Imani Winds
•What: Ensemble Music Society presents a woodwind quintet from New York
•When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
•Where:Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St.
• Tickets: $25 at the door.

Woodwind quintet finding its unconventional niche

By Whitney Smith
March 11, 2005

Breaking the mold always seemed to be part of the program for an American chamber music group coming to Indianapolis.

Five New York musicians who call themselves Imani Winds -- and will play Wednesday night at the Indiana History Center -- play instruments traditional to a woodwind quintet: flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon.

But these musicians of African and Latin-American heritage don't stick to conventional programming.

Taking their name from the Swahili for "faith," Imani musicians play music from Europe, North America and Africa. Sometimes they commission pieces. Sometimes they write original works.

"We're an ensemble that can bridge a few gaps," said clarinetist Mariam Adam, "more than the average quintet."

But how many all-black or mostly black woodwind quintets are touring these days?

Adam said, "You can count them on one hand, and still have fingers left over."

As a result, she believes that Imani has been free to discover its own niche. Since the ensemble got together in 1996, it has developed a wide-ranging repertoire.

The group's Web site,, mentions music by American composer John Harbison and Ugandan-born musician Justinian Tamusuza. Spiritual and South American arrangements also are on the list.

"The Classical Underground," Imani's latest disc, recently released on the Koch label, includes Lalo Schifrin's "La Nouvelle Orleans," Paquito D'Rivera's "Aires Tropicales" and pieces by Imani flutist Valerie Coleman and horn player Jeff Scott.

Wednesday's concert will include Czech composer Pavel Haas' "Wind Quintet" from 1929, Coleman's "Speech and Canzon" and Scott's "Titilayo."

"There's a little jazz, a little world music, a standard piece, a spiritual," Adam said. "Nine times out of 10, when we're sitting, greeting audiences after a concert . . . there will always be somebody who says their wife or husband dragged them to the concert. They didn't want to go and didn't know what to expect, but had never heard instruments played this way."

Call Star reporter Whitney Smith at (317) 444-6226.

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