James Galway

by jptanabe

James Galway is probably the best known flute player of all time. He is often called the man with the golden flute.

From Belfast, Northern Ireland, James Galway is one of the best known, if not the best known, flute players of all time. And yes, the "golden flute" refers to his flute which is actually made of gold, not just to its golden sound!

Galway played for years as first flute in world famous orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic under world famous conductor Herbert von Karajan, before deciding to pursue a solo career. That unusual move, together with his interest in playing many types of music from clasical orchestral and chamber pieces, to Irish music, to popular pieces, led him to his phenomenal success. Knighted in 2001, Sir James Galway has played his golden flute on soundtracks for successful movies, has introduced television specials on music, and has made many wonderful recordings as well as performing live all over the world. A lively, witty personality as well as a brilliant performer, James Galway is an inspiration to flute players (like my husband) and music lovers alike.

Who Is James Galway?

ames Galway was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and began playing the flute at a young age. Since that time he has played in the best orchestras of the world, traveled the world giving solo flute performances, recorded dozens of albums of spectacular flute music, and spent great amounts of time teaching the flute to those who aspire to play even a little bit as well as he does. Oh, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. Not bad for someone born into a working class Irish family!

Autobiographies of James Galway

Read more about him in his own words

James Galway's earlier autobiography, entitled "James Galway: An Autobiography" was first published in 1978. It is a fascinating insight into his life and the way he achieved success as a solo flute player.

In "The Man with the Golden Flute" internationally acclaimed and widely beloved flute player Sir James Galway looks back on his career that has spanned five decades and many genres of music.

Why Does James Galway Play Flute?

Playing classical music on a flute seems a far cry from the rough life of a working class boy in Belfast. Well, his family loved music so he grew up surrounded by it. In Ireland everyone enjoyed music, playing and dancing to traditional Irish folk music. Still, in my daughter's high school it was pretty much all girls who played flute - the boys went for the more "masculine" type instruments, like trumpets, trombones, tubas, or percussion. So why did James Galway take up flute playing?

He started on the penny whistle, which was an instrument popular for all forms of Irish music, like jigs, reels, hornpipes and so forth. The important thing was to play it fast, and he became good at that. Actually he was only two years old when he started on the penny whistle, and he still plays it on occasion today!

He quickly moved on to the flute and that was the beginning of the career that has spanned more than half a century. He started winning flute competitions, and played in flute bands which introduced him to many kinds of music not just traditional Irish music, all adapted for flutes. He says when he was young he thought Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was written for 50 flutes! Actually, it probably sounds wonderful that way!

Anyway, James Galway quickly realized that the flute was his passion, that he had talent that went beyond the local bands, and he studied and played his flute with the best. Finally, though, he decided that playing in an orchestra, even the Berlin Philharmonic with Herbert von Karajan, limited his avenues for developing and presenting his music to the world. Luckily for us, he began a solo career and never looked back.

The Golden Flute

Yes, James Galway's flute really is made of gold!

Maybe he started with gold plated flutes, and gold headjoints, but today James Galway has a flute that is all gold.

Kanichi Nagahara, founder of Nagahara flutes, had a vision of improving the flute despite the fact that its design has changed very little in over a century. One thing he worked on was the type of metal, and that included making gold flutes. With James Galway as his special customer, he has designed a special gold flute, the Sir James Galway Model. This instrument is completely hand made and is available in 14k, 18k and 20k gold.

Sir James Galway Model professional flute
Sir James Galway Model professional f...

Reasons to Love James Galway

  • His flute playing is simply the best!

    When James Galway plays you just know it's him. He has a golden flute, and it really has a special tone. Flutes are wonderful instruments and many people can play them well, but James Galway's playing has made the flute a well-known and well-loved sound throughout the world.
  • James Galway plays all kinds of music!

    I love music, it opens the heart allowing the emotions to flow. Through music we can be close to other people, their lives, their culture, their joy, their sorrow, their struggles, their victories. Music unites us as one human family when words so often divide us. James Galway plays the music of the heart, not just of his own Ireland but of the world. He even played on the soundtrack of the out of this world movie, "The Lord of the Rings"!
  • James Galway has a great sense of humor!

    When asked his opinion about the use of the term "flautist" as opposed to "flutist" he answered, "I am a flute player not a flautist. I don't have a flaut and I've never flauted."


There is a great selection of video clips of James Galway. You can see how diverse is the kind of music he plays, how hard he works both performing in numerous locations and at the recording studio, as well as the many Master Class sessions in which he teaches flute technique. In some you also get a glimpse of his humor! But, wow, can the man play flute!

A True Music Teacher

You might think James Galway is busy enough with all his performances, recordings, and even appearing on television shows! He's also married, to Jeanne Galway who also plays flute and they travel and play together. That would all seem to be enough of a contribution.

But no, James Galway is dedicated to sharing his knowledge and experience with everyone. He has commissioned many new works for the flute, allowing today's composers the chance to have their works performed publicly by the greatest flute player, James Galway himself. He has written books and articles about how to play the flute.

Most importantly, he teaches the flute. Together with his wife, he directs the International Flute School in Switzerland every summer.His master classes give aspiring flute players the opportunity to improve their techniques by learning from the master. Such classes are also available on video for all those aspiring flute players who don't get the chance to attend in person!

James Galway plays Classical Music

Having studied classical flute and spending years as an orchestral player, James Galway is a master of the greatest classical flute pieces written. Here are some of his wonderful recordings of great music.

Celtic Music

Showing his love of his Irish roots, James Galway has often performed with the famous Irish band, The Chieftains, as well as Irish composer and performer Phil Coulter.

James Galway also loves Japan!

James Galway's flutes are made by Japanese flute makers. Before the Nagahara gold flute, and still today, Galway has favored Muramatsu flutes. He has toured Japan, performing there on many occasions. And, one of his most popular albums features Japanese melodies! 

A lovely collection of Japanese folk songs arranged for flute, this album never gets old. It is calming, soothing, and in true James Galway style brings to live in a delightful way the sounds of the sea and of Japan.

Popular Music


Here James Galway shows his diversity in popular music. His flute can be joyful, uplifting and fun, or haunting, reminding us of lost loved ones or places.

This album "In the Pink" was my husband's favorite for many years - I've heard it played so many times, but I have to admit it still sounds good!


Something a bit Different


On this album James Galway joins forces with the amazing Cuban group, Tiempo Libre, to play music from the Claude Bolling Jazz Suites. Named after a street in Old Havana, this recording marks a new cultural intersection uniting classical, jazz and Cuban music.


Play James Galway's Music

Well, it might be difficult to play like James Galway, or to play all the music he plays! But there are several music books containing pieces that he has played often, arranged for flute and piano. So, buy one and get someone to play piano with you and you're on your way!

This collection of music arranged for flute and piano contains many of James Galway's favorite Christmas pieces from his Christmas concerts. Included with each piece are performance hints from James Galway.

More about James Galway

Sir James Galway
Official website of Sir James Galway

Updated: 01/09/2024, jptanabe
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Veronica on 10/29/2015

When I was teaching in Manchester, James ' brother was a music teacher in the city .

They are both superb musicians . a lovely post . Ty for posting.

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