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If someone had told violinist, Yiran “Elle” Li that she would become a professional musician when she grew up, she would have wholeheartedly agreed.

Like many children, Elle was “unable to stay still” when she was 3 years old, so she began playing the violin. In her hometown of Liaoyang, China, Elle attended a classical concert where one of the pieces featured a violin solo. It was this amazing soloist that inspired Elle to pursue music when she was just 6 years old. The educational system in China allowed Elle to study the violin as her major in middle school, so she was able to immerse herself in everything music related. Elle performed with numerous local orchestras in her town while she studied at The Attached School of Shenyang Conservatory of Music.

Although there are fewer orchestras in China than the U.S., Elle says that they are becoming more popular. Normally, the type of music they perform tends to be more classical than contemporary and some orchestras rehearse in English instead of Chinese.

Elle’s move to the U.S. began after a visit to California in 2011, when Elle met Travis Rollins at a music festival. While performing in a master class, Elle says that ever since he laid eyes on her, he wanted to go and chat with her, but “he couldn’t find a chance to get close [to me] until the end of the festival.” However, once they started taking with each other, Elle says, “we couldn’t stop, it just felt so natural.” They spent three days together before each returned to their home, but as fate would have it, they soon agreed to move to Colorado together in 2012 to pursue their master’s degrees with the Lamont Music School at University of Denver.

The differences between higher education in China and the U.S. surprised Elle when she learned that she had more flexibility when it came time to enroll in courses. Where there are a certain number of credits needed to graduate in the U.S., in China there are only specific classes that are required. Elle also says that in China, a student takes courses only relevant to their degree for the entire duration, so she was excited that she could take a variety of electives. “It’s a pleasure to be somewhere new,” Elle said. She plans on staying in the U.S. once she completes her degree program.

While it’s safe to say that Elle lives and breathes music, she also enjoys new hobbies and being outdoors, though she has to be cautious, even if she avoids the very pastimes Colorado is known for like skiing and kayaking. “A musician can’t afford to be injured,” Elle says. And rightly so, since she plays in three different orchestras, often traveling as far as 60 miles to rehearse with the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra.

This past summer, Elle received three stitches after cutting her finger in a cooking related accident. “That’s what happens when you’re ambitious,” Elle says. Fortunately, the incident occurred during the summer, allowing her very essential left index finger to heal before the season began.

When Elle is not practicing or giving private lessons, she designs and makes jewelry for herself and close friends. Her favorite medium for jewelry is wire and “cute beads.” She hopes to one day have her own jewelry store that features her creations.

Along with her many musical endeavors and being a graduate teaching assistant at DU, Elle is working on her third season as principal 2nd violin with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. She and Travis, a violist, have their own musical group, The Duality Duet, where they play for weddings and other special occasions.

With a mixture of so many opportunities in music and her own—as Elle would call it, ambition, it is without a doubt that she is living her dream of being a professional musician.

Bands on repeat: Classical channel 88.1 and the soundtrack to Disney’s Tangled.
First concert: A classical concert in Liaoyang, China.
Favorite Classical Piece: The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao.

Top: at DPO rehearsal
Second: looking beautiful!
Middle: with boyfriend Travis
Bottom: relaxing

By Julia Compton, DPO Embedded Reporter

Headshot Image for Julia Compton

Julia Compton

Embedded Reporter