Columbus Dispatch – April 2014
By Bill Mayr
String quartets crisscross the country to perform, but a visit by a wind quintet is rare. Imani Winds, which says it is the only full-time touring American wind quintet, will visit Columbus for a concert on Sunday in the King Arts Complex. Urban Strings, a central Ohio youth ensemble, will also perform. Imani Winds will draw selections from varied sources; “99 percent of every concert is a mixture of genres,” said Jeff Scott, who plays the French horn in the ensemble. Scott spoke by phone last week from Hanover, N.H., where the quintet was spending a weeklong residency at Dartmouth College. Scott, of New York, was a founding member when flutist Valerie Coleman organized the group in 1997. “She actually had the name of the group before the members,” he said. “We got together just for fun, and, the next thing you know, we were doing competitions — winning some, losing some. “We started touring really in earnest in 2005, and that’s all we do. It’s our full-time job.”
Imani means faith in Swahili, a language spoken in eastern Africa. “(Imani) happens to be one of the principals of Kwanzaa,” Scott said. “We often say that it was faith that sort of made this happen.” The quartet plays the traditional European repertoire but blends in African, Latin American and American works “We all went to conservatory,” Scott said. “You get your training and add the salt and pepper later.”
Although there are plenty of compositions for quartets and trios, wind quintets — a relatively unused ensemble until the past century or so — have more-limited selections. “Bach, Beethoven, Brahms — none of them wrote for the woodwind quintet,” Scott said. “Really, things didn’t get serious, writing for the woodwind quintet, until the mid-1950s or so.”
Several years ago, to increase the repertoire available to wind groups, the ensemble started a project to commission 10 works from diverse composers, including jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Latin jazz saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera.
Imani Winds also embraces young musicians, Scott said. That is where Urban Strings comes in. Retired schoolteacher Catherine Willis and Friends of Art for Community Enrichment started the ensemble in 2007.
Urban Strings has 20 players ranging in age from 12 to 16, said Stephen Spottswood, a junior at Capital University’s Conservatory of Music and music director of the ensemble. “Our genres range from classical to gospel to modern day,” Spottswood said. “What matters to me is that we’re involved in playing music; it doesn’t matter what type it is.” Urban Strings contains predominantly African-American youths but is open to anyone, said Dawnne Wise, a parent and group adviser.
Requests from parents interested in string-instrument music have led to the creation of two additional ensembles for less-experienced students, she said. For Urban Strings, the opportunity to perform with Imani Winds is important, Wise said. “They want to play their best,” she said. “This is a chance for them to show what they can do.”