valerie coleman hold a flute and looks up

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Valerie Coleman

By UM News

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Valerie Coleman

By UM News
Assistant Professor of Performance, Chamber Music, and Entrepreneurship & Entrepreneurship and Development Mentor for the Frost Stamps Scholar Ensembles

March is Women’s History Month. In celebration, we spotlight one of the newest members of the Frost faculty family - internationally acclaimed composer, performer, and flutist, Valerie Coleman. Coleman joined the Frost School of Music in Fall 2018 as Assistant Professor of Performance, Chamber Music, and Entrepreneurship. She also serves as Entrepreneurship and Development Mentor for the Frost Stamps Scholar Ensembles.

Valerie Coleman with her students.

A creative force in contemporary classical music, Coleman is dedicated to empowering women composers. She was cited by Washington Post critic, Anne Midgette, as one of the top 35 female composers in classical music. The list also includes two recent Frost Distinguished Composers in Residence, Augusta Read Thomas and Melinda Wagner.

Valerie Coleman is one of the world's most performed living composers. Her works have been highly regarded as a deeply relevant contribution to modern music. She is regularly featured as a performer and composer at many of the great concert venues, series and conservatories internationally. She is also the founder of the Grammy-nominated quintet, Imani Winds, one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles, named for the Swahili word “faith.”

Coleman says, “It’s an exciting time for women composers who are taking initiative to create their own thing. As women composers of the past are starting to be recognized for their works and the sacrifices they made, there’s an emergence of so many current female composers advocating for themselves and each other to have their voices heard.”

One such composer is Italian-born Paola Prestini (b. 1976), co-founder and artistic director of National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY, a non-profit music venue supporting emerging artists who are reshaping the landscape of new music. When Prestini initiated a power meeting to further the livelihood of new music by women composers, Coleman was invited to the table. She recalls, “We all sat down for a big meeting at ASCAP’s concert music division to discuss how women can start to move things forward. It seems like a whole lot of things started to happen after that. Now the culture is changing, and we know more about how to support one another.”

Another great source of musical inspiration for Coleman is Afro-Cuban composer, conductor and professor Tania León (b. 1943). “Tania is a force of nature, passionate about music from sun up to sun down, not only about women composers, but also her own Cuban background. Her rhythms are ingenious.” León is founder of Composers Now, an organization that empowers all living composers by celebrating the diversity of their voices and the roles they play in contemporary society.

Coleman describes her 5-year old daughter as an illuminating influence on her compositional process as well. “She allows me to become much more efficient and strategic with my writing time. Watching her grow, and that kind of energy, informs the way I phrase music and charges me in such a way that really inspires me to write.”

Growing up on the west end of Louisville, Kentucky, renowned as Mohammad Ali’s childhood neighborhood, Coleman’s unique artistry was nurtured by her own mother, a strong and positive role model who has been running the same daycare center for the past 54 years. “My mom is the quintessential educator who loves to let a child’s mind unfold and grow. She intuitively provided me exposure to the arts.”

Her mother claims that when Valerie was in the womb, she often played Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral Symphony. “Perhaps that's how it all began,” Coleman chuckles.

Regarded among educators as a passionate advocate for diversity in the arts, Coleman is a mentoring source of inspiration to emerging artists. She advises, “Dream big and take the initiative to be original. Shut out the external and internal voices of doubt. Don’t wait for somebody else to discover you.”

For more on Valerie Coleman, visit