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Rosemarie Howard
Baktybek Abdrisaev, Ph.D, is a distinguished visiting professor at UVU from Kyrgyzstan. He advises the Utah International Mountain Forum.

OREM — Using distance learning to change lives through educational opportunities was the subject of a presentation by world-renowned musicians Igor and Vesna Gruppman on the Utah Valley University campus Thursday.

The session was sponsored by a campus coalition, the Utah International Mountain Forum, which is partnering with the Gruppman International Violin Institute to offer opportunities for violin instruction to talented children in remote communities of central Asia.

For the Gruppmans, it is coming full circle.

“Looking at these kids in these pictures,” Igor said, “very much reminded us of the southeast Asian kids that we taught in San Diego. If we could make a dent, or even partially change their lives the way we did in San Diego area, then it would be a thousand times worthwhile.

“About 20 years ago,” Igor added, “through the LDS Church we were fortunate to have a calling to work with refugees from East Asia in the San Diego area.” They were to select children from the Hmong people who had an inclination for music and teach them musical principles and violin playing.

For nine years, they met with the selected children. “We could see how their lives had changed,” said Igor, “ and how they were softened. “

“That absolutely changed them as human beings,” Vesna said. They noticed their students gained self-confidence and became successful in school and in their lives.

Eugene Urborsky, one of their students who began his studies with Vesna at age 5, now has an international career as a violinist.

In 1996, the Gruppmans moved to Utah. Some of their students wanted to continue to study with them. Parents sacrificed to make the trip to Utah so their children could continue learning from the Gruppmans.

These dedicated students inspired the Gruppmans to look for another way to offer lessons. Through a computer-to-computer technology developed by a Utah company, Sorensen Technologies, they became distance-learning pioneers and established Gruppman International Violin Institute.

The mission of the institute was to offer “very targeted violin instruction and music instruction to special students that we could not be with in the same time zone,” Igor said.

At the time, there were other professional musicians who didn’t think music lessons could be taught effectively via the Internet. Vesna’s response to that thinking was and still is, “Somebody who never really tried and is not experienced at this may not succeed, certainly. But I think this is a lifesaver.”

The Gruppmans, who currently live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, successfully teach students via the Internet application Skype in many countries, including China, Germany, Russia and the United States.

“It definitely is not perfect (teaching via Skype), but if one learns how to do it, you can do wonders with it,” Vesna concluded.

Igor Gruppman will conduct the Orchestra at Temple Square for its annual spring concert Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, in the Salt Lake LDS Tabernacle. Performances begin at 7:30 pm.