J. Samuel Pilafian Composition Contest

North Dakota State University is pleased to announce the formation of a composition contest in memory of the late Sam Pilafian. The winning composer will receive a commission to compose a new work as a memorial to the work of Sam Pilafian in his time as a guest faculty member at NDSU as well as his contributions to the music world.


J. Samuel Pilafian had a remarkable career in music through a variety of areas, including his role as a founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet and later a member of the Boston Brass; as an internationally renowned tuba and brass pedagogue at several universities; and as a composer and arranger for a large library of solo and ensemble works. Along with the Boston Brass in his final days, he forged a relationship with North Dakota State University in developing a new approach to teaching music in the universities that would include all areas of preparation in music towards creating a stronger music student. His untimely death in 2019 robbed the music world of a truly remarkable, diverse musical talent.

As part of its commemoration of the memory of Sam Pilafian, North Dakota State University is establishing a composition contest that focuses on Sam’s first love: the tuba. The competition is structured to develop an original composition in his memory that promotes new, original music for the tuba as well as potentially providing composers a forum for increasing awareness of their work.

Application Procedures/Process

The submission process for the 2021 cycle has closed. Stay tuned for updates!
  • Only one application per composer
  • Application Fee is $30, payable via NDSU Marketplace
  • Final Award: $3,000 and a commission to compose a work for tuba and piano as described below.
  • Composers will submit an application (via this link), including:
    • Three anonymous scores (in PDF form) composed within the last seven years (2013-2020), with accompanying recordings (in MP3 form).
      • Of the works submitted, one should be indicative of the composer’s writing for brass instruments.
    • Accompanying recordings (in MP3 form).
      • Recordings of performers are preferred; midi realizations are acceptable with the least “midi-like” sounds as possible.
    • A brief description of your compositional style
  • Any composer except those directly affiliated with North Dakota State University is eligible to enter.


  • All applications along with entries should be received no later than February 28, 2021. Entries will be adjudicated using a two-phase process. In Phase 1, compositions will be adjudicated internally in the Challey School of Music. Those compositions that pass through Phase 1 will move to Phase 2, with nationally recognized adjudicators making the final decision. At the conclusion of the second phase a winner will be announced.
  • The competition will utilize the following timeline:
    • Applications and accompanying materials due: February 28, 2021
    • Phase 1 process ends; finalist compositions moved to Phase 2: April 30, 2021
    • Phase 2 process ends; winner announced: June 15, 2021
    • Commissioned composition received by NDSU: November 15, 2021
    • Premiere performance of work: January, 2022

Description of Final Award

  • The winner of the competition will compose a work for solo tuba with keyboard accompaniment in consultation with North Dakota State University (may be piano or other type of single-performer accompaniment).
  • The composition may be single- or multi-movement. The composition should be at least 6 minutes in length; maximum length should be no more than 15 minutes.
  • The composer will be present at the premiere of the work, which will be performed on the campus of North Dakota State University (support will be provided towards travel and expenses by the university).
  • Performance of the work will be by a regionally/nationally prominent artist of tuba to be announced.


Email Kyle Vanderburg at with any questions.