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Flutists Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway MAG
Northern Ireland’s Sir James Galway, nicknamed "the man with the golden flute, " is regarded as both a supreme interpreter of the classical flute repertoire and a consummate entertainer whose appeal crosses all musical boundaries. As the most televised and recorded classical artist performing today, Sir James is a modern musical master with over 30 million albums sold. As an instructor and humanitarian, Sir James is a tireless promoter of the arts.
A native of New York and graduate of New York City's Mannes College of Music, Lady Galway appears regularly as the premiere Flute Duo Partner with her husband.
In addition to keeping a busy touring schedule in which they give recitals and perform with the world's leading orchestras, Sir James and Lady Jeanne conduct master classes and devote much of their free time discharging their duties as president and vice president of Flutewise, a volunteer-based nonprofit which encourages young flute players and donates instruments to low-income students and young people with disabilities.
(bio info from TheGalwayNetwork. com and JeanneGalway. com)
After sitting in on their live broadcast session at Boston’s NPR radio station WGBH, we met with Sir James and Lady Jeanne to talk about their childhoods, careers, performing, and the importance of music.
You are both very accomplished flutists and play concerts together. Is it difficult to be married and in the same profession?
Sir: No, not at all. It’s very nice, actually.
Lady: Right, because, first of all, you don’t have to find a place to practice. (Laughs) And, it has a lot of benefits because we are a team anyway when we are at home and so when playing music, we are even a better team.
We always travel together. I organize his career, his suitcases. He brings me my tea in the morning. We’ve been doing this for 22 years, so it’s very nice.
Playing in front of an audience is nerve-racking. How long did it take the two of you to get used to it?
Sir: Not long.
Sir: After two measures of music. (Everyone laughs)
Lady: I used to get a little nervous and my husband would give me a very strange look. Then told me, “The difference between me and you is that I have more experience. ” And it changed everything for me, because I thought, Oh, then I am not strange, that he’s calm and I’m not. And this is what I tell students all the time: it was just another new experience. With every new experience you may be a bit uncomfortable, but if you know what you are going to do, that gives you the confidence to walk out there and say, “I am going to play for you. ” If you are afraid, you’re going to mess up. It has to be really good when you are practicing so that when you walk out into an auditorium you say to yourself, Here I am.
Are there any particularly cool perks to being a lord or a lady?
Sir: You know, it’s the worst thing, because I was quite happy in the working class. And then I got knighted and realized I was in the super-hard working class. People ask you to do things they wouldn’t have before. Like, “Oh, Sir James, your name would look good on our board of directors. ”
Lady: Yes, you do get a lot of charity requests. There are a lot of perks actually; one of them is, particularly in England, people listen when you call a restaurant to make a reservation. They do treat you differently.
Sir: In America if you say, “This is Sir James Galway calling, ” they think you are some sort of a nut. But in England they take you seriously.
Lady: But we were in Lincoln, Nebraska, and someone said, “We are so honored. Should I bow?” (Laughs) And you know, it is an honor. It’s a great honor, the queen of England bestows the title.
Do you ever see the Queen?
Lady: Sure. We had lunch with her in May. We were invited because she was celebrating her eightieth birthday and she had a luncheon for people over 60 who were still working. When we walked in, they announced, “Sir James” - and that makes you feel very good.
Then we were asked, “Did anyone tell you that you will be presented to Her Majesty today?” And we said, “No. ” So we were ushered forward and they told me to stand behind my husband. And there she was, calling him by the first name.
We will be playing a private concert soon at Buckingham Palace just for the queen and 30 of her friends. (Girls gasp with delight)
What were you like in school?
Sir: I was an A student. But I left when I was 14.
How did you have time to keep up good grades and practice?
Sir: I don’t know, but I think we worked harder then.
Lady: I was a good student. And I think music helps you apply yourself because you are working hard on something so that you can do it really well and because often you play with other people. It helps you excel in other things, like your studies. I think it’s only a matter of going to classes and listening and spending some time at night and then taking tests and moving on. You have a choice if you want to play sports or hang out with friends or email or practice the flute.
Sir: There are so many distractions these days that didn’t exist when I was a kid, like this whole internet thing. When I see little kids on computers playing games, it’s sort of weird. They don’t even know how to write, yet they are already captured. They have their minds taken by this industry. When I was a kid, we didn’t have that, if we wanted to learn something, we got a book and read about it.
Lady: Teens have a tremendous amount of pressure. There is all this pressure to look good, to buy this, to have this designer bag, and then comes the college bit. One of my friend’s children applied to ten colleges. I said “Ten colleges!?” And he said that is the norm. We did two, and you know what? We got in. I hate to sound old, but it was a bit simpler for us.
Do you keep in touch with childhood friends? Do those relationships seem more genuine than those you made as Sir and Lady Galway?
