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'Message on importance of instrumental music'

Concertmasters nurture excellence

When Igor and Vesna Gruppman heard the announcement three years ago of the formation of the Orchestra at Temple Square, they jumped for joy.

Here, at last, was prophetic validation of what they had long felt: that excellent instrumental music has a role in the kingdom of God as it pertains to perfecting the Saints and reflecting the gospel's divine values to the world.

Twelve year old Eugene Ugorski performs with The Orchestra At Temple Square in the Tabernacle Saturday October 26, 2002 under the direction of conductor Barlow Bradford. (Submission date: 10/26/2002)
Twelve year old Eugene Ugorski performs with The Orchestra At Temple Square in the Tabernacle Saturday October 26, 2002 under the direction of conductor Barlow Bradford. (Submission date: 10/26/2002) Photo: Deseret News

"We felt it was very inspired," said Sister Gruppman in a recent interview.

Brother Gruppman added: "We recognized it as an amazing event for musicians in the Church, because, for the first time, an instrumental organization that was on a par with the Tabernacle Choir was being created; for the first time in Church history, an instrumental body was being elevated to this status. It was a message to everybody of the importance of instrumental music."

Thus, it seems providential that the Gruppmans, emigrants from the former Soviet Union, converts to the Church and accomplished concert violinists, would soon be called and set apart as co-concertmasters of the newly formed orchestra.

They had been living in San Diego, Calif., until three years before the announcement was made. At that time, they joined the music faculty at BYU, Brother Gruppman leaving a position as concertmaster with the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic to take the BYU post.

Thus living in Provo and teaching at BYU they were in place to answer the call when it came. Graduates of the prestigious Moscow Conservatory, they appraoched it with an eminent background, he having studied with Jasha Heifetz and she with David Oistrah.

"We are preparing and coaching our best students to be part of the orchestra," Brother Gruppman said.

It's a role they take very seriously. Sister Gruppman speaks of it in divine terms.

"In a nutshell, [the orchestra] is fulfilling the vision of what President Hinckley had in mind," she said. "It has to do with high quality."

She said she feels that music was created in heaven "and is much older than we are," that it has a definite purpose in developing and enhancing the spiritual nature of Heavenly Father's children. "We just have to be spiritually advanced enough to understand it. When President Hinckley called for the orchestra, this was going along with what we had long been teaching our students [about the divine nature and role of music]."


Prodigy Eugene Ugorski stands with teacher Vesna Gruppman and parents, Luba Tzvibel and Valeri Ugorski.
Prodigy Eugene Ugorski stands with teacher Vesna Gruppman and parents, Luba Tzvibel and Valeri Ugorski. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

It was a latent impression that had long been present with the Gruppmans but came into focus when they were introduced to the Church.

In 1982, they had been living in the United States for two years. A pair of sister missionaries knocked on their apartment door in North Hollywood, Calif., when only Vesna was at home. "We had already heard of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, but we never had the courage to go and visit the Church, because our English wasn't very good," she recounted. "So when they appeared at the door I felt that they were two angels who had come straight from heaven."

After two weeks of lessons, Vesna was baptized. "And I just followed the instinct of a good woman," Brother Gruppman quipped.

"It wasn't that simple," she quickly put in. "He was secretly reading the Book of Mormon. In about a year, he had read halfway through it, and he knew more than I did."

The Gruppmans moved to San Diego, where he became concertmaster of the city's symphony, and there he joined the Church.

Immediately, they were "adopted' by the stake seventies quorum and became involved in missionary work. Much of their service was teaching violin and music appreciation to Laotian and Hmong children in families of Church members.

The Orchestra At Temple Square performs in the Tabernacle Saturday October 26, 2002 under the direction of conductor Barlow Bradford. (Submission date: 10/26/2002)
The Orchestra At Temple Square performs in the Tabernacle Saturday October 26, 2002 under the direction of conductor Barlow Bradford. (Submission date: 10/26/2002) Photo: Deseret News

"It was one of the sweetest callings we ever had in the Church," Sister Gruppman said. "We still correspond with some of them."

In their work with the Asian immigrants, they nurtured their own affinity and talent for teaching. Later, they came in contact with Eugene Ugorski, the child prodigy who dazzled the Salt Lake Tabernacle audience at the Oct. 26 fall concert of the Orchestra at Temple Square. (See Oct. 19 Church News for the story of how Eugene's talent was nurtured by Sister Gruppman's teaching from the time he was 6 years old.)

"Vesna has developed a reputation for being one of the best violin teachers," Brother Gruppman said, adding that she has received the 2002 College Teacher of the Year award from the American String Teachers Association. "There was a philosophy and a system that's been developed and been tempered by the Spirit that we successfully pass to the youngsters. Gene is one of the examples. . . . We feel now that it is time to establish an institute and a foundation to go with it to select young talent like Eugene and give them the opportunity to have similar training."

Thus has been born the Gruppman Institute. Brother Gruppman explained: "We really believe we can change the musical scene significantly by involving the guidance of the Spirit before everything else and having an individual approach with every child. . . to teach about the language of music, about spirituality, about the function and mission of music."

The Gruppmans feel it is an approach that is applicable to everyone, regardless of religious faith. (Eugene, for example, is not a member of the Church.)

Adds Vesna: "I think those LDS students who will come to our institute will be so well trained we can really fulfill this goal that President Hinckley has to train the best musicians of excellent caliber."

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