Jerry Kupchynsky, the real-life teacher at the heart of Strings Attached, was strictly old school: A ferocious Ukrainian immigrant and World War II refugee, he was a tyrannical school orchestra conductor in suburban New Jersey. He would yell and stomp and scream when we screwed up, bellowing “Who eez DEAF in first violins?” His highest praise was “not bad.” He rehearsed us until our fingers were raw. Yet ultimately he became beloved by students. He left a legacy of joy and a passion for music, and he taught us qualities like focus and discipline that served us well no matter what path we chose. And when he passed away, 40 years’ worth of former students – us included – gathered in our old hometown, old instruments in tow, to honor him. When the curtain rose that day, we had created a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.
As tough as Mr. K was, he had a Slavic sentimental side and a bawdy sense of humor. His signature cocktail, the Black Russian, was the ultimate gesture of affection, best when shared with one (or many!) friends. He often mixed up a batch and poured it into his oversize flask, which he packed into his suitcase before a concert tour to share post-performance with fellow teachers—and in later years, with Melanie’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra colleagues.
So while you’re reading Strings Attached, enjoy a Black Russian yourself. This recipe serves eight—or fewer. Depends on your crowd.
Authors Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky