In the world of horn there have been few that made as much impact as Philip Farkas (1914-1992). The Art of French Horn Playing in particular has to be the most widely owned book on horn playing. This was not his only publication, however, and in particular very recently I was reminded in a book review given to the horn pedagogy class at Arizona State of a very interesting section in his The Art of Musicianship, his “treatise on the skills, knowledge and sensitivity needed by the mature musician to perform in an artistic and professional manner.”
There are many interesting sections to this work on all aspects of musicianship and professionalism–more musicians really should read this book–but perhaps outstanding among all the sections and certainly unique among his publications is the end of the final chapter on “Conquering Nervousness or ‘Stagefright.'” For what is presented is not only great advice on stagefright but also a glimpse of his personal motivating philosophy.
Backing up, people who do much are motivated and driven by many different things, often including elements of desire for fame, riches, love, and respect. Farkas clearly had his head screwed on right. He relates about how as a young professional hornist he had often wondered why he was there but gradually had a change of thinking.
Formerly, I had assumed that all the events leading up to my engagement by the Chicago Symphony were completely haphazard–a bit of luck here, a chance encounter there, until I eventually ended up in the Chicago Symphony, as unpredictably as a seashell washes up on a beach. But, with my change in thinking came the realization that perhaps all these apparently haphazard events weren’t haphazard at all. Perhaps, back in high school, when I had had that fight with the gym teacher, and the supervisor had suggested that I could fill my physical education requirement by switching to the marching band, it was not just an aimless suggestion. Was it mere chance that the street-car conductor, after telling me I could no longer bring my beloved tuba on board the street-car because it blocked traffic, pointed to a French horn being carried by another bandsman that I would be allowed to bring “one of them” aboard? … The more I pondered these questions the more convinced I became that it wasn’t all just haphazard–that I wasn’t just a seashell washed up willy-nilly on the Chicago Symphony’s “shore.” So it wasn’t just a series of unrelated, random events which eventually put me on that stage. It was a series of incredibly interwoven and predestined events which put me there. … I was there because I had been led there by an amazing chain of events, not just mere coincidence, and, because I had been led there, certainly I could do the work assigned to me, and failure was not a part of that plan.
This selection goes well beyond the topic of “stagefright” and into his motivations for all of what he did. His faith in a Supreme Being was the source of his confidence as a player. His openness on this topic is a most interesting finale to all his publications.
The above article is from the original HTML Horn Notes Blog, dated 12/6/05. My original article ended there but Farkas has more in the book, ending with a quote that he “found to be inspiring and confidence-building.” Titled “I am in My Right Place,” Farkas notes that “For many years now, just before going out to perform” he has read this text, which was inspired by Psalm 138:8, which reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me….” To see the full section and specific text he found inspirational I recommend purchase of The Art of Musicianship, available from Wind Music. The last sentences of the book from Farkas read,
…if you believe as I do, that it is inspiring, cut it out and keep in in your music case so that you can read it before going out on stage. I will reaffirm why you are here, what your abilities are, and why yours is an exalted work.
There is really much more that could be said on this topic. One bottom line is that Farkas had an approach based on trusting his skills and a confidence based on a higher power having placed him there to succeed at the tasks before him. He clearly went onstage with a mindset that he had nothing to fear, nothing to be fearful of. As was made clear in the quotation he kept in his case to read before performing, he was in his right place.
This type of approach is certainly valid still today and is one that I hope to present more about in the future.