What is your first musical memory? My memory's not that good. (Laughs) My dad played the flute and my granddad played the flute. So, when they put the flute down, of course, we kids would pick it up and try to play it. We could actually get a sound out of it, so of course (my younger brother and I) were heralded as being young geniuses, you know. Eventually, I started to learn the flute. (The first song I learned) would have been traditional (Irish) music.
Do you remember the first time you took the stage? Yes. (I was) shivering with fright. This is when I was about 12 or something like that. I was playing in a group with my teacher and his friend. We were playing this little trio, and then I had a solo, and during the solo I could feel my knees knocking.
I'm guessing you don't trouble with stage fright anymore? No, I've got these kneepads, and you don't hear the knocking. (Laughs)
Isn't it nerve-wracking to play for presidents and the Queen of England? No, not really actually. I don't really get nervous to tell you the truth.
You were knighted by the queen in 2001. What was that ceremony like? We had to turn up at Buckingham Palace, you know, with all sorts of papers and passes and stuff, which we all forgot. And when we turned up, the security guys were laughing at us because they all know me, you see. They let us in anyway. This was an amazing thing to walk in front of all these people. Some of the greatest brains in Britain were in this room at that time, and I was only a flute player. It was very nice because the queen remembered some of the times that I actually played there.
You recorded more than 60 albums? Anything new coming out? We just made a DVD o f. . . a six-flute concerto. We recorded this whole thing in the Ducal Palace in Venice. I think it's the most amazing document. When you go there as a tourist, it's very dark . . . but the whole thing was lit by a TV crew. The paintings . . . looked absolutely brand new.
You've toured everywhere. Is there a place that you've been that's taken your breath away? After my hometown and my own home (in Switzerland), I would like to live in Paris and London. New York's a bit too heavy for me. (Laughs)
Your wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, is from New York City, isn't she? From the age of 16, she's been (living) in the city. I rescued her. (Laughs) We have a wonderful house. Our bedroom has windows on two sides of it. (We look out) over the Alps going South to Italy. It's stunningly beautiful.
You and Lady Jeanne will be in York on St. Patrick's Day. Do you have any traditions? St. Patrick's Day in Belfast, when I was growing up, was not a big deal. It's a big deal in America because . . . of all of us homesick Irish-Americans. It's a wonderful thing to see all these people out celebrating a saint, isn't it? I'm sure we'll be playing some Irish music (at the show).
You're celebrating your 70th birthday this year. Any big plans? I don't have any plans. Everybody else has got plans. I'll fall in and follow the leader (and) do what I'm told.
Is it important for you to share you technique with younger generations? We're going to open up a new Web site. I am already in the process of making a whole bunch of materials to put on that Web site. You can tune in and listen to me really teaching. The trouble with . . . YouTube is that it's only for 10 minutes.
Download any new music recently? People download things because they're new. I'm more interested in Charlie Parker or (Jean) Toots Thielemans or these types of guys. I've got all their records, so I just put them on my iTunes and transfer it to my iPod and carry them with me. Real up-and-coming talent gets sort of bogged down in all the publicity they're giving people who they say are crossover artists, but they've never crossed over from anything.
Is the flute the best instrument? I don't listen to flute music actually, unless someone sends me something. I'm more into listening to Beethoven, string quartets or a Wagner opera or something like that because the musical scope is greater.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
If you go
See Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.
Listen to the interview at www.flipsidepa.com.