Learning from Sir James Galway, & Roseanne Thong

I went to observe a masterclass given by Sir James Galway a few days ago, and on the same day I also went along to a meeting with Roseanne Thong. Both have left me reflecting strongly about things I know well really…

I like playing the flute: it’s a wonderful change from drawing/painting.  I like that the music that I play has already been composed – when I draw or paint I usually have to compose as well as interpret what I’m creating! So playing the flute is always a refreshing change.  I also like the physical and psychological engagement you get with breathing deeply – this reminds me too of what I learned about ‘chi’ when doing Chinese ink painting long ago in Beijing.

Just as a very good visual artist has to be 100% focused on what s/he is seeing, a very good musician has to be 100% focused on what s/he is hearing. Sir James reminded us all of the necessity of that focus and made general comments about the importance of scales and exercises. Though I do play scales in various patterns I could do with studying a greater variety of more targetted studies.

Sir James was pretty gruelling towards some of the participants – drawing a hard distinction between aspiring to be a ‘serious’ player as opposed to a ‘hobbyist’. Certainly you need to concentrate so hard and in the right ways. I thought about the distinction between amateur and professional…. With regard playing the flute, what of being ‘a serious hobbyist’ then?

I guess an amateur/hobbyist is someone who admires, loves (thinking of the root of the word ‘amateur’), so follows. ‘Hobbyist’ seems to denote being less seious than an amateur, tinkering. A professional is someone who is endorsed by others, usually by way of payment. A professional therefore depends upon being wanted, followed.

But proportinately among the population there are just a few professional folk who come to innovate, and so who dare to lead… and Sir James is one of these. His playing is quite extraordinary. Just listening to him playing odd passages his tone, his tuning is exquisite.

He was insistant that noone took photos or filmed him. He demanded that there was no extraneous noise – telling various members of the class off sharply if they contravened this.  I wasn’t sure he’d be happy if he knew that I was drawing him, so had to do secret scribbles. So here, drawn with cold fingers, are my scribbles:



That same day I also attended a meeting with Roseanne Thong, now living in US, but who has lived in Hong Kong for 16 years. She’s lovely.  She talked about how to write, her hard work, her pig headed stubbornness (her words) in carving out time and focus to do it, and the cooperation and charm needed when working alongside editors. Sir James didn’t allude to the necessity of charm, but when performing alongside and before others there it is. Magical.

Roseanne also talked about the importance of input from others, and that she had benefitted greatly from that when a member of Hong Kong’s SCBWI – which is also a way more active and determined group than any she has met elsewhere, largely because of the good leadership of Mio Debnam here, and because in Hong Kong it doesn’t take ages to travel from a district in this densely populated city into the centre – I’m often aware of this, it’s good.

She said that the input she got from the SCBWI group in Hong Kong,  made up of folk who each know the trials and pleasures of trying to get writing ‘right’ was very similar to that she has had from publishing editors – just that the latter tend to be more savvy about what the market wants. She didn’t talk about innovation, but  some publishers clearly do seek this, alongside following some of what trends.

She also talked about what she reckons US publishers like to see come before them – universal themes in various settings, and for her those settings are multicultural –  once largely Chinese, but now largely Hispanic. She has done many books that are centred round issues however… shapes, colours…

She was amusing about the trials of writing in rhyme. Revision after revision after editors input. I haven’t tried writing in rhyme much. I aspire to rhythm rather than necessarily rhyme I guess.

So what I learnt then from both meeting Sir James and Roseanne was (again) the sheer importance of focus – it doesn’t hurt at all to be reminded of it, and to know that one isn’t alone in one’s endeavours to try what you may.

But the other important lesson was the luxury of having good input from others who know your craft very well too, whether they themselves are in a sense good amateurs, or professional. I could well do with more of this. The market here has given me good feedback, and I know what has made adult and children smile, laugh etc of what I’ve out before them. But I have new experiments, and need fresh input – soon. More from a good flute teacher – I don’t see enough of Sibei Weng of the Macau Phil who has taught me well from time to time when she happens to be over in Hong Kong. But I cannot aspire to be a top flautist and artist and writer – somewhere I will have to remian a ‘serious amateur’, and never mind labels!

I want more in particular from fellow artists, more from fellow aspiring children’s book writers. In many ways it is easier to give accurate musical input than to give visual input – intonation, rhythm are right or wrong, like maths. Just recently my husband, Will, and I loved the striking vibrant design one of the artists with whom I’m participating in a group show, had volunteered to do and came up with. The others in the group wanted something very different, much tamer. Invite the input of several people, and if they all say the same you do as they say?! Or certainly take the input if from an expert…? From a real expert. An innovator? Not necessarily.

Anyway, one way or another, having listened to Sir James Galway for 3 hours, I reckon I need more input, and for my medicine to be much stronger …


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