The Galway Effect

Do you ever hear someone playing who has something you don’t think you have?

Maybe their tone has a razor focus that you dream of. Maybe their finger technique is lightning fast and squeaky clean.

Does that green monster of envy rear its ugly head?

Hey, it happens to the best of us at some point.

Jealousy is based on fear, and fear paralyzes. Instead of going down that unproductive and self-destructive path, try a new take on it. I call it the Galway Effect, because of how it occurred to me years ago.


When I was a young flute student, I had a few records (yes, I’m dating myself) that were precious to me. One was Jean-Pierre Rampal playing the Khatchaturian Concerto, and the other two were of James Galway playing Mozart and Prokofiev among others.

I listened to those records nearly to the point of wearing them out. I lived in a rural area, with somewhat limited opportunities to hear live performances, while the internet was a glimmer in its creators’ eyes. So, these recordings were fundamentally important to my musical development.

It’s safe to say that both Rampal and Galway paved the path for anyone who desires to play the flute as a soloist, and they set the bar high.

So, while listening, I could have thought, “Wow, they are amazing! I’ll never be able to do what they do.” Or, I could have said to myself, “Wow, they are amazing! I’m going to strive to be just as good as them.”

Thankfully, I chose the second path.

Of course, we are all different physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, so no one can be exactly what another is when they play (and I’ll be talking about that next time). Who wants to be that anyway?! However, we can accept others’ abilities as a gift to guide us along our path of musical discovery.

The next time you hear someone you admire -and perhaps envy just a teeny bit- try a thought experiment.

See how much you can learn from what they are doing.

Does their posture make you want to check yours in a mirror? How about their finger placement? Is their position making it easier to keep the fingers close and relaxed? Maybe their embouchure is looser than yours is right now.

These observations can spur you to examine your own habits more closely. Instead of being paralyzed by jealousy, you might just find yourself becoming your own wonderful version of Galway. And, you might notice that there are others around you who are looking to you as an example!


As this is soon after James Galway’s 80th birthday, I want to take this opportunity to thank him for inspiring me to reach for the truest, brightest tone and sparkling technique during my youth and beyond.

To quote the great cellist, Pablo Casals: “I think I’m making progress!”