We all have groups or players that we admire and want to emulate; people who define the type of musician we want to be. The Empire Brass—and more specifically the “old” Empire Brass (to which I respectfully refer as “the Sam years”)—is on my aspiration list. The group always sounds phenomenal and were really pushing the envelope of what people thought a brass quintet could do at the time. And Sam Pilafian, with whom I was fortunate enough to study at Arizona State, is a musician whose career and life in music is one I hope to model in a small way.
But even if I lived Sam Pilafian’s life down to a tee, or if I could recreate the Empire Brass of all those years ago, the result would not be the same. Because I would just be doing what they already did. Empire Brass became famous by being singular in their ability and style, not by copying groups that came before them.
If the saying traditionally goes, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal,” I would like to go further and say this: People who play music repeat what has already been done; true musicians create what has not yet been heard.
Whether you are commissioning new works or playing music by Beethoven, you can still create (or re-create, perhaps) music in such a way that makes it totally yours. If you make your own niche in the world, you have cornered the market on a product that only you can deliver.