Technical Sergeant Kelly Cho

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansDecember 2022 • December 15, 2022

Playing an instrument is not just about becoming a musician… It’s about developing your heart.” – Technical Sgt. Kelly Cho, violin

From her earliest days as a three-year old pianist, music has always maintained a presence in the life of the newest member of The United Air Force Band, Technical Sergeant Kelly Cho. But she soon learned that music was not the only interest that would land her a new job with the Air Force Strings. 

Falling into music as a child was unavoidable while surrounded by her South Korean choral-conducting father, flute-playing mother, and cello-playing sister. However, once her collegiate education began, receiving both her Bachelor’s and Masters of Music from the Manhattan School of Music, she fell under the influence of two teachers who taught her to look beyond the violin parts, as well as within herself to become a stronger competitor.

After her father, Cho’s next biggest supporters were her teachers, David Kim (concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra) who taught her to look at the big picture of music and the world at large, and Lisa Kim (associate principal second violin). 

“Ms. Kim taught me how to live life; taught me lessons in perseverance, and how to be a musician who connects with an audience.”

Cho has already connected with audiences in just over two months with The United States Air Force Band.

Her first strolling performance was at the U.S. Department of State, and considering the repertoire, she thought her role in the Strolling Strings “was to entertain, moving between the tables. I didn’t realize the dinner guests would be so focused on us and not those seated around them.”

Thinking back to the time before she auditioned for the Air Force Strings, if you asked her if she thought her first performances would be at the Department of State, the White House, and for the Air Force’s top military and civilian leadership, she laughed with a resounding, “No!”

Like most conservatory students, Cho was preparing for a career in a symphony orchestra. David Kim showed her the audition ad only days before the recording submission deadline. 

“We laughed at first at the idea of auditioning, until I quickly investigated the job and the people already there. I was already working on the excerpts they wanted to hear, so I decided to go for it.”

Cho read the biographies of every member of the Air Force Strings and found inspiration in the various backgrounds of the group’s members. She didn’t know at first what kind of music and performances the Strings participated in, but after watching several posts by the Band on YouTube, she was firmly convinced that she wanted to join. Yet, there was still more to learn. 

After winning the audition, she attended Air Force Basic Military Training, and surprisingly, she learned from her fellow recruits what was in store for her.

“My TI (military training instructor) asked me, ‘What is your purpose in the band?’ I said I didn’t know. The other recruits then told me, ‘You are an ambassador for the Air Force.’” How right they were. The members of The United States Air Force Band serve as musical representatives to over 685,000 active duty, guard, reserve, and civilian airmen serving around the globe.

Beyond her passion for violin and the wealth of different musical opportunities that lie before Cho’s long career, she also brings a healthy worldview and an interest in foreign policy and public health. This was formed prior to her enlistment when she spent three months in Tanzania, visiting a family friend who was working for the United Nations. Observing their work expanded her scope of the world. When asked how she envisioned combining her love for music with her intercontinental curiosity, she happily reported that she loves the idea of how the soft power of music is used toward building and solidifying global relationships, even if she is strolling between tables playing Broadway or bluegrass, classical or classic rock, folk songs from America and beyond its borders, and so much more.

Cho’s advice for students or teachers who were pursuing their musical goals resembles the hard work and tough lessons of her private teachers. “Playing an instrument is not just about becoming a musician. It’s about transforming your life to become better. It’s about developing your heart.”

Her Air Force career is just now taking flight, where everything is still new and exciting, and she still has plenty of “firsts” to check off her list. Whether it is a strolling violin feature that turns the attention onto her or honoring 75 years of Air Force heritage that came before her, the Air Force Strings are in good hands knowing that Technical Sgt. Kelly Cho has her eye on the big picture.

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