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Leelanee Sterrett

Leelanee Sterrett

Whether onstage with the New York Philharmonic or Genghis Barbie, Leelanee Sterrett knows four horns are better than one.

Leelanee hails from the rugged north woods of Michigan. She spent her childhood hiking, camping, skiing, and building forts as well as being immersed in music: classical music playing 24/7 on the radio was the norm for her family, as was attending all of Mom’s community band concerts and being subjected to Dad’s virtuosic but way-too-early-in-the-morning whistling. It was only natural, then (after some unpromising piano lessons in elementary school), for Leelanee to join the school band in fifth grade. She had aspirations of playing the saxophone, but was gently dissuaded by her long-sighted mother, who suggested she play “something nice, like the horn.”

It turns out that the horn was the right fit. Leelanee’s “pretty good for someone from the middle of nowhere” aptitude led to summers spent at music camp, private lessons, and playing in youth orchestra. It was through these experiences that she first fell in love with orchestral repertoire and playing in a horn section. Eventually, horn edged out gymnastics, cross country, and a host of other extracurricular activities to become the main event. So for her last two years of high school, she enrolled at Interlochen Arts Academy. It was there, surrounded by her talented peers and encouraged and challenged by her excellent teacher, Julie Schleif, that Leelanee first seriously imagined becoming a professional musician.

With the goal of someday winning an orchestral audition in mind, it was off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study with Douglas Hill for undergrad, and then to the east coast for a master’s from the Yale School of Music with Bill Purvis. Leelanee kept busy while earning her degrees, winning second place in the University Division of the International Horn Competition of America in 2007, and being named a Yamaha Young Performing Artist that same year. She nurtured her orchestral aspirations while in school, taking numerous professional auditions and winning positions in the Fox Valley and La Crosse symphony orchestras in Wisconsin and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. She also attended the Pacific and Sarasota music festivals, the Banff Centre’s summer music programs, the National Orchestral Institute, and Tanglewood Music Center.

In 2010, Leelanee moved to New York as a fellow of Ensemble ACJW—The Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. In addition to performing in major NYC venues, the fellowship gave her the opportunity to mentor public school music students, develop concert programs for underserved members of the community in non-traditional venues, and generally grapple with the notion of what the 21st-century musician can be to the greater world. During this time, Leelanee also began subbing frequently with the New York Philharmonic, after a close-but-no-dice audition appearance.

In June 2013, another audition at the Philharmonic paid off and Leelanee won the position of Assistant Principal and Utility Horn. Now Third Horn with the Orchestra, she is immensely grateful to have achieved her number one career goal and loves life as a full-time professional musician.  Additionally, Leelanee’s musical world in New York is made richer and more glamorous as a member of Genghis Barbie, NYC’s leading post-post feminist feminist all-female pop horn experience. As Cosmic Barbie, she loves traveling, performing, and teaching with her close friends and musical cohorts. Leelanee lives in Brooklyn with her husband Joe Henry, a bassist, tuba player, and aspiring music producer/composer..


My Kit

  • Englebert Schmid triple horn
    (F / B flat / high F)
  • Dieter Otto 180KA-JN-LS with silver plated bell flare
  • Mouthpiece components by Osmun, Stork and Moosewood

Must Haves

  • Toothbrush
  • Earplugs!
  • Tonal Energy tuner/metronome app for phone and iPad
  • Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil (0.5mm lead) with extra eraser 

Something Worth Learning

  • How to play well with others, and make others sound the better for your contribution.
  • Flexibility and mindfulness, so you can deliver when it counts, not just when the circumstances are ideal.

Favorite Things

  • Score study
  • Traveling
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Exploring the Brooklyn food scene

Practice Inspiration

  • Attending LIVE performances - music of any genre, theater, dance, comedy, etc.
  • My colleagues in the NY Phil and Genghis Barbie, who are constantly showing me new ways of approaching performance and interpretation.


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