Karl Sievers, Reporter
James Thompson introduced his master class by saying that what he was about to present represented 25 years of developing practice techniques for the mouthpiece alone. He then listed several so-called "schools" of brass playing, cautioning the audience that to pigeon-hole players according to various schools (air, mouthpiece, embouchure, fingers, et al) was a mistake. Once players reach a high level of expertise they tend to have many qualities in common. Thompson's influences include (among others) having studied with Carmine Caruso and Arnold Jacobs, and interaction with respected colleagues who had studied with James Stamp. Recognizing that the human voice and trumpet playing share many common traits, Mr. Thompson uses the voice as a point of departure and as a model for mouthpiece buzzing and for trumpet playing in general.
Audience interaction proved to be a key technique employed in this master class. All in attendance were encouraged to participate, using their mouthpieces and their voices. By way of introduction to his newly revised and forthcoming publication on this subject, step one was to have us all sing an ascending perfect 4th, and then play the same thing on the mouthpiece. Predictably, relative success was mixed. Focusing on accuracy and quality of tone, we were encouraged to pursue this to the end that our mouthpiece expertise lacked nothing in comparison to our singing.
As Thompson proceeded to take the audience through the basics of his buzzing method, he continually stressed the importance of tone quality, repeating over and over that a great sound will have a ring or resonance to it. It is through the pursuit of this ringing tone quality that we know our mechanics are properly balanced, and that to address such things directly tends to result in the overemphasis of such considerations as tongue position, etc.. Incorporating a gradual glissando between larger intervals is also important.
Toward the end of the session, Thompson worked with a young volunteer, having him play a simple Bordogni Vocalise. He initially had the young man play a few phrases of the study, then buzz it on the mouthpiece (attached beside the leadpipe), and then had him return again to the trumpet. The result was a marked improvement in the richness and quality of the tone. His assessment was that this technique "engages the air and the ears."
Mr. Thompson fielded several questions from the audience, and then closed his master class by playing an extended section of a more difficult Vocalise, all on the mouthpiece (again attached to the leadpipe). His lecture was enthusiastically received.