Valerie Coleman

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Valerie Coleman
Also known asVColeman
OriginLouisville, Kentucky,
GenresVarious (Classical, Jazz, Soul, etc.)
Occupation(s)Composer, Flutist, Educator
Years active1997-present
LabelsNaxos Records
Blue Note Records
E1 Music
International Opus
Associated actsImani Winds

Valerie Coleman (born Louisville, Kentucky) is an American composer and flutist best known for her contributions to wind chamber music and for founding the wind quintet, Imani Winds, in 1997. She has released a number of studio albums with the group, one of which was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2005.[1]

A graduate of Mannes College of Music and taught by musicians such as Julius Baker, her compositions frequently incorporate diverse styles such as jazz with classical music and political or social themes. Her piece Umoja in 2002 was listed as one of the "Top 101 Great American Works" by Chamber Music America.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Valerie Coleman was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, in the same West End inner city neighborhood where Muhammad Ali was raised.[3] Her father died when she was nine, and her mother raised Coleman and her sisters as a single working mother.[4]

Even as a toddler, Coleman recollects picking up sticks in the backyard and pretending they were flutes, and she started her formal music education in fourth grade,[4] at age eleven.[3] She immediately started to write down music, and soon started writing symphonies as a hobby,[4] using the portable organ she had at home.[5] By the age of fourteen she had written three full-length symphonies and won several local and state competitions,[2] as well as participating as a flutist in youth orchestra.[4] She is a graduate of Louisville Male Traditional High School.

Coleman and all her sisters attended college, and she earned[6] a double B.A. in theory/composition and flute performance from Boston University. She then graduated with a Masters Degree in flute performance from Mannes College of Music. Coleman studied flute with Julius Baker, Alan Weiss, Judith Mendenhall, Doriot Dwyer, and Mark Sparks, and composition with Martin Amlin and Randall Woolf.[2]

Imani Winds[edit]

In 1996, while still a student, Coleman began planning a chamber music ensemble.[7] She chose the name Imani Winds, with Imani being the Swahili word for faith,[6] and sought African American woodwind players who might approach classical music from a similar cultural background.[7] About her reasons for starting the ensemble:

I used to be in the youth orchestra [as a child], and there were so many African Americans. But somewhere along the line, when I got to college, I was the only one in the orchestra. So I wondered what in the world happened here? It came to my mind that role models are needed.

— Valerie Coleman, NPR[4]

The group grew to five people, with Coleman on flute, Torin Spellman-Diaz on oboe, Monica Ellis on bassoon, Mariam Adam on clarinet, and Jeff Scott on french horn.[4] From the beginning the ensemble focused on "championing composers that were underrepresented from the non-European side of contemporary music."[7] The repertoire frequently involves music inspired by cultures from Africa, Latin America and North America.[6]


By 2001 the group had won the Concert Artists Guild competition,[6] and over the following years released five albums internationally on the E1 Music label (formerly known as Koch International Classics), with many of those tracks composed by Coleman.[3] About their musicianship, the New Orleans Times Picayune stated, "As an ensemble, the Imani Winds cultivate the big, rich sound one associates with classical players -- and they also display the daring, respond in-the moment qualities one associates with a swinging jazz combo."[1]

The ensemble was named resident-artists of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and has appeared in major concert halls throughout the United States.[6] The ensemble has won awards from Artists International and the 2005 ASCAP/WQXR-FM Award for Adventurous Programming, and were honored at the 2007 ASCAP Concert Music Awards.[3]

NPR Music named their album Terra Incognita one of the "5 Best American Contemporary Classical Albums Of 2010," saying "Imani Winds' members have earned a reputation for expanding the recorded wind-quintet repertoire, but in a way that's culturally significant."[1] According to the Cleveland Classical, "Imani Winds have carved a unique path into the world of classical chamber music for themselves through inventive programs, commissioning projects, and educational activities, and above all superb musicianship."[1]


In 2009 Coleman conceived of and created the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival, which is both an institute and chamber music series on the Lincoln Center Campus in New York City.[8] The festival attracts artists from around the world, who come to be mentored by Imani Winds and explore different paths of chamber music performance and repertoire.

The third annual festival was opened with Coleman's composition "Tzigane," which according to Lucid Culture, "made a deliciously high-octane opening number: an imaginative blend of gypsy jazz and indie classical with intricately shifting voices, it was a showcase for the entirety of the ensemble."[1]

In 2012 composers were added to the roster through the Emerging Composers Program. It involved master classes with composers such as Mohammed Fairouz and Daniel Bernard Roumain,[8] and the panel of guest artists included Stefon Harris, Paula Robison, Carol Wincenc, and Stanley Drucker.[8]

Solo career[edit]

Coleman made her debut as a flutist/composer at Carnegie Hall in 2004,[5] and prior to that was the understudy for flutist Eugenia Zukerman at Lincoln Center. Coleman was also a featured soloist in the Mannes 2000 Bach Festival.[2] Other performances and premieres have taken place at Alice Tully Hall, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Chamber Music Northwest, and Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.[3]

Her compositions and performances receive regular play on classical radio stations in the United States,[3] and she has been showcased on the New York classical radio station WQXR.[2] She also appeared on NPR's Performance Today, All Things Considered, and The Ed Gordon Show; WNYC's Soundcheck, and MPR's Saint Paul Sunday.[3] In April 2008 she was featured in Flutist Quarterly.[5]

She has received commissions from orchestras and ensembles as diverse as San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, The National Flute Association, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, College Band Director's National Association, West Michigan Flute Association, and The Flute and Clarinet Duos Consortium.[3]

She has been a teacher for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, has served on the faculty of The Juilliard School's Music Advancement Program and Interschool Orchestras of New York.[2] She's given flute masterclasses at colleges such as SUNY Purchase, Columbus State, UMass Amherst, Ohio State, Ithaca College, Utah State, Norfolk State, and Hampton University,[3] She has also been a composer/flutist in residence with Young Audiences NYC, and completed a mentorship with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.[3] Coleman is on the advisory panel of the National Flute Association.[2]


Coleman is the resident composer of Imani Winds, though the ensemble also incorporates the work of other members and composers. Coleman's style mixes modern orchestration with genres as diverse as jazz and Afro-Cuban.[3] She has added a number of works to the flute repertory, also contributing to the literature for wind quintet, full orchestra, woodwinds, brass, and strings, many of which have been published by International Opus.

