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The tough teacher who is the subject of this book is Jerry Kupchynsky. Mr K, as he was affectionately known, was a Ukrainian-born American school instrumental music teacher in East Brunswick, New Jersey. He changed the lives of thousands of students, including those of the authors. Author Joanne Lipman was Mr K’s viola student before she became one of the US’s most prominent journalists. Her fellow author is Melanie Kupchynsky, Mr K’s daughter, for more than 20 years a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Mr K was demanding and exacting, believing that a little toughness goes a long way, realising that real experts don’t want soft teachers. When Mr K passed away, his memorial service was attended by former students – lots of them. Some of the attendees had grown up to be professional musicians, but many were doctors, lawyers and executives. Joanne Lipman herself had by then become a deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. For the occasion, these alumni assembled an orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Strings Attached began life as an article in the New York Times, which told the story of Mr K. But in a larger sense it’s the story of every one of these alumni, a story of the fine art of tough love. In a recent tv interview, Lipman told how the authors have experienced a tremendous positive reaction to Strings Attached. ‘I think we’ve dipped into a moment in the culture where we’re all backing away from the ‘trophies for everyone’ mentality, with its idea that you have to praise kids all the time. The question now is how to translate that into the work place,’ she said. With a walk-on part for Leonard Bernstein, a tragic murder (really), a dusting of humorous observations, and several pages of bibliographical notes useful to music educators, Strings Attached is, for musicians, an important contemporary book, which expresses something of the zeitgeist. Don’t miss it.

JOHN ROBERT BROWN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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