If you’re lucky, somewhere in your past is that one person who changed your life forever. The one who pushed you to dream bigger and to reach higher, and who set you straight on what matters in life. Perhaps it was a coach, or a professor, or a family friend.
For Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky, that person was a public-school music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky, known as Mr. K — a Ukrainian-born taskmaster who yelled and stomped and screamed, and who drove his students harder than anyone had ever driven them before. Through sheer force of will, he made them better than they had any right to be.
It wasn’t until years later that they realized how much they loved him for it.
Strings Attached tells the inspiring, poignant and powerful story of this remarkable man, whose life seemed to conspire against him at every turn and yet who was able to transform his own heartache into triumph for his students. This critically acclaimed book was called a “must-read” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review, and will be published simultaneously in both Europe and Asia.
Lyrically recounted by two former students – acclaimed journalist Joanne Lipman and Mr. K’s daughter, Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Melanie Kupchynsky — Strings Attached takes you on a journey that spans from Nazi Germany to the suburbs of New Jersey, from the thrill of the concert stage to the heartbreaking search for his missing daughter, Melanie’s sister.
This is an unforgettable tale- a captivating narrative that is as absorbing as fiction- about the power of a great teacher, but also about the legacy that remains long after the last note has faded into silence: lessons in resilience, excellence, and tough love.
Strings Attached is for anyone indebted to a mentor who saw the best in them, and for those devoted to igniting excellence in others.
(Synopsis: Book Website)
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A lengthy synopsis, yes, but one that bears reading. For me, the synopsis brought snippets of magical memories for me, and without it I might never have read and reviewed this book.
Strings Attached was personal and emotional for me on two levels: first, as a young music student faced with teachers who held their rulers above my knuckles as I struggled to learn to play piano, and second, as a lover of classical music. Some teachers instilled in me the love of the classics but also my father loved them and played them often on Saturday mornings on an old Stromberg-Carlson phonograph. Both my father and my music teachers are all held lovingly in my memory as the roots of my musical life.
Strings Attached has received great advance reviews, and I join them here in saying that this book is a must read. And it isn’t written only for musicians or lovers of music — anyone with heart and a love of humanity will enjoy this book.
Within its pages, you meet Jerry Kupchynsky, a Ukrainian immigrant who came to the United States in search of a future, something better than he had lived through in the Ukraine. The layers of his life began in Ukraine and the multitude of layers grew — birth in the Ukraine near the start of the Holodomor and a tragic childhood as a result, strength of character, perseverance, incredible work ethic, a love of music and family, and unimaginable joy. Yes, joy! Mr. K, as his students called him, was a ball of fire, an unfathomable level of energy passion for teaching, his students, and once again the music.
Mr. K’s teaching style was one of high expectations, rules, and often impatience, but always with love. His use in dialogue of musical terms or anywhere the authors use musical terminology they have done so in layman’s terms so as not to interrupt the flow of the text.
In re-enacting teaching sessions with Mr. K and his students, Lipman and Kupchynsky have cleverly adopted Mr. K’s Ukrainian accent with his humorous remarks (some might call them insults) made to his students. I could not help but laugh at“Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from mud at bottom of reever!” and “Who eez deaf in first violins?” Turn the page and you find him offering praise and wisdom that students carried with them for a lifetime (“you can’t teach children an instrument and then hide them in a hole”).
Lipman and Kupchynsky’s memories and views segue back and forth easily and often seamlessly. Newspaper clippings and photographs accompany portions of the narrative as tribute is given to a man who made a lasting and loving impact on the lives of those he touched and taught.
Everyone should read this book. It gives hope that another Jerry Kupchynsky will rise among our educators.
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An Interview with Melanie Kupchynsky:
Meet the Authors:
Joanne Lipman is one of the nation’s most prominent journalists and commentators. She was a Deputy Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal and she founded and was Editor-in-Chief of Portfolio. Currently, she is a Newsweek columnist and advisor to news organizations such as CNN and New York Public Radio. She is a frequent television commentator, appearing on CNN, CBS, and CNBC, among others.
Melanie Kupchynsky has been a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years, during which time the symphony has won 21 Grammys. She began studying violin at the age of four with her father and the subject of the book, Jerry “Mr. K” Kupchynsky. Melanie began her career with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra under the direction of John Williams. With the CSO, she has performed around the globe under the world’s greatest conductors and with the world’s most prominent soloists. She remains an active chamber musician as well, most recently performing as part of the Chicago Symphony’s “Citizen Musician” outreach program in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and with Yo Yo Ma in Chicago.
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I received an advanced reader’s copy of Strings Attached from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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UP NEXT: Friday Favorites with a look at my favorite Indie bookseller, Annie Bloom’s.