Music has always filled the house of French horn player Kelli Hirsch. As a child, she listened to records and the sound of her Mom playing the organ. When it came time to choose an instrument to play, Kelli took after her Mom and began piano lessons in 2nd grade.
However, in 5th grade, Kelli’s musical interest took a turn in a different direction when she saw a friend playing the French horn. “It felt unique,” she said. She soon joined the band and dove straight-in to learning a completely new instrument. Often being one of only two French horns in her school band and local youth orchestra, Kelli took advantage of the opportunity to excel and auditioned her senior year for the Hastings Symphony Orchestra in Nebraska, her hometown.
During college, Kelli’s passion for both instruments allowed her to play piano for work study and in a local church part-time. Kelli’s French horn followed her to Minneapolis, Minnesota where she was principal for the Kenwood Symphony Orchestra. In 2005, she performed in the world premiere of, “The Rondo Oratorio,” a piece written by Stephen Newby and commissioned by the American Composer’s Forum. The oratorio, which combines rap, hip hop, gospel, an orchestra and a choir, tells the story of a predominantly African American neighborhood of Rondo in St. Paul, Minnesota that was bulldozed to make room for Interstate 94 in 1959.
The performance gave Kelli “a greater appreciation for modern music,” and sparked a new personal interest in the genre. “It’s not always avant garde. It can be very tonal and central.” She said. Kelli’s experience with the American Composer’s Forum eventually led her to a job as a grant writer for the organization in 2006.
Kelli’s not only multi-faceted when it comes to musical instruments, she is a full-time Mom who works as the Major Gifts and Grants Manager for the Dumb Friends League (DFL) part-time. She researches and writes the grants that help support the DFL and assists the shelter with special events. When she needs an extra pick-me-up throughout the day, her perfect remedy is often a quick visit to play with the dogs and rabbits.
Kelli also performs with a local woodwind quintet, the Gossamer Winds. In an effort to support other Metro nonprofit organizations such as Global Down Syndrome and Ballet Ariel, the quintet will often auction themselves at silent auctions, where the highest bidder receives a private performance in their home. Though Denver may be a larger community than her hometown of Hastings, she has always identified with helping her neighbors and giving back. “It’s great to be playing for the community,” Kelli says.
Kelli is in her sixth season with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’ve seen the audience grow and develop. We have the audience I think everyone wants,” She said. Often a mixture of patrons from various walks of life, Kelli’s greatest pleasure is seeing children in the audience.
Despite keeping herself busy, family is always her first priority. “It’s important to be home and be a part of [my daughters’] lives,” Kelli said. Growing up, Kelli’s own close-knit family shaped how she now raises her own children. Her two daughters, ages 2 and 4, share the same enthusiasm for live music. The girls, who often put on their own piano and voice recitals for Kelli and her husband (a trombone player), always remember to curtsy after their performances.
Supporting family members and their music is natural for Kelli. Her biggest advocate is her dad, as he encouraged her to keep playing as she grew older. “Remember to smile,” he often says. This small advice has gone a long way for Kelli and she is reminded of him every time she performs, however the mute for her horn also serves as a special reminder.
When Kelli first started playing, her dad made his own version of a mute handle. Using a second-hand purse, he sewed the straps together so Kelli could make mute changes more easily. She still uses the mute to this day. “It has special meaning,” Kelli said.
Kelli’s biggest reward from music is the closeness that it can bring to a family who enjoys its essence together. Whether it’s the small voices of children singing for all to hear, or the notes of a piano, a French horn or trombone resounding through the walls, Kelli has made a comfortable home where love and music will always have a place to dwell.
Bands on repeat: Any children’s songs that her daughters are listening to, which currently involves learning numbers and the ABC’s as well as The Wizard of Oz. However, during her own free time, she enjoys Harry Connick Jr.
First Concert: A local symphony in her hometown of Hastings, Nebraska.
By Julia Compton, DPO Embedded Reporter