The man who plays French horn with his toes

By Emma Tracey
BBC News, Ouch

Media caption,
Felix Klieser is a professional French horn player who was born with no arms.

Felix Klieser was born with no arms, so uses his feet to do most things. This includes eating, dressing, writing ... and being a professional French horn player.

The musician has toured with Sting, is working on a second album and has a diary full of concert bookings up to December 2015.

The 23-year-old German recently became an ambassador for the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust (OHMI), which helps fund the development of adapted or specially designed instruments for musicians with one hand and other limb differences. Rising star Nicholas McCarthy, a one-handed pianist, also supports the charity and it is due to be mentioned in the House of Lords on Wednesday in a debate about giving disabled children equal opportunities to learn how to make music.

Felix Klieser spoke to Ouch:

How do you play the horn with no arms?

Image source, Steven Haberland

The instrument is on a stand. With my left foot, I press the keys which are known as valves. The mute, (which changes the sound), is on a separate stand that rolls. I use my right foot to move that in and out of the bell (the bit at the end of the horn). When I started playing at age four, the horn was on the ground and I sat in front of it to play, my head level with the mouthpiece. But when I grew up, that was no longer possible, so I started to think about how I would hold the instrument. I went to a creative person who can build strange things and told him what the problem was. He made my first stand, which was fixed and couldn't be dismantled. We developed and developed it and the one I have now is perfect. I can take it to pieces and transport it in a box.

Musicians usually alter the horn's sound by putting their right hand in the bell, do you do the same with your right foot?

No. The body should be relaxed while playing so putting my right foot in the bell wouldn't work. I change the sound with my mouth and my air stream instead and sometimes I don't know how I do it. If I want to play an emotion, I think of something, like being in a bath of warm water when it's raining outside. It's like when you speak and you are happy, you make a different sound to when you are sad. You can't explain what you are doing.

Can you play anything else?

I am fascinated by all the different things you can do with the horn and have never wanted to play another instrument. The horn is really rich, with lots of different colours. You can do many emotional things with it. A lot of Hollywood music is horn music. The violin always sounds the same, the piano sounds almost always the same, but the horn can make different types of sounds.

Image source, Maike Helbig

Outside of music, why do you dislike talking about living with no arms?

Because my life is very easy. I am a musician and I want to play concerts; the rest is private for me. When you go on stage, you are in public, with a lot of people looking at you. I hate public life. I am what I am and I do what I do but I don't want to become famous, I just want to be a normal person. I want to give people a nice time and touch them with music. Music is not a technical thing for me, it is emotional.

Video: Berlin Classics

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