Farkas and Accuracy and Gustatory Synesthesia

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Philip Farkas was one of the few authors of a horn method to tackle the topic of accuracy head on. In his chapter on that topic in The Art of French Horn Playing he presents a rather interesting visualization in the description of his accuracy exercise.

Of course, try to hear the notes and intervals before each attack; but particularly for the purpose of this exercise, try to “taste” each note. Each note has a distinct muscular setting, almost a “flavor” of its own. It is the distinction in taste and feel, almost instinctive, that we wish to develop for each note on the horn.

I heard him expand on this same concept in master classes. I wish I had a direct quote but what he said was something along the lines of really tasting the pitches, as in “D-flat, mmm, tastes like raspberry.”

Where this gets interesting is there is actually a condition were people do have sensations in relation to pitches. Synethesia is defined as “a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Probably the most famous musician noted often for having this condition is composer Olivier Messiaen, who perceived colors with certain chords.

It is most common for this crossing of senses to involve color sensations, and I have had over the years at least a couple horn students who had this condition. What is cool about it in a way is that a person with this has potentially better than perfect pitch. It was described to me that sounds were also perceived as colors around the edges of their vision field. One student I had could tell you the pitch of the train going by in the distance or the pitch of the air conditioner.

One type of Synethesia is Gustatory Synesthesia. This type is less common and involves, you guessed it, flavor sensations. Did Farkas actually have this condition? Had he worked with someone who had this? Or was it really just a clever and folksy visualization in his book to suggest tasting the notes? It is an interesting point to ponder….

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