“Igor and Vesna Groupman: Sharing Love and the Gospel through Music,” Ensign, June 1987, 50–51
Theirs is a love story: love of music, love of each other, love of freedom, and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Igor and Vesna Groupman, love has become a motivational force that has changed their lives.
The couple met in 1971 while they were both studying violin at the Moscow Central Music School for Outstanding Young Musicians. In 1967, at the age of eleven, Igor won first prize in the National Youth Competition in his hometown, Kiev. At fifteen, he won a scholarship to the Moscow Central Music School.
Vesna, born in Nish, Yugoslavia, was a soloist with the Belgrade Chamber Orchestra by the age of ten. In 1969, she won the International Violin Competition for Young People in Czechoslovakia. As her talent and fame grew, she won a scholarship to one of the best music conservatories in the world—the Moscow Central Music School. Thus Igor and Vesna became classmates, and eventually sweethearts. But they could not marry in Russia.
“A Russian who married a foreigner was looked on as a potential refugee,” Igor explains. “Although my talent was considered a ‘national treasure,’ if we had married I would not have been trusted and my chances for an international career would have been over.”
Both graduated from the music school and were accepted into Moscow’s famous Tchaikovsky Conservatory for postgraduate studies. In 1979, Igor’s family, who were Jewish, applied for permission to leave Russia during a period of liberal Jewish emigration. Igor decided to go with them. But as soon as his intentions were known—just months before graduation—he was expelled from the conservatory.
Permission for the Groupman family to leave Russia was granted, and they arrived in the United States on 15 July 1979. Igor and Vesna had agreed that Vesna would remain in Russia to finish her studies and then meet Igor in the United States in July 1980.
It was a lonely year of struggle for both of them. Settling in Los Angeles, Igor won a scholarship to study under famed violinist Jascha Heifetz; he also worked at studio recording engagements. Meanwhile, Vesna completed her studies, playing recitals throughout Europe and performing solos with the Belgrade and Munich symphonies. Immediately after graduation she came to the United States, and she and Igor were married.
Vesna felt a need for direction and for a firm foundation of faith. She had always believed in God and had been interested in scripture. Igor had not been brought up as an orthodox Jew, but he, too, knew there was a God. “I had a very strong feeling that someday I would see the truth and recognize it,” he says.
“I remember sitting with Igor and telling him how wonderful it would be to find a church exactly like the church in the Bible,” Vesna recalls. One day a neighbor told them that she had found such a church. Three days later, two lady missionaries knocked on the Groupmans’ door and taught them the gospel.
In April 1982, after a month of prayer and study, Vesna was baptized. “I was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, but when I heard the truth I recognized it and joined the Lord’s true church,” she says. Igor studied and attended church with her. He had not yet made up his mind to be baptized, but Vesna’s example helped him.
“I saw what happened to Vesna during the next few months,” he remembers. “She had been feeling depressed and insecure, and in front of my eyes, incredibly quickly, she became strong.”
Still, he didn’t feel ready. “I thought I had to know everything about the Church and become perfect before I could be baptized,” he says. He was particularly worried about giving up smoking, a habit he had had since age thirteen.
Then the Groupmans moved to San Diego and became active in the Seventh Ward of the San Diego North Stake. Igor quit smoking, and in August 1983 he was baptized.
They attribute much of their conversion to the power good music. Both Igor and Vesna feel that music can speak to the spirit of those who listen reverently, and that it can prepare the way for the Holy Ghost.
Igor and Vesna both play for the San Diego Symphony in addition to giving private lessons and playing recitals. Igor is concertmaster of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, and Vesna is concertmaster of the San Diego Opera. For the past two years they have served in an unusual Church calling: teaching music to the Hmong and Laotian children of the Southeast Asian Branch in their stake.
“Because we are teaching children with so many different natural languages, we have a great need for the Spirit to help us communicate with each other, and it really does,” Vesna says. “Miracles happen in our classes.”
The Groupmans also serve as stake missionaries by giving concert firesides in which they play their instruments and talk about music and the gospel.
“We believe that music is one of those unspeakable gifts in which the Spirit is manifest in beauty and power,” Vesna says. “It can often reach deeper into the soul than words alone can, and it can open up communication with the Spirit on a higher level.”
The Groupmans feel that one of the best means members have for drawing close to the Lord is their talents. “We consider talent to be a certain aspect of the intelligence, or light, that we brought with us from the premortal existence,” Vesna explains. “When we use this light, we receive more light. Our talents can become a channel through which we can grasp spiritual knowledge and truth faster. They can literally become conductors of light between us and heaven.” (See D&C 88:40.)
With their professional and Church commitments, the Groupmans have little leisure time. On a rare holiday in February 1985, they traveled to Utah, where they performed in the Temple Square Concert Series, taught a master class, and played a recital at Brigham Young University.
The Groupmans are currently working on an album.
Despite their busy schedule, Igor and Vesna enjoy using their talents to further the Lord’s work. “It is more exciting to use a talent in the service of the Lord than to play in Carnegie Hall,” says Igor. Why? “Because the people are there to learn truth and to worship the Lord.”