Focus on Black History Month – Valerie Coleman

Today we continue our celebration of Black History Month with a composer/performer/entrepreneur you may not know, but one we think you should and will enjoy…flutist Valerie Coleman.

And we are not alone in accolades of her. She was recently named Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Woman of the Year, and described as one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” by critic Anne Midgette of the Washington Post. Valerie Coleman is among the world’s most played composers living today. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Valerie’s father died when she was 9 and she and her sisters were raised by her mother. Even as a toddler she had an interest in the flute, remembering that she used to go to the backyard and pick up sticks pretending she was playing the flute. Valerie began her music studies at the age of eleven and by the age of fourteen, had written three symphonies and won several local and state performance competitions. Valerie holds 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. Former flutist of the Imani Winds, Coleman is the creator and founder of this acclaimed ensemble whose 24-year legacy is documented and featured in a dedicated exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Along with composer-harpist Hannah Lash, and composer-violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, she co-founded and currently performs as flutist of the performer-composer trio Umama Womama. Coleman commenced her 2021/22 season with the world premiere of her latest work, Fanfare for Uncommon Times, at the Caramoor Festival with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. In October 2021, Carnegie Hall presented her work Seven O’Clock Shout, commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra, in their Opening Night Gala concert featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. This follows on the success of the world premiere of Coleman’s orchestral arrangement of her work Umoja, commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra and performed in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall in 2019, marking the first time the orchestra performed a classical work by a living female African-American composer. Coleman recently joined the Mannes School of Music Flute and Composition faculty in Fall 2021 as the Clara Mannes Fellow for Music Leadership. Prior to that she served on the faculty at The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami as Assistant Professor of Performance, Chamber Music and Entrepreneurship. In 2021/22, she leads a year-long residency at The Juilliard School in their Music Advancement Program through American Composers Forum. This month, The Philadelphia Orchestra and soprano Angel Blue, led by Nézet-Séguin, will give the world premiere of a new song cycle written by Coleman, commissioned by the orchestra for performances in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall. Her compositions, which often incorporate jazz, ethnic folk music and classical elements have been called by the New York Times as “skillfully wrought, buoyant music”. We hope you enjoy this “smattering” of her music and will explore more on the internet!

Imani Winds performing Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja”

Imani Winds performing Concerto for Wind Quintet: Afro

And here is a performance of her “Danza de la Mariposa” for solo flute. The performance is by flutist Hannah Weiss, a student at the University of Miami, so one might assume she got a few “pointers” from the composer herself.