Sir: Well, you know, friends change as you go along. You meet new people and become friends because you have more in common with this new person who comes into your life than with the kid who sat at the next desk at school. One of the kids I went to school with became an admiral in the Australian navy, and another became an inspector of bridges. I keep in touch with these guys from time to time and see them whenever I am back in their area.
What do you think about the cuts being made to music budgets in public schools?
Sir: Any cut that is made in education is bad, and unnecessary.
Lady: This is a very rich country. There are more billionaires here than anywhere. And to cut the arts, or cut anything, but cut the arts? Music gives a child such confidence and when you’re older, it is something to do when friends start hanging out in the wrong places. Playing an instrument just makes you feel good about yourself, that’s all! You play in a concert and your grandparents come and you get all dressed up and everything, and they want to take this away. I don’t understand.
Sir: Learning to play an instrument is a special thing because the learning bricks are not the same. You know, when you first go to school and your teacher starts to teach you how to count, you can already count a little because your parents tried to turn you into some sort of little Einstein. So you could count up to ten and so you can relate to learning that. But when a child comes and says, “Dad, I want to learn the euphonium” the reaction is, “What! What’s a euphonium? Sounds like some sort of drug, we’ve got to change her school!” So here is a kid with no music in the family starting off, and this experience is completely foreign. Then you find that when you start to do other things, because of your grip on putting things together as a musician, you put them together differently.
When you are studying at school, you will have a different approach and investigate things differently because of the way you try to play the flute, or any instrument. You always fiddle around and see what works best, so that’s what you do with other things too.
Lady: I come from a family that had no musical background. I wanted to play the trombone, but my mother told me it was too big. I was one of six kids and she said I should play the flute but I didn’t want to because my sisters played it, and it was a girl’s instrument. But I took up the flute.
It is interesting what my husband said about music helping you figure out new things because today I manage his whole career, which means all the finances, contracts, all this business stuff. I never had a business mind, the hardest subject in school for me was always math. When I first met my husband, my bank account was always in disarray. I used to close bank accounts just to figure out the balance. But today I can work indifferent currencies and tax rates and negotiate contracts with concert halls and promoters all over the world. I really believe that my musical ability taught me to focus. If you aren’t focused, you can’t play what’s on the page, so it’s really wonderful discipline.
Were there any sacrifices you had to make for your dream?
Sir: I don’t think so. The things that I don’t miss, I don’t miss, if you know what I mean.
Lady: But you had to be away from your children when they were young. Things like that.
Sir: Mmmhmm. Well, there was that, but they all survived.
Lady: I did have to make sacrifices. When I was young I used to think it was a sacrifice because everyone was outplaying and I was inside practicing. I had to work in the summer to earn money to buy a flute while everyone was at the beach. But today I have a nice life.
I was curious about what you listen to when you are not playing. Do you listens to a lot of classical music or other artists?
Lady: A mix, right, James?
Sir: Yeah. I can tell you what’s on my iPod right now. I just bought a new one.
Lady: This is Mr. Gadget, by the way. He’s really up on the latest technological everything. He just got a new movie iPod the other day. But he does listen to a lot of different music, jazz and rock. Now, our stuff is not exactly what you listen to. It’s the old stuff. I listen to Elton John (everyone nods) - oh, Elton John is all right? He’s cool? Okay. (laughs, girls laugh) And opera and Toni Braxton, I have an old CD of hers, stuff like that. James also downloads books on his iPod.
Sir: I listen to a lot of history books and political things. The music on my iPod right now is Strauss’ “Alpine Symphony, ” conducted by Carion with my old orchestra, so it’s big.
Lady: You used to be a big Elvis fan. Elton John wrote him a tune and sent it to him. And we were doing a concert recently and Paul Simon came up to him and is a big fan. Don Henley from the Eagles is a big fan, too. A lot of rock people are big fans, Eric Clapton is another. We meet a lot of these people and they all want to get into classical music. They are always asking for tips on this and that.
Could you tell us about one of your most memorable high school experiences? Embarrassing moments or anything like that.
Sir: My high school reunion.
Lady:Yes (laughs), but that was after high school. Embarrassing moments? Oh gee, I’ve blotted them out of my mind. Probably had to do with boys. Well, this guy was the president of our sophomore class and he had this crush on me and invited me to the Valentine dance. I never was into dances, you know, but I said yes. Since he was only 15 his father picked us up in this big car. His father was dressed up, and he was dressed up, and he had this box of candy for me . . . I was so embarrassed. And he was a good-looking guy, and all my girlfriends were lined up and laughing at us. And sure enough, I broke up with him the next day, but I had my girlfriend give him the note. He never forgave me.
We went to my high school reunion, I was lucky they all had name tags because I wouldn’t have known who anyone was. One guy walked up to James and said, “She broke my heart. I have never been the same. ”And he didn’t shut up the whole evening, and he was the quarterback of the football team.
But James, you must have had funny experiences. You were wild when you were young, that’s for sure, almost blowing off your finger. Tell them about that!
