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Mormon Musician in Russia Helps Others Learn to Sing

Vasili Sapozhnikov is a 27-year-old Russian musician. He is also a Mormon, and that alone would make him unique, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the proper name for the church Mormons belong to) is still small in that nation. However, Vasali is also a practicing musician, a school music teacher, and a church music leader. He believes his work in teaching music to others allows him to feel better about themselves and to learn they can do more than they thought they can do.

After graduating from the Academy for Classical Vocal Performance in Moscow, he was offered a variety of jobs working with children in the schools. This didn’t initially appeal to him. However, he was also asked to teach Primary, the equivalent of Sunday School in a Mormon congregation. Working with the children showed him that he had a talent for doing so and he came to understand that God wanted him to share his gifts with children. He is now a music teacher in a school and he has found that the children have a great deal to teach him.

He also serves as a volunteer choir director in church. He directs a no-audition choir for young adults. His choir began with three or four people and now has more than forty.  Vasili often has people show up who don’t sing and don’t believe they can learn to sing. Vasili had no one to encourage him in his music. People told him he had no talent, he was unsuited to the work, and even that he didn’t look good on stage. He has realized it would have made a tremendous difference in his life if anyone had taken the time to encourage him, and so, in his choir work and his teaching, he tries to be that encourager. He spends many hours helping them learn to sing and building their confidence and eventually, they begin to sing. When that happens, they learn to believe in themselves and to see the world and their lives in a more positive light.

Vasili believes this is what the gospel does for people—it helps them believe in themselves and to see the good in the world. When they put forth the effort, they can improve their relationship with God—just as his choir members improve their singing when they put forth the effort to come to choir and work hard.

The first Mormon missionaries were called to Russia in 1843, when Joseph Smith explained that it would be important to the church someday that Russia receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. About fifty years after Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, died, there was one Mormon family in Russia, converted by a Swedish missionary. They struggled on alone, with occasional visits from church leaders, but most converts came from Russians living abroad. Russia did not recognize the Church, making it harder for it to grow. Real growth did not begin until 1990, when missionaries were again sent into the country. They supported the small number of Mormons meeting in private homes or rented buildings and began seeking new converts. In 1991, the Church was formally recognized by Russia and today it has two missions and, as of 2009, there were nearly 20,000 Mormons in Russia. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed at the Bolshoi Theater a month after official recognition occurred.

Source for History of Mormonism in Russia