Jelena is the third generation of professional female musicians in her family. A San Diego native, she grew up listening to her mother, now retired Chicago Symphony violist Karen Dirks, as well as her grandmother who was a cellist in the San Diego Symphony. She began studying the piano at age 5, and began playing with her mother soon after. As a youth she spent her hours dancing and playing the piano, until at age 11, she ceaselessly begged her parents for an oboe when her soon-to-be first oboe teacher told her “she would make a perfect oboist.”
Jelena is on the faculty of DePaul University where she teaches both piano and oboe and is the woodwind coordinator. She is highly sought after as both a teacher and performer and has performed with virtually every major musical group in Chicago, including Lyric Opera, the Chicago Philharmonic, and five years of regular performances, tours, and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She plays chamber music whenever possible, most often as the oboist for the critically acclaimed Prairie Winds Quintet, and is a frequent guest artist on the CSO Chamber Music Series, and with the Chicago Chamber Musicians.
Having graduated Summa Cum Laude from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Jelena went on to receive dual Masters Degrees in Piano and Oboe Performance from the University of Michigan. She studied with Alex Klein, Harry Sargous, David McGill, and Logan Skelton. She was appointed to the position of Prinicpal Oboe of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra by Music director David Robertson in December of 2013.