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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Boston Brass

The Brass Junkies 100: Sam Pilafian

Andrew Hitz


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TBJ100: The legendary Sam Pilafian on Empire Brass, Leonard Bernstein and life-threatening pedagogy

We made it to 100 episodes which is completely insane! An ENORMOUS thank you to everyone who has listened, become a Patreon patron, shared an episode with a friend, posted about it on social media or any of 100 other ways people have supported us in this crazy journey. THANK YOU!

I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this interview with my mentor, Sam Pilafian. As you will hear, I met Sam when I was only 12 and he has been an huge influence on me in more ways than I could ever articulate.

This episode starts out with some lighthearted banter about a couple of times that I poked the bear as one of his let’s just call it “precocious” young students back in the day! But this conversation gets really serious really quickly right after that.

Sam has just come out the other side of a battle for his life with an aggressive form of cancer. His story is hard to even believe. There are tears (and lots of them) in this episode. Some sad ones and some happy ones. There’s also lots of camaraderie between three humans who have been through a whole hell of a lot together, both personally and professionally.

I will always cherish this conversation, even though I’ve had thousands with Sam. This one made me awfully thankful to be alive and to be making music for a living.

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 55: Rich Kelley

Andrew Hitz

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Rich Kelley is possibly the best musician I've ever played with in my life and that is not hyperbole. He is also one of my best friends. I got to travel the world with Rich for my first five years with Boston Brass and have played with him on countless occasions after that as well.

He talked to us about playing in Boston Brass, his time with the Meridian Arts Ensemble and what it was like to play on Broadway all the time when he lived in New York City.

I love this man and you will too. He's the nicest trumpet player I've ever met...

Produced by Joey Santillo

The Brass Junkies: Chris Castellanos

Andrew Hitz

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We finally had a chance to sit down with our former colleague from Boston Brass, Chris Castellanos! When we caught up to him he was in Flower Mound, Texas with Boston Brass.

Chris had a long run in Dallas Brass before joining Boston Brass and also performed Phantom of the Opera over 1,000 times in Las Vegas before that show closed a few years ago. He's had an incredible career for someone who has yet to turn 40.

My favorite part of the interview was when we scared him by telling him we wanted back in the band...

YouTube Channel

You can help offset the costs of producing the show by making a small donation at Your support is greatly appreciated!

Produced by Austin Boyer of FredBrass

Strong and Wrong

Andrew Hitz

We used to have a saying in Boston Brass that we would use all of the time when coaching groups: "Strong and wrong!"

The meaning of that is of course to always play like you mean it, even the mistakes. If you are worried about making a mistake and back off a little, even if you play the note or passage correctly, it is going to sound wrong anyways.

And who really cares if you make a mistake anyways?

(Well, other than your ego...)

The Brass Junkies: Jeff Conner of Boston Brass - Episode 20

Andrew Hitz

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Jeff Conner of Boston Brass joins Andrew & Lance to discuss how Boston Brass got started. Jeff also explains what it takes to run a full-time touring group and how things have (and haven't) changed over the last 30 years.

He also talks about how much he misses having Andrew and Lance in the group and details his adventurous eating habits. Chicken feet, anyone? Oh, and pickle neck tattoos.


Boston Brass
The Portfolio Musician
The Savvy Music Teacher
Jeff Conner Eating A Chicken Foot
Boston Brass - Rewired
Jeff Conner: Episode 7 of The Entrepreneurial Musician

You can help offset the costs of producing the show by making a small donation at Your support is greatly appreciated!

Produced by Austin Boyer and Buddy Deshler of FredBrass

The Entrepreneurial Musician: Jeff Conner of Boston Brass

Andrew Hitz

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Jeff Conner was my colleague in Boston Brass for 14 years. He is the only original founding member that remains in the group today. In this interview he talks about how they went from a college group playing small gigs around the Boston area to an internationally touring, full time ensemble.

Topics that Jeff touches on:

  • How he got a powerful Boston businessman to financially support Boston Brass
  • The importance of having mentors that inspire you
  • Perseverance being a key to success
  • Not being afraid of the word no
  • Networking being a longterm process
  • Why developing your own brand is essential

Jeff also talks about the book he wrote with John Laverty, The Porfolio Musician, in which they detail the careers of over 40 different musicians.

I have learned a lot from Jeff's approach to the business and I'm really happy that he joined me for this interview.


The Portfolio Musician: Case Studies in Success
Boston Brass

Networking Isn't About Instant Gratification

Andrew Hitz

"Networking isn't about instant gratification. It is about fostering relationships over a career."
-Jeff Conner of Boston Brass from Episode 7 of The Entrepreneurial Musician

Networking is just like learning a really difficult recital program. It takes a plan and it takes having the discipline to execute that plan over the long haul.

A lot of musicians are good at networking. Not many are great.

That is an easy point of differentiation for anyone in the business who is willing to put in the effort.

A Practice Tip for Students by Chris Castellanos

Andrew Hitz

In Boston Brass master classes I used to hear Chris Castellanos mention a really great tip to get kids to practice more and more frequently.  When he was a student, he was taught to keep his horn out of its case on his bed each day.

He shares that there was only so many times he could walk past his horn lying there, ready to play, without picking it up and at least playing a few notes on it.  He found that he played a lot more if it was staring him in the face than if it was in its case in the corner of his room.  He also has found that it works for his students too.

So leave that horn out where it is very hard to ignore it!

The Art of Musical Deception

Andrew Hitz

"That diminuendo ought to be a deception. We all know it's coming but the audience doesn't." - Sam Pilafian

This was something Sam said to the Boston Brass All-Star Big Band during our rehearsal at Strathmore earlier this month.  We hired members of The Army Blues, The Airmen of Note, The President's Own Marine Band and The Navy Band.  The band was absolutely smoking, one of the best we've ever put together in almost 10 years of doing the show.  And yet we all still needed to hear that advice.

So often I hear my students begin a crescendo just a little before they are supposed to by allowing the volume to inadvertently creep up just slightly.  This also goes for tempo changes which accidentally begin just a touch early.  While I'm not as bad about it as I used to be, I frequently hear myself doing the exact same thing when I record myself in the practice room.

It was truly impressive how much more effective the passage Sam addressed was after he had us keep that diminuendo a deception.  The difference in actaul execution was small but the difference in the effect was enormous.

And if members of the best service bands in the world need to hear that from time to time, it's safe to say that the rest of us do as well.

© 2013 Andrew Hitz

Sam Pilafian Master Class Quotes on Chamber Music

Andrew Hitz

The following is something I posted on the short lived 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 an amazing experience to get to work with him in the same capacity again 20 years later. I felt these quotes were good enough that they needed to be shared here in this space.  Sam is a great player, a gifted communicator and an amazing teacher.



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.

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The first half of the class featured Sam working with the U of A Tuba Quartet.  During this portion, Andrew (@HitzTuba) 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.