Imani Winds is an ensemble on a mission

The Baltimore Sun

Is classical music a dead art form?

Not when musicians are as talented, adventurous and passionate as the five members of woodwind ensemble Imani Winds.

Extending the boundaries of sound, style and repertoire in new directions, Imani Winds comes to Howard Community College's Smith Theatre at 8 p.m. tomorrow, sharing bright hope for the future of classical music.

Founded in 1997, the five-member ensemble takes its name from the Swahili word for faith -- and faith is something that Valerie Coleman, flutist and composer, has in abundance. She traced her musical journey and the founding of Imani Winds in a National Public Radio interview in May. Growing up in the inner city of Louisville, Ky., she recounted, there were no African-American role models to turn to as she pursued her dream of becoming a professional classical musician, first at Boston University and then Mannes School of Music.

"I used to be in the youth orchestra, and there were all these African-American kids in it. But somewhere along the line, when I got to college, I was the only one," Coleman said. "What happened?"

Determined to find a satisfactory answer to the question and a solution to the problem, Coleman joined with Mariam Adam (clarinet), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Jeff Scott (French horn), and Monica Ellis (bassoon) to form Imani Winds.

Four years later, the group won the prestigious Concert Artist Guild competition, ensuring its success in classical music's traditional arena. Since then, the ensemble has been named resident-artists of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and has appeared in major concert halls throughout the country.

But Imani Winds has never just been about first-rate music-making. This is a group with a mission. Ambassadors of the power of music to uplift and change lives, the members of Imani Winds bring their commitment to excellence and spirit of faith into schools and communities where violence is commonplace.

"We have the opportunity to let people know that classical music is an all-inclusive thing," said Coleman. To that end, Imani Winds' programs are deliberately eclectic, pairing Western European classical music with music inspired by cultures scattered far across the globe, particularly Africa, Latin America and North America. Intent on expanding the repertoire for wind quintet, the group collaborates with composers on new compositions. Often Coleman and Scott are involved in that collaboration.

Tomorrow's program features only one composer whose name is likely to be recognized: Mendelssohn. His effervescent Scherzo from Midsummer Night's Dream, arranged for wind quintet, will open the program. The remainder explores new territory with compositions by Narong Prangcharoen, Justinian Tamusuza, A.C. Jobim, Karel Husa and Coleman.

From music inspired by Thai folk songs, bird calls, and samba to Coleman's Afro-Cuban Concerto for Winds, Imani Winds will have a chance to reveal to audiences the heart of its ensemble and the essence of music itself. "Listen for the soul," Coleman urged NPR listeners. "Listen for it because you will relate to it."

Coleman offers a compelling invitation to audiences of all ages and backgrounds -- and a hopeful vision of the continued resonance and relevance of classical music.

A preconcert talk will be given from 6:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. by musician Jared Denhard.

Tickets for Imani Winds are $29 for general admission, $26 for those ages 60 and older and $12 for full-time students to age 24. Information or tickets: 443-367- 3123.

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