She often interposes music with the words of historical figures and poets, in some cases using manipulated speeches of people of diverse as Robert F. Kennedy, A. Philip Randolph and Cesar Chavez.[9]

About her world premiere of Painted Lady, a set of two songs for orchestra and soprano and her first commission, The Hartford Courant said "The songs are luminous works, with a tangy but accessible harmonic language, graced with a humanizing sense of melodic line and a mildly exotic rhythmic lilt. They are the work of a major talent, and they should be recorded immediately."[9] The songs used words by African American poet Margaret Danner.[9]

Her signature wind quintet piece Umoja (named for the Swahili word for "unity") in 2002 was listed as one of the "Top 101 Great American Works" by Chamber Music America.[2] Josephine Baker: A Life of le Jazz Hot in 2007 traced the life Josephine Baker,[4] receiving a glowing response in publications such as the Philadelphia Inquirer.[9]


  • Aspen Music Festival Wombwell Kentucky Award[2]
  • Michelle E. Sahm Memorial Award at the Tanglewood Music Festival[2]
  • Meet The Composer's Edward and Sally Van Lier Memorial Fund Award, 2003[3]
  • the Wombwell Kentucky Award for study at the Aspen Music Festival, 2003[3]
  • Michelle E. Sahm Award for flutists, 2003[3]
  • Received the Multi-Arts Production Fund - a grant given to "support innovative new works in all disciplines and traditions of performing arts."[2]


Year Category Song/album Label Result
2005 Best Classical Crossover Album The Classical Underground Koch Int'l Classics Nominated

Personal life[edit]

Coleman lives in New York City with her husband, Jonathan Page, a songwriter and producer.[3]

List of compositions[10][edit]

Wind quintet[edit]

  • 2001: UMOJA
  • 2002: speech. and canzone
  • 2005: Afro-Cuban Concerto
  • 2006: Suite: Portraits of Josephine - 4 Movements
  • 2009: Red Clay and Mississippi Delta - Scherzo
  • 2011: Tzigane
  • "Afro Blue - Mongo Santamaria"
  • "NKOSI SI KE LEL 'I AFRIKA - Enoch Sontaga" (South African national anthem)
  • Spirituals, Vol.1 ("Every Time I Feel the Spirit", "Steal Away", "Little David Play on Your Harp")
  • "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"
  • Various holiday songs

Chamber music[edit]

  • 2003: UMOJA for wind sextet
  • 2005: Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano
  • 2006: Maombi Asante - A Prayer of Thanksgiving for flute, violin, and cello
  • 2006: Suite: Portraits of Josephine - A Ballet in 8 Movements for chamber ensemble
  • 2007: Suite: Portraits of Langston for flute, clarinet & piano
  • 2007: LENOX AVENUE for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano
  • 2008: Des Filmes Epiques for wind and string quartet
  • 2009: Our God of Voiceless Things for choir, wind quintet, and jazz ensemble
  • 2011: Four Winds of Ol' Forester for flute, violin, cello and mp3
  • 2012: Rubispheres for flute, clarinet and bassoon
  • 2012: Ruby St. Nola for three C flutes
  • Pontchartrain for flute choir


  • 2005: The Painted Lady

Concert band[edit]

  • 2008: UMOJA
  • 2009: ROMA
  • 2013: Arabia for intermediate concert band

Solo flute[edit]


Imani Winds[edit]

Studio albums
  • 2002: Umoja
  • 2005: The Classical Underground (E1 Music)
  • 2006: Imani Winds (E1)
  • 2007: Josephine Baker: A Life of le Jazz Hot (E1)
  • 2008: This Christmas with Imani Winds (E1)
  • 2010: Terra Incognita (E1)
  • 2013: Mohammed Fairouz: Native Informant (Naxos Records)
  • 2013: Without a Net (Blue Note Records)


  1. ^ a b c d e "Press". Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Valerie Coleman, flute/composer". Imani Winds. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Bio". Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Gordon, Ed (May 23, 2006). "Classical Chamber Music Ensemble Imani Winds". NPR. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  5. ^ a b c Westbrook, Peter (April 2008). "Valerie Coleman: Revitalizing the Woodwind Quintet". Flutist Quarterly. EBSCO Host, Vol. 33 Issue 3, page 36. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  6. ^ a b c d e Hoover, Sarah (February 16, 2007). "Imani Winds is an ensemble on a mission". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  7. ^ a b c Stockinger, Jacob (September 25, 2012). "Classical Music Q&A: Here is what's happening with the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds ensemble, which opens the new Wisconsin Union Theater series in Mills Hall this Friday night". The Well-Tempered Ear. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  8. ^ a b c "About the Festival". Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  9. ^ a b c d "Reviews". Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  10. ^ "Valerie Coleman Works". Retrieved 2013-05-29.

External links[edit]