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CLASSICAL  March 2010

CLASSICAL March 2010

Subject:

A Real Life Mr. Holland's Opus

From:

Roger Hecht <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 11 Mar 2010 11:09:22 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (140 lines)

   The New York Times
   
   February 28, 2010
   Op-Ed Contributor
   And the Orchestra Played On
   By JOANNE LIPMAN
   
   The other day, I found myself rummaging through a closet,
   searching for my old viola.  This wasn't how I'd planned
   to spend the afternoon.  I hadn't given a thought to the
   instrument in years.  I barely remembered where it was,
   much less how to play it.  But I had just gotten word that
   my childhood music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky - 'Mr.  K.'
   to his students - had died.
   
   In East Brunswick, N.J., where I grew up, nobody was feared
   more than Mr. K. He ran the town's music department with a
   ferocity never before seen in our quiet corner of suburbia.
   In his impenetrably thick Ukrainian accent, he would berate
   us for being out of tune, our elbows in the wrong position,
   our counting out of sync.
   
   'Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from bottom of river,'
   he would yell during orchestra rehearsals.  Wayward violinists
   played 'like mahnyiak,' while hapless gum chewers 'look
   like cow chewing cud.' He would rehearse us until our fingers
   were callused, then interrupt us with 'Stop that cheekin
   plocking!'
   
   Mr. K. pushed us harder than our parents, harder than our
   other teachers, and through sheer force of will made us
   better than we had any right to be.  He scared the daylight
   out of us.
   
   I doubt any of us realized how much we loved him for it.
   
   Which is why, decades later, I was frantically searching
   for an instrument whose case still bore the address of my
   college dorm.  After almost a half-century of teaching, at
   the age of 81, Mr. K. had died of Parkinson's disease.  And
   across the generations, through Facebook and e-mail messages
   and Web sites, came the call: it was time for one last
   concert for Mr.  K. - performed by us, his old students and
   friends.
   
   Now, I used to be a serious student. I played for years in
   a string quartet with Mr. K.'s violin-prodigy daughters,
   Melanie and Stephanie.  One of my first stories as a Wall
   Street Journal reporter was a first-person account of being
   a street musician.
   
   But I had given it up 20 years ago.  Work and motherhood
   intervened; with two children and long hours as an editor,
   there wasn't time for music any more.  It seemed kind of
   frivolous.  Besides, I wasn't even sure I would know how.
   
   The hinges creaked when I opened the decrepit case.  I was
   greeted by a cascade of loose horsehair - my bow a victim
   of mites, the repairman later explained.  It was pure agony
   to twist my fingers into position.  But to my astonishment
   and that of my teenage children - who had never heard me
   play - I could still manage a sound.
   
   It turned out, a few days later, that there were 100 people
   just like me.  When I showed up at a local school for
   rehearsal, there they were: five decades worth of former
   students.  There were doctors and accountants, engineers
   and college professors.  There were people who hadn't played
   in decades, sitting alongside professionals like Mr. K.'s
   daughter Melanie, now a violinist with the Chicago Symphony
   Orchestra.  There were generations of music teachers.
   
   They flew in from California and Oregon, from Virginia and
   Boston.  They came with siblings and children; our old
   quartet's cellist, Miriam, took her seat with 13 other
   family members.
   
   They came because Mr. K. understood better than anyone the
   bond music creates among people who play it together.  Behind
   his bluster - and behind his wicked sense of humor and taste
   for Black Russians - that was his lesson all along.

   He certainly learned it the hard way.  As a teenager during
   World War II, he endured two years in a German internment
   camp. His wife died after a long battle with multiple
   sclerosis.  All those years while we whined that he was
   riding us too hard, he was raising his daughters and caring
   for his sick wife on his own.  Then his younger daughter
   Stephanie, a violin teacher, was murdered.  After she
   vanished in 1991, he spent seven years searching for her,
   never giving up hope until the day her remains were found.
   
   Yet the legacy he had left behind was pure joy.  You could
   see it in the faces of the audience when the curtain rose
   for the performance that afternoon.  You could hear it as
   his older daughter Melanie, her husband and their violinist
   children performed as a family. You could feel it when the
   full orchestra, led by one of Mr. K.'s proteges, poured
   itself into Tchaikovsky and Bach.  It powered us through
   the lost years, the lack of rehearsal time - less than two
   hours - and the stray notes from us rustier alums.
   
   Afterward, Melanie took the stage to describe the proud
   father who waved like a maniac from a balcony in Carnegie
   Hall the first time she played there.  At the end of his
   life, when he was too ill to talk, she would bring her
   violin to his bedside and play for hours, letting the
   melodies speak for them both.  The bonds of music were as
   strong as ever.
   
   In a way, this was Mr. K.'s most enduring lesson - and one
   he had been teaching us since we were children.  Back when
   we were in high school, Mr. K. had arranged for Melanie and
   our quartet to play at the funeral of a classmate killed
   in a horrific car crash.  The boy had doted on his little
   sister, a violinist.  We were a reminder of how much he
   loved to listen to her play.
   
   As the far-flung orchestra members arrived for Mr. K.'s
   final concert, suddenly we saw her, that little girl, now
   grown, a professional musician herself.  She had never
   stopped thinking about her brother's funeral, she told me,
   and when she heard about this concert, she flew from Denver
   in the hope that she might find the musicians who played
   in his honor.  For 30 years, she had just wanted the chance
   to say, 'Thank you.'
   
   As did we all.
   
   Joanne Lipman, a former deputy managing editor at The Wall
   Street Journal, was the founding editor in chief of Conde
   Nast Portfolio magazine.

Roger Hecht

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