The Trumpeter’s Solemn Musical Duty

by Dan Erikson
Wisconsin State Director, Bugles Across America

Have you ever attended a military funeral and, after the three rifle volleys, Taps was played from a tape deck or CD player? If you’re an upper brass player, you probably thought to yourself, “I could have easily sounded Taps live. If only I had known.” Right now the United States loses 1,800 veterans a day. That’s right, per day! At the same time, it is estimated that only 500 military band members across the country are available to perform Taps at these funerals. That means that at least 75% of the brave men and women who fought for our country will not have the honor of having Taps properly sounded at their funerals by a live bugler. Instead, their families must settle for a tape deck or CD player. That is, if it works that day.

The great honor of sounding Taps was bestowed upon buglers back during the Civil War. It remains to this day as the trumpeter’s solemn duty. However, with the overwhelming lack of military buglers, civilian players must rise up and fill in the gaps. This is where a former Marine by the name of Tom Day comes in.

Tom just couldn’t sit idly by and watch as this proud tradition faded into the history books. “Every man and woman who dedicated some part of their lives to the service of our country has the right to and deserves a live bugler.” In 2000, Tom Day decided the best way to achieve this goal was to take matters into his own hands and he formed Bugles Across America.

Bugles Across America’s primary goal is to recruit live players around the country to sound Taps at military honor funerals as well as other public events at which veterans are being honored. In just three years, B.A.A. membership has grown to over 2,500 buglers worldwide. Members include current and former military band members, retired military personnel, as well as civilian men, women, and children. Since Taps can be sounded on trumpets, cornets, and bugles any high brass player that can sound it in a style and manner that properly honors our veterans is welcome to join the B.A.A. ranks.

Speaking of instruments, many players prefer to sound Taps on valveless horns in order to achieve a more traditional look. Unfortunately, these horns are generally regarded as very poor quality, bottom of the barrel instruments. The last high quality, valveless bugle or field trumpet was made for the United States Army Band during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Bach Company manufactured 24 or so of these Bb signal trumpets specifically for ceremonial duties at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. The most notable of these horns was used to sound Taps at John F. Kennedy’s funeral. No horn of this caliber has been widely produced since then. That is, until now.

Acting as the Wisconsin State Director for Bugles Across America, I began to wonder why an American manufacturer wasn’t stepping up to fill the void by producing a high-quality horn to properly honor our servicemen and women. With my close proximity to a major musical instrument manufacturer in South-Eastern Wisconsin, I felt it was time someone asked this question. A quick call to the Getzen Company, Inc. in nearby Elkhorn, Wisconsin was all the further I had to go. The was because Tom Getzen had a history of sounding Taps as a youngster himself. He understood the great importance of Taps and how meaningful it can be to family members as they say goodbye to their loved ones.

After some collaboration between several B.A.A. members and the Getzen Company, the American Heritage Field Trumpet was born and is now available through your local Getzen dealers or to B.A.A. members through Bugles Across America. Finally, those seeking a high quality, valveless horn for sounding Taps can rest assured that the instrument they desire is out there and can easily be found.

If you think you have what it takes to help repay a small part of the enormous debt owed to our national heroes, head to your local Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion post and offer your services. Help to make sure that the veterans in your area are properly honored with a live bugler. While you’re at it, you may even want to join the ranks of Bugles Across America.

Always remember that there is nothing like a live bugler sounding Taps to honor those that have served this country. Remember too that the 24 notes of Taps are the most appreciated and heart-wrenching you will ever have to play.