When Valerie Coleman was forming what became the Imani Winds quintet, Mariam Adam says, ''she wanted the players to look like her.'' Specifically, Coleman, a flutist, was recruiting fellow African-American wind instrumentalists.
''I'm not African American at all,'' concedes Adam, ''but I [do] look like her, and I guess that was close enough.'' Adam, a clarinetist and the second member to join the quintet, jokes she's an ''Egyptxican,'' born in California to an Egyptian father and a Mexican mother. The other four members are African American. And there's only one man in the bunch -- the inverse of most classical music groups.
Since forming in 1997, the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds -- imani means faith in Swahili -- has worked to increase and spotlight diversity in classical music. Not just in terms of minority representation, but also repertoire. Adam calls the quintet's genre ''contemporary classical music. It's a new genre, it's an evolution of what classical music is now, and it's just as virtuosic and gratifying.'' The New York-based quintet often works with and performs music by Latin and jazz artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D'Rivera and Jason Moran. They also perform modern arrangements of traditional classical compositions.
Next Friday, March 4, at the Barns at Wolf Trap, for instance, among a program of newer music is Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, normally scored for a large orchestra. Imani Winds performs the piece, Adam says, as ''an arrangement for [just] a wind quintet, which is kind of an anomaly, but it works really well.''
Adam credits her music teachers while growing up in Monterey, Calif., for helping her see her future was in classical music. She knows her experience isn't the norm, especially now in a time of budget constraints. The key is exposure.
''I think the more [the public] is exposed to groups like ours, the more they'll encourage it and keep the arts in schools.''
Imani Winds performs Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m. The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1645 Trap Road, Vienna. Tickets are $35. Call 703-255-1900 or visit wolf-trap.org.