Imani Winds kicks off Spivey Hall project

By Joel Hall


Many artists, who come to Spivey Hall, play one performance before being whisked away to another venue for their next show.

Imani Winds, however, spent two days in the Southern Crescent, playing for audiences of all ages and encouraging budding artists to stick with their instruments.

On Thursday, the Grammy-nominated, African-American wind quintet performed for students at Fayette High School and later in the afternoon, performed and critiqued the compositions of music majors at Clayton State University.

On Friday morning, the group performed a free concert for children at Spivey Hall, and in an evening concert for the public, commissioned "Through it All," a new work by internationally-known, Atlanta-based composer, Alvin Singleton.

The commissioning of Singleton's piece will kick off Imani Wind's Legacy Commission Project (LCP), an effort to expand the repertoire of the woodwind quintet by commissioning ten new pieces over five years by ten different artists.

The five members of Imani Winds, Valerie Coleman (flute), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Mariam Adam (clarinet), Monica Ellis (bassoon) and Jeff Scott (French horn) -- have been together since the band's inception. The LCP also celebrates the 10th anniversary of Imani Winds.

"That's what makes them so good ... the fact that they've been together for so long," said composer Singleton. "You can always tell when somebody has been playing together. They move as one, they all breathe the same way, and the music benefits from that."

The teamwork showed on stage at Spivey Hall on Friday during a performance of "How Jeff Got His Groove Back." The free concert packed an audience of students from various elementary and middle schools in Atlanta and Clayton County, as well as groups of home-school students.

The "music-telling" play, which combines comedic theater and traditional musical performance, features Scott as a fifth-grade student whose ability to groove has been stolen by an evil witch. In order to retrieve his "groove," Scott must travel to the "Crossroads," a magical land in which music comes alive.

The animated play uses traditional classical instruments as musical and physical props. During the performance, the clarinet was used as a telephone, the flute was used as a gear shift for a MTA (Music Transit Authority) bus, and the performers combined their instruments to create a "music think tank." As Capt. Zhoop, Pvt. Wonk, Wink, and Heyward "Hey" Diddle-Diddle, Adam, Ellis, Spellman-Diaz and Coleman use the bassoon as a tank cannon, the oboe and clarinet as tank treads, and the flute as a telescope.

In addition to heaping portions of physical comedy, the members of Imani Winds displayed their individual talents outside of their instruments, such as Coleman's portrayal of a blues-belting minister and Spellman-Diaz's performance as an opera-singing telephone operator.

"Imani," a Swahili word meaning "faith," is what has kept the members of the group together for so long and encouraged them to push the boundaries of their instruments, said Adam.

"It's definitely taken a lot of faith to keep this group going ... keeping our eyes big and our hopes high, so we're always working," said Adam. "We've worked very hard to get where we are and maintain our presence in the chamber music scene. The way that you do that is bringing new music into the classical world. We are very happy that people want to be a part of this."

Spellman-Diaz said she enjoyed being able to work with musicians in the area from age groups ranging from elementary to college.

"Seeing all of the different stages of development is inspiring," said Spellman-Diaz. "They have different ways that they express their creativity."

Coleman said she was happy to be working with African-American children, who are sometimes turned away from playing classical instruments.

"A lot of kids start out playing classical music and somewhere along the way, they don't feel like that they belong," said Coleman. "That is why we are here. We are redefining black people in classical music. We're here to show them that it can be done."