A Sad Day: Sam Pilafian Has Died

If you aren’t already familiar with tubist Sam Pilafian, you have a wonderful journey ahead of you. Sam was among the first generation of musicians responsible for moving the tuba out of its traditional supporting role and into the stature it deserved.

adaptistration-people-203Sadly, Sam passed away over the weekend. Not only was he a musical pioneer, but thanks to his instrument of choice, he was among the early musicians who mastered what conservatories and schools of music now call entrepreneurship.

Sam didn’t follow the career path of a typical tubist. Instead of holding an orchestral position and reaching out into other projects only when time permitted, he rolled the dice and dove into the latter head first. The risk paid off and Sam became a legend in the brass community as a member of the Empire Brass Quintet.

As an entrepreneurial musician, Sam was plugged into several additional outlets. He was a long-time member of Summit Brass and can be found on recordings that span the range of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra to the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Pink Floyd.

He was also among the first tubists to release a solo album, Travelin’ Light. And then there are all the legendary recordings from the Empire Brass.

You have hours and hours of listening ahead of you.

What’s more, Sam was one hell of a good human being. Just do a search on Facebook for his name and you’ll find a flood of posts memorializing his work. One of the most touching is from his former Empire Brass colleague, Jeffrey Curnow.

It was the summer of 1992 and the Empire Brass was in the middle of recording "Empire Brass on Broadway", a collection…

Posted by Jeffrey Curnow on Friday, April 5, 2019


Fortunately, there’s a record of Sam’s work as an entrepreneurial musician thanks to Andrew Hitz’s wonderful The Entrepreneurial Musician podcast. Andrew interviewed Sam in 2016 for a pair of podcasts and each are a wonderful peek behind the curtain of a musical life that took a path less traveled. Here’s the first of those episodes:

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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