Boston Brass Returns to NDSU for a Special Performance

In honor of former NDSU visiting artist Sam Pilafian, the Boston Brass traveled to Fargo, North Dakota, to perform a commissioned piece along with NDSU's Wind Symphony at the 2021 Evening of Distinction. Watch the performance below.

By Nicole Thom-Arens | January 24, 2022

Sam Pilafian was a brilliant and skillful tubist. He first came to North Dakota State University in 2014 as a member of the Boston Brass for a special concert presented by the Challey School of Music. Faculty in the School continued their relationship with Sam after the concert and learned of Sam’s desires to return to teaching, so they invited him to become a visiting artist at NDSU. Sam had taught at the collegiate level for 44 years. He retired, abruptly, from the University of Miami when his wife, Diann, had the opportunity for a potentially life-saving surgery in Phoenix, Arizona, according to the NDSU Magazine. The procedure was a success and Sam had one last lesson he wanted to pass to young musicians — the practice of proper breathing.

Sam Pilafian, renowned tubist, was a visiting artist to NDSU in the Challey School of Music.

Sam spent two years traveling from Phoenix to Fargo several days a month where, in addition to coaching and teaching, he led NDSU’s breathing gym — named after the book, “The Breathing Gym,” he co-authored. Sam believed in routine. In the 2017 NDSU Magazine article, he talks of leading musicians, singers, and actors through exercises to relax them and teaching correct breathing early in the morning. The daily routines, according to Sam, “allow creative lightning to strike.” And if practiced enough, proper breathing becomes automatic, creating “powerful performances.”

Sam’s time at NDSU was cut short when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died on April 5, 2019, but his teachings left lasting impressions within the Challey School of Music, NDSU Performing Arts, and the greater University community — NDSU faculty and staff and NDSU Foundation Trustees had the benefit of witnessing Sam’s teachings firsthand during his visits. That’s why benefactors, and longtime friends of Sam, Robert ’67 and Sheila Challey wanted to pay special tribute to Sam’s legacy among fellow alumni and friends of NDSU.

Boston Brass performs with NDSU’s Wind Symphony at the 2021 Evening of Distinction event.

An obvious choice was to invite the Boston Brass back to campus. What they would play to honor Sam was also an obvious choice for NDSU’s Director of Bands, Dr. Warren Olfert. NDSU was part of a group that commissioned the piece, “Deep Calls to Deep” composed by Jess Langston Turner. The arrangement is somber in the beginning, leading to a big celebration. He was inspired to write the piece in 2015 in memory of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the celebration of the rebirth of New Orleans. The piece includes a tuba solo, which Sam played in the piece’s premiere at the University of New Mexico in 2016. It had been in NDSU’s possession for a while but had never been performed.

For the NDSU performance, Langston Turner also composed a prelude titled “De Profundis” to be debuted in a performance by NDSU’s Concert Choir. The performance, available below, features NDSU’s Wind Symphony along with the Boston Brass performing “Deep Calls to Deep” with Connor Challey, NDSU assistant director of athletic bands and son of Robert and Sheila, playing the tuba solo.

Connor Challey, NDSU assistant director of athletic bands, performs the tuba solo in “Deep Calls to Deep,” which Sam played in the piece’s premiere.

You can learn more about Sam’s time at NDSU in “The Breathing Gym” article published in the 2017 winter issue of NDSU Magazine.