Things Horn Teachers Say: PC on Farkas

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I have begun a project that involves closely reading a number of horn method books this summer. While I don’t at this point want to get really specific it is very interesting, it is not hard to find examples of technical methods recommended by one horn teacher being the complete opposite of that of other teachers. One will say to never do one thing and then another will say to always do that same thing! At the same time, most of the writers are so PC that they don’t actually point out the fact that what they are saying is the complete opposite of what others say.

Thinking about this topic my mind wanders back to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. One running gag was he would try to do jokes about Abraham Lincoln. They would always fall flat; Lincoln was just too beloved a person to joke about.

In the same way, the horn world has certain beloved individuals that while they have passed on it seems as though we still need to agree with them, at least in public or in print. This is especially true in relation to the late Philip Farkas and The Art of French Horn Playing. It is “the Bible.” Much of what Farkas wrote in this book is very strongly ingrained in our horn culture. This was especially obvious to me on closely re-reading it again earlier this week; there are many things that Farkas explains in a very plausible way with his folksy examples that make sense and really seem correct. However, it would only take me a few minutes to find a number of examples of other horn teachers that must have totally disagreed with Farkas on certain technical points based on what they put in their books. But Farkas was such a gentleman and beloved figure that they did not go after him, they just present their different approach.

In a sense I like that most writers did avoid “attack mode” but on the other hand I wish more had explained why they took such opposite approaches on things such as the embouchure and tonguing so that we could understand the big picture better. Are they just alternate approaches or did Farkas really miss the mark? I had several lessons with Farkas and have seen him present several master classes; other than stating that he regretted putting in that photo of the horn on the shelf (the “exercise devised to lighten pressure”) I don’t recall any real revisions to what he presented in the book.

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These days I have been catching myself saying things about general and technical aspects of playing the horn that I would have never said to a student even five years ago. My pedagogy has certainly changed as my eyes have opened up more to the alternate approaches presented by other teachers. It is really too much to describe in the blog but in short there are things that can and should respectfully be questioned in the Farkas book.

Continue to Part II

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