Sunday, January 5, 2014

Philip Farkas on Endurance

Recently I have been going through my old copy of Philip Farkas’ The Art of French Horn Playing when I practice.1 His chapter on endurance has some ideas that are spot-on for exercise as well as playing the horn. For example,

Endurance is not acquired quickly or easily. It is a process of developing muscles which nature never intended to do more than “bare the fangs” in more primitive days. Yet these light, delicate muscles must be strengthened to the point of withstanding for several hours a day the various types of punishment put upon them by brass playing.2

Most people don’t focus on strengthening relatively small, weak muscles like facial muscles when they exercise, but Farkas’ point that endurance is not acquired quickly or easily is true for any muscle. And while I can’t confidently assert that humans have lost much of the endurance we possessed in “more primitive days” because we now have faucets and cars and combines, some scholars have argued this.3 At any rate, I know I would have to exercise a lot more to withstand the whole-body equivalent of an elite brass player’s regimen.

Farkas again:

A cross-country runner does not gain [her]4 endurance by strolling around the block, and the musician will not get [hers] by practicing for a half-hour daily. [She] must endure until endurance is achieved. The point at which one finally becomes tired during [her] practice day is a very valuable moment and should not be wasted. When else can one practice the ability to endure? Certainly not when the lip is fresh. Therefore, in my own case, it is almost a point of honor to go on for another five minutes just when I think I cannot possibly continue. In doing this, I am very careful to use good judgment. The very high notes are avoided, as is fortissimo; but a few minutes of mezzoforte middle-register notes will not be harmful, and they will give the strength, will power, and confidence to know that I can go on.5

Excellent points here, Mr. Farkas, and an inspiring example you have set. (Though occasionally, when I want to throw my horn out the window in frustration and fatigue, your example seems a bit too good to be true.) Push yourself to achieve results—an extra lap, three more repetitions, five more minutes, once more through the etude—but not rashly. It reminds me of things Jillian Michaels says on her workout DVDs. Farkas and Jillian: they’re not exactly twins, but they’re singing the same tune.

Image sources:,

1. Philip Farkas, The Art of French Horn Playing (Miami: Summy-Birchard Inc., 1956).
2. Ibid, 62.
4. Farkas uses male pronouns throughout the book, so I will do the opposite.
5. Farkas, Art of French Horn Playing, 63. 

No comments:

Post a Comment