If You Were a Fly on the Wall of Janos Starker’s Teaching Studio

If you were a fly on the wall of Janos Starker’s teaching studio, what would you want to know?  Right now, I get to be that fly, and maybe I can help you out.

I’m on a full-year sabbatical from DePauw.  Just over an hour away from my house is the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where the legendary Janos Starker, 86, still teaches four afternoons a week.  At one point in my life I wanted to study with him.  But when I was going off to college, my then-teacher was opposed to it.  (Back in the 1970s, Starker was a particularly polarizing figure in the cello world and, to some, a deeply frightening human being.  This has nothing to do with why I wanted to study with him, or why my teacher wanted me not to, but I remember hearing about 20 years ago about another teacher who forbid her students from listening to Starker’s recordings and told the parents that they should only listen to Rostropovich and a few select others.)

Since I’ve lived in Indiana, I’ve attended a number of his Saturday-afternoon masterclasses (which he is no longer giving). During this sabbatical, I’m rethinking a lot of my teaching approaches, and Mr. Starker very graciously and and generously is allowing me to sit in as many lessons as I can–which is most of them–and it’s a fascinating experience.  I’m filling in a lot of gaps regarding my understanding of the cellistic and musical principles he teaches and how he applies them, and as a teacher it’s fascinating to see how he teaches–what he chooses to address, how he addresses it, and what he chooses not to address. (I’m also reading everything about him I can find, listening to interviews, etc. This includes John Cloer’s 2009 Columbia University dissertation Janos Starker: An Organized Method of Cello Teaching, which can be ordered by clicking here and then searching using “Cloer” and “Starker” in the appropriate fields.)

I’ve taking in a lot, and doing a lot of experimenting with my own playing.  At some point I’ll be writing a good bit about what I’ve learned and my personal experience learning it.

Meanwhile, if you’re a cellist (or just interested in what and how Starker teaches), what would you want to know if you were the fly on the wall in Starker’s teaching studio, or could ask him a question?



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3 responses to “If You Were a Fly on the Wall of Janos Starker’s Teaching Studio

  1. Jacob Visovatti

    What kind of motivational strategies does Starker employ? How does he differ his approach based on the individual in his office? How much correction does he do employing speaking vs. demonstrating on the cello? What are his pet phrases? Why does he think he has been so successful, as a performer and as a teacher? What’s the breakdown of time he spends listening to a student’s scales, etudes, Bach, and other solo works?

  2. Great questions, Jacob. I can tell you’ve read “The Talent Code,” which now I have, thanks to your Facebook post. I will get to them, in some detail. Thanks.

  3. Eric and Jacob, great posts!

    I would ask Mr. Starker’s thoughts about cello improvisation. And then… do some improv duets with him. 🙂

    I know this sounds rather audacious. But the name of the game right now is ‘synergy’. And whenever you engage that, everyone grows.


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