When she assembled the woodwind quintet Imani Winds, her fellow graduate students thought it would be a fun side gig for weekends. But Valerie Coleman had bigger ideas. She wanted to assemble of group of musicians of color who could not only play the standard wind quintet repertoire but open that tradition to new voices and influences.
"After 13 years, it has evolved from being a side project into a thriving, full-time ensemble, one whose work ranges from the greatest hits of the wind repertoire to arrangements of songs by jazz singer Josephine Baker to music by Coleman and French horn player Jeff Scott. Its five members — all African-American or Latino — have taken one of the squarest ensembles in chamber music and made it into something vibrant, accessible, and fun."
“You have to give up your sense of self in order to make the group function at its top level,’’ she says. “We’re always working with kids, from preschool all the way up to college, because everyone needs to see a group with this level of commitment."
Oboist Spellman-Diaz explains that one thing they try to embody is sacrifice: a selfless attitude that places the group’s priorities front and center, over individual desires.
“You have to give up your sense of self in order to make the group function at its top level,’’ she says. “We’re always working with kids, from preschool all the way up to college, because everyone needs to see a group with this level of commitment.’’
And when it comes to music, she continues, that kind of sacrifice ceases to be a matter of duty and becomes a thing of joy. That word comes up repeatedly as Spellman-Diaz talks about the animating spirit of Imani Winds, which she illustrates not in the language of race but in a more universal way.
“Whatever this performance technique is, the number one thing it has in it is joy.
Imani Winds plays at Jordan Hall tonight with Mariam Adam (clarinet), Jeff Scott (French horn), Valerie Coleman (flute), Monica Ellis (bassoon), and Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe). (photo Jeff Fasano)