Grammy Nominated Group Shares Skills and Techniques

As Imani Winds’ performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s classical piece “Scheherazade” came to a close, Valerie Coleman, flutist and founder of the group, realized that her glasses were sliding down her face Determined to finish the piece, she held the last note while the other group members suppressed grins behind their instruments’ mouthpieces.

On Friday evening, students and faculty members gathered in Cochran Chapel to hear Grammy-nominated Imani Winds, a woodwind quintet based in New York and composed of Coleman, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz, clarinetist Mariam Adam, French horn player Jeff Scott and bassoonist Monica Ellis.

Imani Winds was founded in 1997 when Coleman decided to assemble a woodwind quintet.

“We got together when we were all in grad school. We were at different schools, and I remember just sitting in a practice room thinking, ‘oh my goodness, what am I going to do when I get out of college? I need a job!’ So I thought about the idea of putting together a woodwind quintet,” said Coleman, “I basically asked around and each person in the group was recommended, so I gave them cold phone calls. They didn’t know me. I was a telemarketer for a day. And somehow or another, I convinced them to sit down in a practice room with me and read through some music. And that’s how Imani Winds came together.”

The quintet plays, practices and studies a wide variety of genres, including tango, jazz and classical, as well as their own original compositions.

Scott said, “[We have] the nerve to try so many different styles. We really work hard on authenticity. We work with people who are established in that particular style of music… before we try to bring it to an audience.There’s some styles that we won’t broach right now, because we haven’t had that opportunity to work with people that could really help us bring some authenticity to it. We find that very important.”

The quintet commenced their concert with Coleman’s lively classical composition “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta.” The piece began with a strong clarinet melody, which the other woodwind instruments supported with subtle series of notes. The song then slipped into a steady groove, slowing down so the audience could snap their fingers to the beat.

Nancy Kim ’17, an audience member, said, “All of them, technically, were extremely skilled. The clarinetist was amazing. [Adam] played the notes so smoothly… I play the clarinet, and some transitions are very complex, but the musicians did it amazingly.”

Imani Winds also performed Paquito D’Rivera’s “Kites.” Each musician played high notes on their instrument before four members paused to recite lines from the anonymous poem “If I Were a Kite.” Once the playing resumed, the melody moved quickly as the performers harmonized with each other’s fast trills. The piece ended with the last member of the group reciting the final line of the poem.

Jules Gilligan ’17, an audience member, said, “[‘Kites’] was really interesting, I could actually tell there was a kite flying around. It switched from instrument to instrument really well. They’d switch from the flute, to the clarinet, sometimes throw in the oboe. They had a very steady bassoon in the background, so with that in mind, [‘Kites’] had a really interesting dynamic in the group and they mimicked each other’s styles really well.”

The morning following the concert, Imani Winds held a workshop with student instrumentalists to work on the students’ pieces and technical skills. The quintet also encouraged students to experiment with new techniques, such as singing and conducting pieces.

Cathy Liu ’15, a flutist and workshop attendee, said,“They had me play the music without actually blowing, so just mimicking the movement of the flute. [The movement of the flute] keeps people on time. We all count, but it just helps everyone stay on the same page while we’re playing, it’s another form of communication.”

Imani Winds has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and venues in China, Singapore and Brazil. The group was selected as the first-ever Educational Residency Ensemble.