A flutist fu­elled by com­pe­ti­tion

Chris James on what mo­ti­vated him on his path to be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian

Bayview Post - - Currents - by Darcy Stre­it­en­feld

When ac­com­plished flutist Chris James thinks back to his time at Earl Haig Sec­ondary School, he says he was a very se­ri­ous stu­dent.

“‘Bossy’ isn’t quite the right word, but I liked hav­ing a lot of projects and a fin­ger in a lot of dif­fer­ent pies,” he says.

Mu­sic had al­ways been a driv­ing pas­sion for James. Hav­ing come from a mu­si­cal fam­ily, the flute called to him at a young age. Much of his youth was filled with bands, flute choir and pri­vate lessons, yet the young keener man­aged to sit on the mu­sic coun­cil, write for the school pa­per and fight tooth and nail to match the book smarts of his in­tel­lec­tu­ally gifted brother.

“The Claude Wat­son arts pro­gram brought a real elite co­hort to­gether,” says James.

When it came time to go to uni­ver­sity, al­though it was tempt­ing to take an of­fer from McGill Uni­ver­sity, like so many of his tal­ented class­mates, he de­cided to go an­other route.

He pushed him­self way out of his com­fort zone, and on to the Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic in New York City.

“Four years in N.Y.C. was won­der­ful,” he says, re­mem­ber­ing the $10 stu­dent tick­ets to Carnegie Hall. “It’s so amaz­ing to be in a place where so many in­cred­i­ble artists are com­ing through all the time.”

Dur­ing his fourth year, he nabbed a spot in the Mem­phis Sym­phony Orches­tra in Mem­phis, Tenn., where he would com­mute roughly once a month to do a run of their larger sym­phonies. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, Mem­phis would hire him full time, but af­ter one year, he de­cided to make a go of it in Toronto.

“I liked com­ing back with Amer­i­can cre­den­tials,” he says. “I came back a pro­fes­sional, rather than be­com­ing one in front of ev­ery­one’s eyes.”

By 2015, James had moved home and be­gan study­ing in the Royal Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic’s artist diploma pro­gram. Dur­ing that time, he also be­gan play­ing with the Toronto Sym­phony Orches­tra, The Ann Ar­bor Sym­phony Orches­tra in Michi­gan and the Buf­falo Phil­har­monic, while still play­ing in Mem­phis on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis.

“That was an ex­cit­ing time for me,” he says. “It was re­ally fun, but I got kind of tired of be­ing tired and broke all the time. It was not a lifestyle that I felt was sus­tain­able for me, so I started au­di­tion­ing for full-time jobs.”

Last April, James au­di­tioned for the Van­cou­ver Sym­phony Orches­tra (VSO) for the se­cond time. The first time was in 2010, and al­though the au­di­tion went well, it seemed the stars didn’t align un­til 2017 for him. He now sits as as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal flute/pic­colo with the VSO.

“I love it in Van­cou­ver. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary here,” he en­thuses.

But he’s quick to bol­ster his af­fec­tion for Toronto si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love love Toronto, but if I had to move any­where else to start a new life, I couldn’t think of a more beau­ti­ful place.”

When re­flect­ing on what he did right, James says the best de­ci­sion he made was to go N.Y.C. early on in his career, where the com­pe­ti­tion was fierce.

“In or­der to make it as a mu­si­cian, you have to be ei­ther ex­tremely good or ex­tremely mo­ti­vated and re­source­ful. So I think the best thing to do is to get out of your com­fort zone to find that mo­ti­va­tion,” he says. “The best thing about N.Y.C. is that you’re so sur­rounded by ge­nius; you have to shout to be heard, which is great for char­ac­ter.”

James now has a full-time po­si­tion with the Van­cou­ver Sym­phony Orches­tra

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