Today we stood graveside at the funeral of my Dad's first cousin, a WWII veteran who served in the European Theatre. After the volley of gunfire, we listened to the sweet, mournful sound of Taps. Daily, the families of hundreds of veterans hear it played for their departed loved ones. More frequently, they may be hearing recorded notes—emerging from a boombox or a little speaker tucked away slyly in the player's horn.
Pre-recorded Taps has become a necessity as the demand has increased and the supply of performers has diminished. Even for a talented musician, the tune is not easy to pull off flawlessly. "It sounds simple but it isn't," says military honors funeral coordinator Sgt. Seth Innes. "Sometimes the simplest songs take the most work." Add to that the desire to deliver a perfect performance for each and every veteran, and the pressure surely mounts. In that regard, a recorded version ensures quality control and may be no less appreciated (or perhaps even noticed) by the family. Still, one can't help but wish for purity.
We believed that the very-young man who played the trumpet today was authentic. There was a clear presence of emotion ... and longer-than-normal sustains at the end of each line. We looked at one another afterward and said, surely. Before leaving the cemetery, my aunt and I found him to offer our gratitude and compliments. Shyly, he said thanks.
* * * * * * *
Click here for an article about Taps trumpeter Sgt. Keston Marina and the "fading tradition," and here to view the Web site for Buglers Across America, which enlists volunteer buglers to lend their talents to honor fallen veterans. Says the organization: "The Department of Veterans Affairs is expecting more than 1/2 million veterans to pass every year for the next 7 years." So the need is great. "Bugler volunteers can be male or female. They can play a traditional bugle with no valves, or they can perform the ceremony on a trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, or a 1-, 2- or 3-valved bugle. The bugler can be of any age as long as they can play the 24 notes of Taps with an ease and style that will do honor to both the Veterans, their families, and the burial detail performing the service."