|James Thompson master classes on orchestral studies in Norway.||April 28, 2002|
Bengt Eklund, trumpet professor of the Academies in Oslo and Gothenburg (Sweden), conducted brass ensemble studies and prepared Henri Tomasi's Liturgical Fanfare for the concert. Eklund's current and former students were active through the seminar performing their solo repertoire and orchestral excerpts.
In his classes, James Thompson discussed and demonstrated topics on sound creation in brass instruments in a way that impressed everybody. When he had demonstrated to the attendants how to synchronize air pressure with lip tension through his special warm up routines, he moved on to ways of enhancing musical expression. His methods were simple, but proved most effective. The exercises involved singing glissandos and then buzzing them with the mouthpiece. Everyone who played for him in master class experienced an instant improvement in sound and ease when they followed his instructions.
James Thompson is a well of literary knowledge. This was revealed to everyone through his innumerable and interesting quotations. His pertinent statements and systematic ways of explaining how to accomplish challenges urged the attendants to take notes.
Thompson's lectureThompson got everybody's attention right from the beginning by demonstrating different sounds on his C-trumpet: "The sound can be dark, light, German, Mexican, rotary type, or like a cornet", he said smilingly, and surprised everybody by demonstrating these different sounds convincingly only 2 hours after his plane hit the runway. "Sound is only made up of the 4 components: Tone Quality, Attack, Length, and Intensity (determined by Volume and Vibrato). These qualities can be mixed in innumerable ways like the primary colors on a palette, and result in all sorts of sound types."
"In a string instrument the sound is determined by the pressure and speed of the bow. In a brass instrument it is determined by air pressure and lip tension. A centered sound has the most overtones. This happens when the lips are vibrating optimally. Relax the pitch down and you won't need to pull the tuning slide out so far. Play in the center, not above it."
"Every instrument family considers itself closest to the human voice. The brass family is actually the closest, because the sound is made up by vibrating human tissue. The lips in brass playing correlates to the vocal chords in singing. The glissando makes the slurs sound vocal. Sing the glissando first, and let your lips learn to slur from your vocal chords. Basically play on the same embouchure up and down, efficiency and minimum of motion is going to aid your techniques."
"The purpose of buzzing glissando exercises are to enable the lip muscles to stretch inside the mouthpiece. You must be able to change the size of the opening of the lips inside the mouthpiece. A deep forte demands a large opening, while a high, soft sound demands a small opening. Strengthen your lips by practicing Clarke softly and not too fast. We don't know for sure, but the dynamics in Clarke may indicate support more than actual crescendo/decrescendo!"
"Practice difficult music slowly, but always musically. In this way you can create good habits, which will work for you in a performance situation. Don't turn on the TV and off your brain when you are practicing!" Dokshizer said "Play it clean, and it will sound faster!" Thompson reminded everyone that slow music demands accurate, fast fingering not to sound sloppy.
Thompson advocates practicing with piano accompaniment to learn to keep the pitch. He demonstrated phrases from Marco Bordogni's Melodious Etudes, which are available with piano accompaniment CD. Thompson hypnotized the audience by buzzing #10 so beautifully that time and place seemed irrelevant. He got Oddbjørn Lund to buzz an etude too, and when he performed the etude afterwards on the trumpet, the improvement was outstanding. "When you buzz the music first, you instantly learn where to put the support of air. Subsequently the correctly achieved balance of air pressure and lip tension will enhance your attacks and tone quality as well as ease your playing."
Thompson's tenure as orchestral trumpeter for almost 30 years has given him the opportunity to record the same orchestral works with different orchestras. He is often asked why he has performed totally differently on different recordings. This is easy for him to answer: "As an orchestral trumpeter you are paid to be a character actor, not the leading man. There is no right way to play the trumpet part in an orchestral piece, but there is a right way to think about it. The conductor decides on the style, and your responsibility is to perform according to the style of his choice."
Brass section orchestral study.
James Thompson conducted a full brass section orchestral study with trumpeters, horn players, trombones, and a tuba in Bruckner's 7th Symphony. His enthusiasm was contagious: "Bruckner is really team-work! He was an extremely religious person, so please sound like an organ! Remember that the melody speaks to the heart, the rhythm speaks to the body, the counterpoint speaks to the brain, but the harmonies speak to the soul. Bruckner was a harmony specialist! … A little more angelic there please, 3rd trumpet!… Oh, it is so much easier to conduct Bruckner than to play it!"
"Listen to the breath of your colleagues! Breathe together in the style and the rhythm of the music, then you will play together much better! Two trumpets playing f-ff sounds much better than one trumpet playing fff!""
Master classesThompson's way of working with players in the master class situation was very comfortable and beneficial to everyone. To enable the students to understand the phrases, maintain the pitch, and be able to express the composer's message musically, he sought out the scales, chords and melodic lines that the compositions were made from. Then he made the students play these simple things perfectly with piano accompaniment. Afterwards it seemed a lot easier to play what the composer actually had written.
Magdalena Nilsson used her left ring finger to push out the third slide, but Thompson objected to this habit and suggested her to use the little finger instead. He himself has had the ring moved further out on his favorite C-trumpet's third slide in order to get enough room for his hand and be able to use the stronger little finger.
The following works were performed by the trumpet players listed here:
Mattias Ekberg: Tomasi's Trumpet Concerto 2nd movement and Richard Strauss' Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Op 60.
ConcertThe concert took place Sunday night, and James Thompson was accompanied by one of Norway's most inspiring accompanists, Jorun Marie Bratlie. Trumpeters had traveled long distances to hear the synthesis of their musicianship, and they were richly rewarded. The program started with Pierre Gabaye's Boutade, and came to the first highlight in Maurice Ravel's Habanera. André Jolivet's Air de Bravoure was a special treat to the students who are attempting this composer's demanding works.
14 students under Bengt Eklund's baton sensitively and powerfully performed Henri Tomasi's Liturgical Fanfare for Brass Ensemble. The audience was both captured and moved by the musical expression of this piece, which in the beautiful third movement tells the deeply affective story of Procession du Vendredi-Saint.
Eric Ewazen's and Kent Kennan's sonatas for trumpet and piano are not often performed in Norway, so these gems from the 20th century solo repertoire were heartily welcomed buy the audience. Thompson ultimately gave a charming rendition of Carl Hoehne's Slavic Fantasy on the cornet, which well deserves its place beside his favorite C-trumpet.
Thompson's upcoming travelling schedule is impressive both on the American and European continent as well as in Japan. His students at Eastman can be proud to share their teacher with trumpeters world-wide.
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