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'If it's not fun, what are you doing?': Denver musicians form rock orchestra

Artistic Director Kelly Maxwell wanted an outlet for musicians after the "music stopped" in March of 2020.
Credit: Taylor Schuss

DENVER — Kelly Maxwell remembers the day when everything changed for her and other musicians.

"That Friday the 13th, 2020, is when the music stopped," said Maxwell, a professional singer who was impacted, like many, by the end of live performances when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person gatherings.

"I feel like the world was ending, and then all my gigs dried up, and then six months after that, I got laid off from the opera," she said.

As restrictions loosened up, a group of musicians got together to create the Denver Rock Orchestra, where a collection of classical instruments plays songs closer to classic rock than Beethoven. Maxwell is the group's artistic director.

"Fun is our first priority," she said. "We all decided that that was the word. I really think that's a great founding principle, like guiding light. If it's not fun, what are you doing?"

Madeline Winkler founded DRO in October 2021 and now serves as Executive Director. Winkler also helped establish the Denver Rock Orchestra as a nonprofit in January.

"The whole point of the orchestra was bringing people together after the pandemic," Winkler said.

She said this is something people needed after dealing with COVID and all that changed.

"Everyone hangs out after and gets to know each other and has a cocktail," she said. "I mean, it's just been really great to bring everyone together."

Maxwell said the Rock Orchestra has helped her.

"I think quarantine was really hard for everybody, and especially hard for folks who have been so involved in performance because it was not just the groups that you were playing with," she said. "It was the audience and the special sauce, the magic that only comes between that dynamic – that push and that pull and without that it’s not the same."

Denver Rock Orchestra is looking to add members, particularly instrumentalists, before Sept. 16. Anyone who's interested can click here or send an email to DenverRockOrchestra@gmail.com.

"I've never had a project that I've worked on like this, and I've never felt so sure that it was something I needed to do," Winkler said.

In addition to the unique performance, Maxwell said DRO's leadership is unique.

"Our board of directors, our founders, all of us are women," Maxwell said. "I think that it is a really cool thing to be able to say, especially because classical music and the music industry in general is so often run by dudes."

She said all of the orchestra's members are volunteers who have regular day jobs, but they share a love for music and performing.

"Live performance is something wholly unique, and it is the high I will keep chasing for the rest of my life," Maxwell said. "Now that I’ve had this time away from it and know that we’re coming back to it, my desire to make music and connect to different audiences is 10 times stronger than it was before."

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