U Alumnus and Utah Symphony Flutist Ralph Gochnour on The Art of Giving

August 05 2021
Ralph Gochnour (far right) and members of the University of Utah Marching Band Ralph Gochnour (far right) and members of the University of Utah Marching Band

The Art of Giving celebrates remarkable stories from the College of Fine Arts donor community. 

In 1950 during his high school junior year, Ralph Gochnour’s band director took him and four other students on a six-hour round-trip from Burley, Idaho to Salt Lake to hear the Utah Symphony.

They left Burley around noon, drove to Salt Lake, had dinner, attended the concert, and drove back – returning at 2:30 a.m.

"I was totally taken by it,” Gochnour (’56, School of Music) said. "I fell in love with the flute and that changed everything." The experience spurred him to pursue a career in music.

Many College of Fine Arts students and alumni will relate to this moment – the spark that lit an all-consuming pursuit of a creative path.

Those that shape successful careers in the arts similarly credit dedicated mentors, generous financial help, and personal tenacity in helping them realize their aspirations.

Through his high school band program, Gochnour took private flute lessons from a retired professional flutist in the band room in the evening. After graduating, he attended Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York for his freshman year of college.

But the money he set aside from working after-school and on weekends ran out after one year, and Eastman raised tuition, making it difficult to return.

When he received a full scholarship from the University of Utah, he gladly transferred. Gochnour’s time at the University of Utah was rich thanks to outstanding faculty mentors and performance opportunities.

Gochnour marched and performed for three years under Director of Bands Ron Gregory, a prominent conductor from Ohio State who pioneered fast cadence marching bands in the West. Students came from all over to join one of the top collegiate marching bands in the country.

clip from University of Utah Marching Band promotional video 1949, courtesy of Ralph Gochnour

He studied composition with Department of Music chair and renowned Utah composer Leroy Robertson. He took theory from the brilliant pianist and composer Helen Folland – the first woman to receive a doctorate in music from Columbia, and private flute lessons with Eugene Foster, the principal flutist of the Utah Symphony.

And thanks to a full scholarship made possible by maestro Maurice Abravanel, he spent four summers attending the then fledgling and now renowned Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California.

He was active in the national band fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi. As an undergraduate, he substituted with the Utah Symphony, which he joined after graduation in 1956 as second flutist.

At that time, the young Utah Symphony paid its members a base of $50 a week, barely enough to support one person, much less a family. To make ends meet, Gochnour also taught junior high and high school music for 16 years. "At one point, we had 35 members of the symphony who, like me, taught school." Ralph Gochnour photo

Between teaching full-time Monday through Friday, daily two-and-a-half hour Utah Symphony evening rehearsals and at least one concert on Saturdays (plus private lessons in between), music filled Gochnour’s days. Of a 43-year career with the Utah Symphony, he said, “it was my dream.” 

His advice to students who want to pursue music as a career?

“You have to have absolute love and dedication for what you're doing. That was what carried me through. I enjoyed every day that I played with the symphony, up to retirement."

Ralph and his wife Rosie, a pianist who helped him manage the Utah Symphony library for extra income while raising their eight children, have shown a remarkable commitment to paying it forward to the next generation of musicians. 

In 1997, the Gochnours established the Vic C. Oberhansley Scholarship Fund for marching band students who play trumpet. Vic, a close friend of Ralph's, played trumpet in the U’s marching and concert bands and graduated with a music degree. When he passed away, Vic left the Gochnour’s a bequest in his will.

They decided to give it to the U School of Music to start a scholarship in Vic’s honor.

In addition, for the last decade the Gochnours have funded an annual flute scholarship – the Ralph and Rosie Gochnour Flute Scholarship.

They feel fortunate to help the next generation of musicians also reach their dreams.