Levine is pleased to welcome oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz as a member of our Council of Advisors. A former Levine student, Toyin has been performing with Imani Winds since the group’s founding in 1997. She currently teaches at NYU Steinhardt School of Music, Brooklyn College, and Mannes School of Music, and serves on the Board of Directors of the American Composers Orchestra. As champions of contemporary chamber music, Toyin and her Imani Winds colleagues are devoted to discovering new and diverse musical voices and cultures to increase and enhance the woodwind quintet repertoire. We recently caught up with Toyin to welcome her back to Levine and reflect on her time as a student here.

Toyin, welcome back to Levine, and congratulations on joining our Council of Advisors. What does it feel like coming back to Levine as an alum?

Coming back into the Levine circle after 30+ years away feels both familiar and new. Levine was just a small community music school during my three years of studies, but I am so proud of what it has become!


Can you tell us a little about your time as a Levine student?

I received an extremely well-rounded musical education at Levine. I studied music history and theory with Dr. Frances McKay, piano with Betty Bullock, I took part in the orchestra, and finally I took oboe lessons from Dick White. In the orchestra, I started to understand what being a professional orchestral oboist would feel like, and I loved it! We performed for ambassadors and dignitaries, we read through all of the Mozart piano concerti, and we played Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet 10,000 times (I loved it every time!)


What is one of your fondest musical memories at Levine?

My fondest memories at Levine were not actually musical. They were doing homework in the Levine library and getting to know some of the other young students. All of the people I met were so warm and friendly, and we would exchange books and listen to music on our Walkmans and talk excitedly about the music with which we were all falling in love.


In addition to giving amazing performances, education seems to be a prominent focus in your career and your work with Imani Winds. Can you tell us about the importance you and your colleagues place on music education and mentorship for aspiring musicians?

Building and executing performances outside of the traditional concert halls have been some of the most rewarding musical experiences of my life. Music cannot thrive without striving to be inclusive of disparate people or ideas. And making art that does not think multi-generationally is irresponsible. Art should be offered to everyone, from its inspiration to its creation to its revelation.


If you could go back in time and give a piece of advice to yourself as a student, getting ready for one of your lessons at Levine, what would it be?

Don’t worry so much about what’s going to happen. You’re good at pivoting!

Oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz grew up surrounded by her parent’s enormous record collection in Washington, DC. It was there she absorbed the many layers of classical music’s beauty and the inspiring and uniting potential of the world’s diverse cultural landscape.

Ms. Spellman-Diaz earned her Bachelors of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and her Master’s and Professional Studies degrees at the Manhattan School of Music. Her orchestral career includes performances with the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Hailed by the Washington Post for her “smooth, controlled tone and excellent technique,” Toyin has performed concertos with the Chicago Civic Orchestra, Manhattan Virtuosi, and with the Kennedy Center Youth Orchestra. She has also collaborated with some of today’s most influential chamber music ensembles, including Alarm Will Sound, the Antara Ensemble and Camerata Pacifica. Ms. Spellman-Diaz teaches at NYU Steinhardt School of Music, Brooklyn College, and Mannes School of Music. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Composers Orchestra.