Imani Winds At MSU's College of Music, Wharton Center

Nov 8, 2019

A Grammy Award-nominated chamber music group has spent the week in East Lansing, working with MSU College of Music students ahead of a Wharton Center concert tonight. WKAR’s Scott Pohl spent some time with two members of Imani Winds to discuss their work and their plans for tonight’s performance.


Imani Winds blends the traditional chamber music repertoire with a desire to expand the universe of music for wind quintets. The group is celebrating 20 years of embracing the classics while incorporating influences from traditional African-American music.

Imani is one of the seven elements of Kwanzaa. It’s the Swahili word for faith.

Bassoonist Monica Ellis on founding member Valerie Coleman's naming of the group:

And so that word was very important to her, very powerful for her, and she figured ‘if I have the faith to even think about this type of group, then I’m gonna step out on that same faith and see if I can find some folks that believe in what I believe in.'

Along with Ellis, two other founding members remain: Jeff Scott on French horn and oboeist Toyin Spellman-Diaz. Rounding out the quintet are Brandon Patrick George on flute, and Ann Arbor native Mark Dover on clarinet.

Having worked with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter, improvisation is an element of what Imani Winds brings to the table, certainly in a bigger way than is typical in classical music. Improvising is part of what Mark Dover enjoys about this group.

Clarinetist Mark Dover on improvisation:

That’s kind of my thing personally, that I bring to the group a lot of experiences as an improviser, mostly in the jazz world, so I just love being able to be put in that role. Outside of Imani, I play quite a bit of chamber music, and I almost never am able to do that. Everyone in the group can improvise.

Tonight's program includes Valerie Coleman's "Tzigane," which Dover says is nothing like Maurice Ravel's similarly titled composition.

Mark Dover on Imani Winds "Tzigane":

That’s a perfect example of a piece that does require me to improvise. In the middle of the piece, there’s a kind of improvised cadenza that’s supposed to be reminiscent of the great gypsy cadenzas.

Tonight’s program will include a composition by French horn player Jeff Scott.

Monica Ellis: Jeff Scott describes the music he writes as "urban classical music":

One of the pieces that we’ll be playing on Friday night is an original composition by Jeff called ‘Startin’ Sumthin’,’ and he uses early jazz, kind of a shuffle type of jazz, as his influence for this really virtuosic, really really fun, awesome starter to the program.

The members of Imani Winds are dedicated to teaching when they aren’t recording or on the road, with professorships around the country and their annual Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. Started in 2010, the summer program is devoted to performance excellence and career development for young musicians.

Hear the Imani Winds tonight at 8 p.m. at MSU’s Wharton Center. There will be an Insight Preview hosted by WKAR’s Jamie Paisley starting at 7:15.