenger, experienced explosive decompression over the Pacific in February 1989.

Mr Brain launches the free roadshow in Auckland on February 4. He will remain here for a month.