Legendary Irish flutist advises UM students on music, career

Sir James Galway, a legendary Irish flutist and mentor to aspiring musicians, built his internationally-acclaimed solo career on 15 years of experience as an orchestral player.

Knighted as an officer of the order of the British Empire, producer of his own ‘Galway Spirit’ line of flutes and recipient of the Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award, Galway has made a more than modest mark on the world of classical music.

But to any passerby at the Shalala Student Center on Oct. 23, Galway could’ve been anyone in glasses and a navy blue bowtie. Audience members from Dublin, Houston, Tampa and Miami gathered to listen to Sir James Galway – offstage and sans ‘golden flute.’


“[Galway] isn’t like all the other ‘old-timey’ musicians you think about,” sophomore flutist from Tampa Dilina Weerapperuma said. “He understands the modern music industry.”

Weerapperuma attended the interview hosted by Frost School of Music’s Dean Shelly Berg because he grew up listening to Galway and credits the world-renowned flutist for his own dedication to the art of the flute.

For Berg, the hourlong interview provided an intimate setting for a more insightful conversation with an award-winning artist. It was a one-of-a-kind “look under the hood” for aspiring musicians and interested community members that sought to unravel the inner workings of the musical mind.

With his golden flute at his side and its case wrapped in a sky blue blanket, Galway described his early years of symphonic performance. He recalled his experience working with conductor Herbert von Karajan of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as he primed the orchestra for another take at the piece they were rehearsing.

“How do you expect me to conduct it if you can’t play it?” Galway said. “The second time we played it was much better than the first, though.”

A cellphone ringtone went off in the intermezzo of the lighthearted dialogue between Galway and Berg.

“[The piece] didn’t sound like that,” Galway said, dancing to the tune.

But it wasn’t until Galway quit the Philharmonic that he really began to make a name for himself – eventually selling over 30 million copies of his own recordings of popular pieces, including John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and the soundtrack to “The Lord of the Rings.”

Galway also mixed and matched traditional classical works with contemporary flute works commissioned by a myriad of composers. His collaboration with the Chieftains lead to a chart-topping success as their album “James Galway and The Chieftains” in Ireland took the 32nd spot in the UK albums chart in 1987.

But Galway acknowledged the rigor and opportunity required to make it as a classical artist in today’s world.

“Times have changed,” Galway said. “For students looking to make a career of it, do as much as you can because you never know who’s going to be there.”

The fundamentals – including the music scales – are the most important things Galway teaches to his students.

“This piece you’re playing is calculus, and you can’t do calculus without knowing addition, multiplication, division and subtraction,” Galway said.

The Frost Symphony Orchestra will be performing alongside Galway on Oct. 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.