The New York Times book review of Strings Attached, about the beloved music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky, caught my eye and I read it with great interest. My interest was borne not only because I had studied violin under Mr. K, as we respectfully called our taskmaster, but also because I recognized Joanne Lipman, one of the co-authors, as the person I had corresponded with a couple years previously after reading her wonderful op- ed homage to Mr. K published in The New York Times upon his death.
The New York Times book review was glowing. The book, by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky, is the true story of a man who grew up during the difficult, dark days of World War II in the Ukraine, and managed to go on to become the “music man” of a town in New Jersey, teaching and inspiring thousands of children. While Joanne and I had both studied under Mr. K, since she is about a decade younger, we never knew each other. Connecting with Joanne by email, we were to meet and swap stories about our music teacher, but life got in the way for both of us and time passed…Now I had another reason to reach out to Joanne for I wished to thank her for this excellent portrayal of the man who had made such a lasting impression on us, and to thank her for the great enjoyment the book had given me.
Since the authors were giving book tours in the area, I arranged to meet them at one of their stops. Because a snowstorm hit on the evening of the scheduled talk, the date was postponed to another on which co-author Melanie Kupchynsky, unfortunately, was unable to make owing to her commitment as violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Joanne gave a fascinating talk with plenty of photos, some of which were in addition to those in the book, accompanied, of course, by beautiful classical music!
The book is compelling and a page turner for many reasons. First, it speaks in the authentic voices of two people and their distinct perspectives: Joanne Lipman, an accomplished writer and Yale graduate, and Melanie Kupchynsky, professional violinist and the elder of the two daughters of Mr. K. The stories woven between these two voices make a fabric that is strong and richly textured.
Mr. K and his daughter Melanie at age 4
The book’s insights on what makes a good educator are done subtly and are thought-provoking. Here is the story of a man who overcame many hardships in his early life in war-torn Ukraine. We learn not only about his striving for a better life, but also about aspiring to greater heights through a love of music. It is remarkable how this teacher was able, for several decades, to inspire students to achieve success in music and other fields.
Mr. K’s mother is portrayed as the immense influence she was, both physically and psychically, on her only son, during her long life. We learn the circumstances of Mr. K’s wife of which we young students were totally unaware. Mr. K. struggled uncomplainingly to care for a disabled wife and two young daughters, yet we never knew.
The book stimulated me to think further about the difficulties we all go through in life, (although not always as severe as Mr. K’s), and how those struggles both strengthen our will and build our character. Indeed, I know I am the stronger for having had a tough music teacher like Mr. K, and am grateful for having known him. His tough style but kind and generous heart left strong impressions on generations of his students. A grand concert given by former students from across the country gave tribute to this remarkable man. Strings Attached is both inspirational and touches the heart.
Photo of Mr. K and his daughter and author, Melanie Kupchynsky, is from Strings Attached