Hornmasters: Farkas on Conductors

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Philip Farkas recognized a practical reality; ultimately, in orchestras, conductors are our bosses. He makes a point in The Art of French Horn Playing that we need to learn what the conductors we work with want so

…that, even though you may mentally disagree with him entirely, he will be inclined to think of you as his kind of musician. To have a modern conductor think of you this way is not ungood!

Farkas-MusicianshipThis topic is expanded upon greatly in The Art of Musicianship, where Farkas presents entire chapters on the “Psychology of Good Relationship with Colleagues and Conductor” and “Ensemble Deportment.” In the following passage he expands on the topic of the real world of orchestral horn playing, at least back in his performance era.

The conductor must, of necessity, be the “boss”—a dictator. In the final analysis, his opinion of you and your performance ability will lead to your continuing or not continuing with the group. So it makes very good sense to cooperate as fully as possible with him. It has always puzzles me to observe the attitude of some of my orchestra colleagues toward the conductor. Why do they have such an obvious “chip on the shoulder”? They frown when asked by the conductor to play in a certain manner. The laugh when the conductor makes a mistake…. Off the stage they ridicule or make derogatory remarks about the conductor. Probably what puzzles me most is the fact that they practice so hard to become proficient on their instruments—partly, I presume, to please or impress the conductor—and then proceed to alienate that conductor with every negative gesture and attitude they can make evident….

If you find it impossible to work effectively with some particular conductor, I presume you have two choices: you can hope that so many others in the group also believe the conductor to be tyrannical or inept, or both, that in due time he will be relieved of his post and a more acceptable conductor will take his place. This could require a long wait! The other choice would be to leave, and go to another organization, where you and its conductor are more compatible (and your fine talent better appreciated).

The object of this discourse is to consider how to avoid these two distasteful choices by studying the ways in which one can maintain a happy and successful relationship with the conductor. There are two important facts (at least!) to remember about any conductor: 1) He is subject to the same foibles as all other humans—he has his likes and dislikes, his opinions and beliefs, his strong points and his weak points. 2. In his desire to have the finest possible ensemble he needs good performers. He needs you (I am presuming you are a good performer) just as much—or more—than you need him!…

I think some orchestral players reading today this will feel that Farkas is a bit dated in his commentary, but still the perspective is useful as conventional wisdom. When we return for the (no!) last post in the Hornmasters series we close with two more perspectives on conductors.

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