Classical Chamber Music Ensemble Imani Winds

Imani Winds.

hide captionImani Winds.

Flutist/composer Valerie Coleman tells the story of Imani Winds, an all-black chamber music ensemble.

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Ms. VALERIE COLEMAN (Flutist and Composer): I can remember when I was a little kid. I used to be in the youth orchestra, and there were so many African- Americans in the orchestra. But somewhere along the line, when I got to college, I was the only one in the orchestra. So I wondered what in the world happened here?

It came to my mind that role models are needed.

ED GORDON, host:

That's flutist and composer Valerie Coleman. In 1997, while still a student, Coleman decided to start her own chamber music ensemble. The idea was to gather together some of the best African-American woodwind players around. She called the group Imani Winds.

Here, Valerie Coleman tells the story of Imani Winds.

Ms. COLEMAN: I basically called around. I gave them my whole spiel. One of the things that I asked them was who are your role models? When you were growing up, who were your role models? And, were there any African-Americans as your role model? And the answer was basically no from everyone.

Of course, you had Winton Marsalis, but he plays trumpet and we're woodwind instruments. So I said, well, guys, we have a chance to change that. We really have the opportunity to let people know that classical music is an all- inclusive thing, not exclusive.

That's basically how the group came together. We get into a practice room. It was magic from the very beginning, and I said to myself, this is going to be something.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TORIN SPELLMAN-DIAZ (Oboe Player, Imani Winds): My name is Torin Spellman- Diaz, and I'm playing the oboe.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MONICA ELLIS (Bassoon Player, Imani Winds): My name is Monica Ellis. I play the bassoon.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MARIAM ADAM (Clarinet Player, Inami Winds): My name is Mariam Adam. I play clarinet.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JEFF SCOTT (French Horn Player, Imani Winds): I'm Jeff Scott. I play the French horn.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLEMAN: Imani Winds is, I believe, is a richer sound because of the personalities in the group. And personalities definitely reflect on the individual instruments.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: We're playing a composition that I wrote. It's actually the first movement of this piece that describes Josephine Baker's life. And this movement in particular gives you the setting of St. Louis during the time of 1920.

So this movement is basically describing all of that, and also showing us Josephine Baker as a little girl, the mischievous little girl who used to steal fruit from the stands just so she could have food to eat.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. My mom, she says that when she had me in the womb, that she would play Beethoven Sixth Symphony, the Pastorale Symphony to me all the time. And so, that's how it all began.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: I remember being a baby, being in the backyard, picking up tree limbs and pretending that it was a flute.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: And then when I started to learn music in elementary school, I immediately started to write it down as I learned how to read music.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: By the time I was in high school, as a hobby, I would write whole symphonies and things like that. You know. Things that normal children don't do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: You know, I grew up in Muhammad Ali's neighborhood, the west end of Louisville. And that is about as inner-city as any inner-city can get. And my mom, she raised me right, and she worked hard at it. And, you know, my dad died when I was nine years old, so for the most part, when he died, me and my sisters - you know, my mom became a single mom at that point and she picked up the pieces. And somehow, she sent us all to college and just pulled it together and made it possible for us to get our education and what not. And I think that that's what drives me today, because I want to go back, and I want to help my community. I want to help the people in my family, particularly the men in my family.

I would say about 70 percent of them have been incarcerated, or are currently incarcerated. So my family, I always consider, is in a 9-1-1 situation, so that's what drives me. Because I know that I have to really do something about it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COLEMAN: What should African-Americans hear when they come to our concerts? What should they listen for? My answer is simple: listen for the soul. Listen for the soul. It's in our roots, it's in our backgrounds. We're bringing our background to the table to interpret all of the music that we play. So listen for it, because you will relate to it.

GORDON: Valerie Coleman of the classical chamber music ensemble Imani Winds. The group's third CD is self-titled.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us.

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