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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Sam Pilafian Master Class Quotes on Chamber Music

Andrew Hitz

The following is something I posted on the Boston Brass blog a few years ago. I first worked with Sam in a brass quintet at the Empire Brass Seminar at Tanglewood when I was 14 years old. It was special to get to work with him again in the same capacity 20 years later. Sam was a great player, a gifted communicator and an amazing teacher who is dearly missed.


Last week we had the privilege of being involved with Sam Pilafian’s master class at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference in Tucson, AZ. Sam used both the tuba quartet from the University of Arizona (who won the quartet competition) as well as Boston Brass to show how he coaches chamber music. The class was absolutely riveting for everyone in attendance. The amount of knowledge and first hand experience that Sam has in the medium of chamber music (both playing and coaching) is simply awesome.

The first half of the class featured Sam working with the U of A Tuba Quartet. During this portion, Andrew (@AndrewHitz) live tweeted some of the best quotes from Sam before Boston Brass took the stage for the second half of the class. This is just a sampling of the knowledge that Sam shared with everyone that day:

  • “In Empire Brass we wanted to make sure the first 30 seconds (of a show) were great.”

  • “Sell every part like it’s the lead.”

  • “In the Empire Brass we spent more time studying the scores than we did playing them.”

  • John Swallow to Sam Pilafian right before walking on stage: “Don’t fight the feel. Live for the groove.”

  • “Your job as a chamber musician is make others sound better.”

  • “You’ve got to play with so much opinion that 3 or 4 people can play with you.”

  • “Everyone that listens to pop music learn the melody and next the bass line. So don’t get out of the way.”

  • “Never repeat yourself more than twice.”

  • “String quartets, when playing a slow movement, make the 8th notes as long as possible without being late.”

  • “Chamber playing changes your solo playing.”

  • “Our best tool for storytelling is dynamics.”

Sam conducted one of the best master classes that any of us have ever seen.  Tom McCaslin may have summed it up the best: “I think Sam Pilafian just humbled everyone with his knowledge of chamber music.”

Well said.