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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: music education

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.

Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's Music Practice Coach

Andrew Hitz

For a limited time, my partner at Pedal Note Media, Lance LaDuke, is giving away free copies of his book Music Practice Coach.  All you have to do is go to his website and sign up for his email list.  It's that simple.

Music Practice Coach is a book that I require all of my college students to purchase and use regularly.  It is a fantastic practice method that is written in a simple, straightforward way.  Even tuba players have no problem understanding it!

The entire book is about goal-oriented practice and is a truly marvelous method.  ALL MUSIC EDUCATORS should get this book and encourage all of their students to do so as well.

This book is well worth double its usual price but since that price is currently nothing you really should pick one up today.  He might come to his senses tomorrow.

Click Here for a Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's Music Practice Coach


Great Advice for Music Students from Eric Whitacre

Andrew Hitz

The following is a quote from Eric Whitacre's Facebook Page that offers great advice for music students entering a new school year:

"Music students: as the semester grinds on you may feel intensely burnt-out.  You may even consider dropping out of music altogether.  If that happens, go back and listen to your favorite recordings, make music with your friends, do anything you can to remind yourself why you loved music before you started studying it.  An education in music can be a very good thing, but it can also squeeze the life out of any love you ever had for it.  Don't let it."

Now that is some great advice.

Questioning What You Are Positive Is True

Andrew Hitz

"A lot of times when you have a problem with your playing and you think you know the solution try the exact opposite.  85% of the time it will work.  And that comes from personal experience." -Marty Hackleman (former horn of the Empire Brass, Canadian Brass and National Symphony Orchestra)

This is invaluable advice for the practice room.  But it is also great advice for band directors and private teachers.  As with anyone who has been doing something for three decades, I know an awful lot about music.  Frequently though, the things which I am positive are the way I perceive them are what hold me back from having a breakthrough with a student or having one myself on the horn.

What is it that you know today that you need to "forget" for a few minutes while allowing the best possible solution to emerge?

The moon rising over the Italian Alps before a Boston Brass performance in Merano, Italy. © 2012 Andrew Hitz


Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser Master Class Quotes (Part 1 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

This past summer, I ran into one of my favorite human beings, Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, when we were both presenting at a drum major leadership camp in West Chester, PA.  Luckily for me, the Boston Brass stuff was at a separate time than his master class for the directors so I was able to be there.  And as with every Dr. Tim class I've ever attended, I left ready to change the world. Some of these are music educator specific and some are just great tidbits to make us better human beings.  Dr. Tim's constant ability to make me think is truly remarkable.  He is one of the most gifted communicators I've ever seen in action and it is an honor to call him a friend.

There were enough quotes that I have split them into two posts.  I've put the ones that really stand out to me personally in bold:

  • "It’s only when knowledge is guided by wisdom that value is created."
  • "The world of academia is famous for pushing knowledge, not wisdom."
  • "It is easier to work with someone with a great attitude and a little bit of talent rather than someone with lots of talent and a bad attitude.
  • "The intention (of students) is always to be good.  The trick is to get to outcome.  That’s where wisdom comes in."
  • "Band is not about being right."
  • "No (band director) gets fired because they’re not a good musician.  They get fired because they can’t handle the other stuff."
  • "Flutes are nice, they smell good and you can let them be treasurer."
  • "Percussionists are the bottom of the food chain.  We’re one step below blenders."
  • "Maturity is the ability to understand how your behavior affects other people."
  • "How do we go from competition to cooperation?"
  • "Each layer of self-doubt puts another wall around your comfort zone."
  • "Don’t get positive and happy mixed up."
  • "10% of a band or organization are positive leaders.  80% are followers.  10% are negative leaders."
  • "It takes 6 positive leaders to counteract 1 negative leaders."
  • "The quickest way to get attention is to do something wrong.  It works every time."
  • "The whole game of teaching is energy."
  • "We don’t teach as we’re taught to teach.  We teach how we’re taught."
  • "People don’t feel better by making them feel worse."
  • "Nobody in your band is coming out of their comfort zone if it’s not safe."
  • "Successful people don’t know how to not be successful.  That comes from being young and giving up giving up."

Click here for Part 2 of Dr. Tim's quotes.

