Strings Attached by Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky

Title: Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations
Author: Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky
Publisher: Hyperion
Expected Release: October 1, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)

Synopsis (from the book’s website):

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.

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 was such a personal, emotional read for me. It touched on many things I identify with and hold close as a musician and as a music teacher. I found myself thinking fondly of my own teachers who pushed me, inspired me, and demanded so much from me… many of them felt as tyrannical as Mr. K, and I am just as thankful for that as his former students are.

However, you do not have to be a musician to enjoy this book! There are so many layers to Mr. K’s story: his tragic childhood (he was born near the start of the Holodomor in the Ukraine), his perseverance, his work ethic, the way he dealt with the many challenges and heartaches life threw at him – and joy! There were definitely joys, too. This is a human interest story. When musical terms do pop up, they are explained in layman’s terms; very quickly and simply, never interrupting the flow of the story.

Mr. K’s voice rang out with such clarity and character I felt I knew him. I laughed at his insults (“Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from mud at bottom of reever!” and “Who eez deaf in first violins?”), my heart swelled at when he offered praise, and I made notes of his wisdom (“you can’t teach children an instrument and then hide them in a hole”).

Lipman and Kupchynsky’s alternating perspectives segue naturally back and forth, often with one picking up where the other left off. The writing style is easy and conversational. Newspaper clippings and photographs often accompany the narrative.

Strings Attached is a moving tribute to a man who made a profound impact on the lives of so many.

An interview with Melanie Kupchynsky by Katie Bergholz:

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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