Sir: Well, once we found some bullets but we couldn’t find a gun so I put the bullet between two bricks and pounded it with brick number three and it fired! And hit the wall. At the end of our street was a big wall painting of the Germans surrendering to the Americans, so we shot one of the Germans! But then one of them exploded and went all over my hand, which was interesting.
Lady: You were brought up in Belfast during the Second World War.
Sir: Yeah, I was five when the war ended. All these big American aircraft carriers used to come in there and all the Belfast kids would be like “wow” and the guys would take us on board and let us sit behind the guns. They were very nice to us, I have to say.
People our age are into hip hop and rap. Why doesn’t classical music appeal to teens? How do you think it could be more appealing?
Sir: I think classical music is an intellectual thing. You have to really know something about it and study it to understand it. I think there are very few people who have it just fall into their life.
Lady: It’s a question of being exposed to it when you are young. In Asia, for instance, the concerts are packed with young kids. It’s incredible. Families bring their kids and get all dressed up. We played in China recently and we had so many kids in Taiwan - we signed autographs for hours. In Korea, there was one concert when I walked out on stage and they went crazy and I said to James, “I feel like Madonna. ” I guess it was the blond hair and the dress. I have these beautiful gowns, you girls would love them. So then afterwards when we were signing autographs for all these teenagers. I believe it was because they were exposed to it when they are young, so it is part of their culture.
When I was young there were free summer music programs. What 10-year-old doesn’t want to play an instrument? And so you are into it and maybe, if musical institutions would keep incorporating concerts for families at a low price, more young Americans would be into music. That’s a lot of music, but it’s for the wealthy. Orchestras are trying; they have Pops concerts in Boston, and things like that, but I think it’s exposure you need.
Sir: Mmmhmm. Yeah, I would say so. You need to have a family that is interested in everything you do. If your dad is just in front of the TV watching football all day, you aren’t going to be one of those exposed to music.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience playing on the soundtrack of “Lord of the Rings”?
Sir: Yeah! I nearly didn’t do it because I was in America the day before. And I said to Jeanne, “I’m too old, I can’t be bothered with this kind of stuff. ” And then I was sitting there thinking, What am I talking about, this is“Lord of the Rings”! So, as soon as we finished the concert-
Lady: The problem is that we love to hang out, and so when we get to a place we never want to leave. A tour in America may be four weeks, but we’re here for two months because we like it so much. And my family is here.
And it was a big deal, you know, if you go you can take the Concorde, but he doesn’t like the Concorde because his feet don’t touch the ground. Remember? So they flew us British Airways, first class, which is very nice with the sleeper seats. They give you these pajamas that look like jogging outfits, but I always have my own little designer thing I wear. So then James says to me, “Jeanne, Liam Neeson is sitting up there. Go say hello to him. ” My husband knew him from Northern Ireland.
I said, “No, I can’t!” Then Liam walked by in his little sleeper pajamas and James said, “Liam, say hello to my wife, Jeanne. ”
Liam said, “Darling!” I almost died. I felt like such an idiot, I said, “I’m such a fan! ”So that was my experience when we went to do “Lord of the Rings. ”
Sir: Oh, it was great. We did the homecoming melody live. The rest we did playback. The studio was very modern, everything you want, but somehow the monitor didn’t work. So I could hear the dialogue, but I couldn’t see anything. It was all blue. Fortunately my producer was really good and told me, “This is a sad bit, ” so I played it on a tin whistle, but not in an Irish way. I wanted a straightforward tin whistle sound. And, getting in tune with all this stuff going on was hard because when you play the playback, you hear millions of F sharps with all the synthesizers, but it gives the note a sort of wider possibility. So I stuck duct tape all over my whistle to get it in tune because I couldn’t move my fingers because then it would sound too Irish if you are going (imitates slow drawn out sound) instead of (imitates more upbeat sound). So that was fun.
You have quite the repertoire. Do you play the same pieces on a tour? How do you choose?
Sir: Well, for example, I didn’t envision playing William Bolcom’s “Lyric Concerto” on this tour but the Boston Symphony’s conductor, James Levine, wanted to do it [Written for Galway in 1992-93, Bolcom’s is an impish, witty romp of a piece with a skittering first movement and a finale doused with jazz. ” - The Boston Globe]. So I said fine. He wanted to put together an American program for opening night. Some people ask you to play certain pieces and you can’t refuse because they are paying, you know? But it would be nice to take along, say, six pieces on a two-month tour. That would be bit of a luxury.
Lady: He plays a lot of different things. He’ll play pop concerts and then flute and piano concerts and modern flute concertos. He just did Gilbert and Sullivan and an orchestra wrote a piece for us with kids playing flutes on stage.
Do you have any advice for the youth of today?
Sir: Yeah. Work hard at school. Take it seriously. It’s your one shot at becoming successful.