Patricia and I used a day off in the moderatorial schedule to complete some Christmas shopping in Belfast. What a thrill it was as we walked into Waterstone’s at lunchtime to discover that Sir James Galway was there signing copies of his autobiography, The Man with the Golden Flute. Appropriately enough, Nelson McCausland, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure was in the queue with me buying a copy of the book and getting it signed by the great man.
Having reached his three score years and ten, Sir James looks back on his early days in working-class Belfast and his remarkable journey that led him to become a leading orchestral musician and then an international soloist.
What makes the autobiography particularly appealing to me is the way the author describes his own Christian commitment. Sir James describes how, as a boy, he attended Sinclair Seaman’s Presbyterian Church, close to the docks in Belfast, “where they seemed to be normal sort of people” and where a boy with a Belfast street accent felt at home.
He also describes how a serious road accident in 1977 led to him spending four months in hospital, much of it in traction. It was this accident that brought him back to God. He writes:
“I had been quite religious as a boy, but during my Berlin years, I had somehow drifted away. Yet as I lay there in bed, I found myself thinking, “It’s a good thing that last concert I had was really great, because it would have been terrible if I’d died and people had said, “You know that last concert wasn’t any good anyway.” However I didn’t die, and that last concert was great, and that made me think “I’m here for a reason. And there’s got to be a higher power beyond this whole thing.” This led me back to believing in God and Jesus Christ. ….If you want to believe in something where a miracle really happened and was seen to happen by people at the time — well, that thought drew me back to the biblical Christianity of my youth. And that gave me a different outlook on everything.”
As well as being an outstanding classical flute player, Sir James is also a great entertainer whose appeal crosses all the musical boundaries. Some people with little knowledge of his classical accomplishments have fond memories of his recording of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” which was such a great hit. He is the most televised and recorded classical artist performing today and has to be counted as the world’s most popular classical musician.