Thursday, January 27, 2005
In the classical music world, a group not made up entirely of old white guys is no longer a news flash. Combine that thrust with the long-forgotten concept of a woodwind quintet, however, and you’ll get something truly unique—like the Imani Winds, who perform this Wednesday night at the CSUMB World Theater.
The group, a mix of African-Americans and Latinos, is helping to revive the woodwind genre. They pull it off by playing not only traditional classical music from the likes of Hindemuth, a 20th century German composer with a penchant for military music, but rousing call and response African-American spirituals, original compositions and even forays into the realm of Argentinean jazz master Astor Piazolla’s playbook. Wednesday night’s concert will also feature cuts off the groups newly released CD, The Classical Underground.
“It’s been kind of two for the price of one,” says the group’s clarinetist Mariam Adam, who grew up in Monterey, “We get to reach out to people that we don’t normally have an opportunity to—people who don’t normally go out to classical music. But, it’s also re-introducing the woodwind quintet to classical audiences that have almost disregarded it.”
Named after the Swahili word for faith, Imani Winds was born in 1997 when flutist Valerie Coleman and Adam both found themselves in the Big Apple. Having met earlier at a music workshop in Aspen, Coleman told Adam, who was attending grad school at the Manhattan School of Music, about her idea to form a woodwind quintet made up of people of color—not an easy task.
After asking around, the pair was able to flesh out the quintet with oboist Toyin Spellman, bassoonist Monica Ellis and French horn player Jeff Scott. Both Coleman and Scott also compose original music for the fivesome.
Adam describes Imani Winds’ repertoire as “urban classical music”—a sound they’ve picked up living in the city that never sleeps. “Coming to New York, just walking down the street you see and hear other cultures. You don’t get that many other places. Once you’ve lived here a while you start adopting these other things. The best example in most of our work now is Latin music,” says Adam. She also admits that Gotham’s heady jazz world has had an impact. “We’ve all become closet jazz practitioners, but we don’t claim to be jazz musicians.”
Although now a dedicated New Yorker, Adam, 29, has not forgotten her Monterey roots, The daughter of an Egyptian father and Mexican mother (“I’ve always been this amalgam of cultures”), Adam was a standout musician at Monterey High, where she reigned as the state’s top-rated clarinetist. To further her music education, she garnered local scholarships from the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Monterey Symphony, the Carmel Bach Festival, and other local organizations.
“I had the support of not just my teachers, but the community,” says Adam, who went on to UOP for her undergraduate music degree. Adam also took lessons from retired Carmel clarinet master Rosario Mazzeo before relocating to New York.
Whenever Adam returns home she makes it a point to meet up with one of her old music teachers, but with the statewide budget cutbacks in public school music education, the experience can be more than a little depressing.
“Students of high school age who’ve never seen a bassoon? It’s very sad to see in such an affluent community,” says Adam, “They’re kicking themselves in the pants.”
Despite these concerns, Adam views her upcoming appearance with the quintet as a homecoming, “I am so excited to be playing for my community. I live in New York but my heart is in Monterey.”
Imani Winds play CSUMB’s World Theater, Sixth Avenue near Third Street, Seaside, on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at 7:30pm. $20 ($7 for CSUMBstudents). 582-4580.