Q&A with Imani Winds

Wednesday, 23 August 2017
Imani Winds

Monica Ellis - bassoon, Jeff Scott - french horn, Toyin Spellman-Diaz - oboe, Mark Dover - clarinet, Valerie Coleman - flute

In 1997, while still a student, flutist Valerie Coleman started 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, which means “faith” in Swahili.

You said that your “goals are to continue to make important, influential and good music that will hopefully change people's lives.” How do you think classical music can influence people lives nowadays?

TOYIN: We feel like the potential relevancy of classical music is under-represented in people's  thoughts today, especially newly-made contemporary classical music. Imani Winds always plays everything that touches their music stands with meaningful, thoughtful interpretation. It doesn't matter whether the music was written by composers who lived 50 years ago or composers that wrote their music 50 days ago, all music has a purpose.

Music without words can be even more universally meaningful than music with lyrics because the meaning is up for interpretation. We have a responsibility, as instrumental musicians, to put all of our own meaning into the music so that the listeners can hear, if not a literal meaning, that at least there is something there to grasp onto. When a listener hears that kind of intent they are changed.


Tell us, in a few words, why your group is so passionate about residencies in which the quintet immerse themselves in a community, giving everything from traditional concerts through to masterclasses and school visits.

MARK: Imani Winds has always been committed to sharing our music with people who are not typically accustomed to hearing it. Community based outreach is one of the most meaningful and powerful things we do as an ensemble. It is completely integral to the future of our music to continue expanding our reach to all people, especially those who don't have easy access to classical music. Breaking down the barriers of formality that classical music sometimes brings really helps listeners feel intimately connected to the music they are hearing. The future of classical music is dependent on not alienating or intimidating our audiences, but rather inspiring them and earning their attention and interest.


What advice would give your younger self, back when you were students?

MONICA: The advice I'd give my younger self is try to recognise sooner when something is not working out correctly, so that you can change or alter the situation as soon as possible. In the business of music, especially in today's fast paced, "instant everything" world, it's important to react to various circumstances that one may be faced with, effectively and efficiently. It's also very important, of course, to NOT react rashly or too quickly and you have to have lots of patience and a level head. It's definitely a balancing act. The thing is though - I think that if you are courageous enough to venture into the field of being a professional musician, it's so vital to trust your gut. If something really feels like it's the right decision to make, it likely is!


[JEFF] you are also a prolific arranger and composer, with a background that includes working on big shows (8 years playing The Lion King on Broadway!) and playing jazz with greats such as Wynton Marsalis. Do you seek to bring some of this music into the repertoire of wind quintets.

JEFF: Absolutely! I firmly believe that jazz and other American popular musics are worthy of exposure on the classical concert stage. Even more, I believe it's the challenge of the 21st Century musician to train for the flexibility and sensibility in these genres along side the traditional Western Classical canon.

While jazz and popular styles do not make it into every composition or arrangement I write, the colours remain as options amongst the spectrum of choices at any point of the process.


IMANI WINDS, Touring 26 Sep – 12 Oct. Find out more here