A shot from the recently completed Brass Recording Project session. © 2014 Andrew Hitz

We Are All Marketers

Andrew Hitz

"Marketing and sales isn't about trying to convince, coerce, or manipulate people into buying your services.  It's about putting yourself out in front of, and offering your services to, those whom you are meant to serve-people who already need and are looking for your services." - Michael Port from "Book Yourself Solid"

I love this quote.  It takes a lot of the used car salesman feeling that some of us have when selling ourselves as performers or teachers of music out of the equation.  Marketing yourself is simply about getting yourself noticed by the people who want or need your services.  It's that simple.

The good news is most musicians, including teachers, are not good marketers and that presents an opportunity for us all.  The bad news is people are figuring this out and everyone is getting better.  We all have to up our games when it comes to marketing.

And make no mistake, we are all marketers whether we realize it or not.

Sun setting over the University of Glasgow on my trip there last week with Boston Brass © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Rex Martin's Tips to Playing In Tune (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

My senior year at Northwestern University, my tuba professor, Rex Martin, gave the studio a handout he had written titled "A More Natural Intonation." This article is packed full of really useful tips for playing in tune.  I'm really glad that I still have it laying around over 15 years later.  There's enough great stuff in this article that I'll break it up into three posts.

"It is counterproductive to think in terms of intervals being lipped up or down.  If we do so, we are reacting to something we have already done wrong and are trying to fix it, instead of simply hearing what to sound like beforehand.  It is important to imagine the sound as a specific quality of tone, not simply a pitch.  If we hear the sound in our head as we play, our instrument will resonate those pitches and produce that tone, as long as we have the correct valve combination or slide position."

- Rex Martin

The above passage underscores the importance of clearly hearing exactly what you are trying to sound like in your head while you are playing.  When working off of a clear mental image, absolutely every aspect of your playing is taken care of.  Articulation, tone quality, musicality, note endings, and yes, intonation.

More often than not, when you are playing a note out of tune it is with a less than ideal tone quality.  This is why imagining a specific quality of tone in our heads is very important.  You can be blowing a pitch sharp on a brass instrument that is the proper length while either lipping it down or pulling a slide to make it in tune.  While it is certainly possible to play a note in tune in this scenario it is not possible to do so with a good sound.  Imagining the note in your head with a great tone in the first place would have fixed this scenario immediately.

Hearing the sound you are striving for in your head goes for brass, woodwind, percussion, strings, vocalists, everyone.  All of the greats hear a world class version of what they are performing in their heads as they play or sing and everything else, intonation included, takes care of itself.

Tonal Energy Tuner - The best tuner I've ever used.

Perseverance Always Wins Out

Andrew Hitz

Music, like any other highly competitive field, always comes down to perseverance. No matter how talented you are or how how much success you've had in the past, there are times in everyone's career when perseverance is the only thing that will get through. If I were starting a group or music based business today, the quality I would most search for in any potential partner is perseverance.  Those who always seem to "catch a break" have perseverance in spades, while those who never seem to don't.

If I were a principal and hiring a band director, the quality I would most look for in a candidate is perseverance.  Every single band director I know who seems like they were put on this earth to teach band has an unrelenting sense of perseverance and determination.

The best way to learn this trait is to hang around those who possess it.  Seek those people out, both as partners and mentors, and you will go a long ways in the music business.

Perseverance always wins out.  Always.


The Power of Doing

Andrew Hitz

"You don't learn something when you hear about it.  You learn something when you do it or teach it." - David Cutler (Author of "The Savvy Musician")

These wise words came from my good friend and colleague, Dr. David Cutler, at the beginning of The Savvy Musician In ACTION Retreat back in June.  As another school year begins, these are great words for all teachers to remember, from elementary school to college.  I know I can occasionally fall into the trap of telling my students all about something at great length rather than giving them simply a general idea and then making them try it themselves.

Students learn a little bit about a new concept by listening to an expert speak about it.  But they learn a lot more about it by actually doing it.  That includes succeeding and failing.  The power of our students doing the very skill we as teachers are trying to impart is simply priceless.

And the second half of the above  quote is why all students, no matter what level they are, should be teaching someone something about what they are trying to master.  It's amazing how well you have to know a subject in order to explain it to someone else in a succinct, understandable manner.  I started teaching private lessons when I was a senior in high school.  The experience I had teaching those three students (4th, 8th and 10th graders) was invaluable to my development as a musician.

The power of doing (and teaching) is simply priceless.

The Savvy Musician