Valerie Coleman was born and raised in the same Louisville, Kentucky neighborhood that Muhammed Ali hailed from, and from the age of four began picking up sticks from her backyard and using them to pretend she was playing the flute. It was readily apparent then that she was destined to be a flute player. As she grew up she used the portable organ that was in her home to write symphonies and by age fourteen had composed three full-length symphonies, along with winning a number of local and state composition competitions and played in a youth orchestra.
I first encountered her pieces at the 2018 National Flute Association Convention in Orlando where Coleman also judged a solo competition in which I was a timer. Although I heard her piece Fanmi Imèn dozens of times that afternoon, I was shocked by how each player brought something new to light about it. She also founded the chamber group Imani Winds and has won numerous awards and taught dozens of chamber winds masterclasses.
Chamber Works Umoja & Roma
One of my favorite chamber pieces by Ms. Coleman, “Umoja,” was written specifically for woodwind quintet. It has a lovely, spritely feeling with bold articulations and fun pitch dips throughout that are sure to charm the listener and certainly strays from the “normal” woodwind quintet repertoire. “Umoja” is Swahili for “unity” and even in the short time span of two and a half minutes, Coleman’s voicings inhabit the unity and celebration that soon became a trademark piece for the Imani Winds. She has also composed a large number of other wind quintet and chamber works as well, all of which display her ability to replicate the human voice and spirit through writing.
Umoja is also available for flute choir, flute quartet, and flute, violin, and cello ensemble as well from her online store. Although Coleman has a deep love for chamber music, this is not the only medium in which she has been successful in.
“Roma” is a piece that was commissioned by the College Band Directors National Association and depicts the life and travels of the Romani people. The piece begins with a flowing line from the woodwinds that melts into a mysterious, virtuosic alto saxophone solo that is undoubtedly going to capture the audiences’ breath. After the last note of the saxophone solo disappears into the air the clarinet section and tambourine set a new tone with an uneven rhythmic pattern. There are five notable melodies and rhythms present throughout the piece, and Coleman writes in the program notes that “the melodies and rhythms are a fusion of styles and cultures: malagueña of Spain, Argentine tango, Arabic music, Turkish folk songs, 3/2 Latin claves, and jazz.” This is a new discovery for me but it’s certainly going to stay on my radar for future ensembles!
These are just two of my favorite pieces by Valerie Coleman, but there are so many other wonderful compositions by her that you can easily find and listen to on her website. She has written for a wide variety of mediums, just two of which we discussed earlier, but I would highly encourage you to take a listen to her other works. They are meaningful, thoughtfully composed works and there is sure to be something that sparks your interest in her collection.
Ways to Follow Valerie Coleman