Saturday, June 04, 2005


One of my very favorite musicians and cellists, Janos Starker, wrote a wonderful book, The World of Music According to Starker (Indiana University Press, 2004). All of it makes an interesting and enlightening read, but I want to point your attention to page 86: In Defense of Dilettantism.

In the following excerpt Starker divides artists into three categories: professionals, dilettantes and amateurs.

“To avoid any misunderstanding, let me make clear that the professional and the dilettante are both paid for their services, unlike the amateur. But the dilettante’s knowledge and conscience do not measure up to those of a professional. And the consciences and knowledge even of professionals (or supposed professionals) are often either unmeasurable or distorted by subjective considerations.

The musical community is heavily populated with celebrities whose output fails to meet the definition of professionalism, although they manage on occasion to produce a work, or performance, that awes listeners or reviewers. Their basic gifts, drive, and charisma, and current fads, account for much of their notoriety; but their lack of consistency demotes them to the status of highly gifted dilettantes.”

I think we all are familiar with a number of people who fit the description.

Personally, I would add yet another category, below the amateurs: hobbyists. These people are often like the violists in jokes, but without the instrument. They pretend to be the true experts, love to be loud, and sometimes end up as board members, or in management of non-profits. Some even get paid for their opinions, as an art or music critic of a weekly or a daily. Knowing how to open a viola case is not required to be this kind of an expert. Forgive me, violist, as I play that instrument, too, and love it, so this is not really aimed at you.

Either buy this book (it comes with a special CD) or borrow it from your local library. The writing is witty, truthful and interesting. This great cellist has a lot to teach all of us.