Echo Taps is a custom of sounding the call with two buglers standing at some distance apart to achieve an echo effect. Although a popular way of sounding Taps, it is not correct protocol to have two players sound Taps. Arlington National Cemetery does not permit Echo Taps to be performed during services in the cemetery. The Defense Department does not authorize the use of Echo Taps at military funerals.
DOD INSTRUCTION 1300.15
MILITARY FUNERAL SUPPORT DECEMBER 2017
3.2. FUNERAL HONORS CEREMONIES.
c. In general, when a bugler sounds Taps (including a Service member using the ceremonial bugle), he or she will be placed in a prominent position. Portable stereo players should be used as a last resort and, if used, will be out of sight of the funeral party. The official version of Taps is played by a single bugle, and therefore, Echo Taps are not authorized.
ARMY REGULATION 600–25
Salutes, Honors, and Courtesy
The traditional “lights out” musical composition played at military funerals and memorials. The official version of“Taps” is played by a single bugle. In accordance with AR 220–90, “Echo or Silver Taps,” which is performed by 2 buglers, is not authorized.
Download Echo Taps
This idea of sounding Echo Taps may have started right at the creation of the new call, when Union buglers sounded it for the first time at Harrison’s Landing (now Berkeley Plantation). Confederates across the James River repeated the new sound, thus introducing it into both armies. As the call grew in popularity, it was not uncommon to hear the sound of Taps being sounded at the same time each evening by buglers in other companies, thereby giving an echo effect. The playing of the echo has been around for some time. I have found references to it in some newspaper articles in the first part of the 20th century. It was written into one one manual-the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps Manual of 1959. Notice that it has the incorrect rhythms in the third and fourth measures. This version was dropped from later editions of the manual. One of the USAF bands had it on their website for a while until it was removed. Unfortunately, their recorded version is still available on some CDs.
Plus, its use in Hollywood movies has contributed to the practice.
However, the call is meant to be sounded by a solo bugler and really should be that way. I personally have nothing against the playing of Echo Taps at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies but don’t think it should be performed as part of Military Funeral Honors.
ONCE IS ENOUGH, THANK-YOU
I heard a solo bugler play a version of the echo at a Memorial Day ceremony a few years back. He finished a phrase then turned in another direction and played the echo. He did this for all the phrases. Not only did it sound funny, it looked ridiculous with the choreography (he took tiny steps to turn 180 degrees). Also, the idea of sounding two complete (sounding it once, then walking a distance to sound it again) Taps seems to be bad form. Not only does it prolong the ceremony it is not part of tradition.
If you are going to perform Echo Taps, For Goodness sake, REHEARSE IT before you do it. That way you will find out:
1. How far you need to stand apart (it defeats the purpose of Echo Taps if you have the players standing next to each other)
2. If you are in tune with each other (good luck on that!)
3. How you are going to phrase the piece.
4. If you have matching instruments (ever hear a Bb and a G bugle try to do the echo? yikes!)
Think about the message you are sending when you do the Echo Taps at a funeral. Many organizations that provide volunteer buglers are based on the premise that there are not enough live buglers to perform at veteran funerals, yet there are those who would use two buglers at a service? Is there then a funeral that has to settle for a recording because of the manpower requirements needed for TWO buglers?
I hear from many that they are doing what the family wishes and as long as they can do it they will continue. It’s all well and good to follow through with the wishes of a family and perform the echo. But do remember that a future family will make a request at a funeral home for the echo and will put the Funeral Director in an awkward position of either saying they can provide it or having them trying to track down two players. And then using the digital to play the echo or asking a live player to echo the digital. As amusing as that might be, it has been done. Bottom line is that you may satisfy a request now but set up an awkward situation in the future
Echo Taps is not appropriate for funerals. That’s my personal feeling based on protocol and tradition.
Tradition is something that I feel strongly about. Using live buglers at funerals is something that is dying thanks to recordings, lack of good players and a strong system to support the use of live players. Musicians seem to have the knack for shooting themselves in the foot. Look at the professional world today and you will see live music being used less and less. From Broadway shows to club dates to wedding bands live music is being replaced by virtual musicians.
Want an example that relates to bugling? Look at the use of buglers at racetracks today. Very few tracks still use a live bugler. And what have buglers done? Trying to jazz up the First Call (Call To The Post if you will) has made the First Call a joke. Trying to “improve” on a traditional call makes it become a rather poor shadow of its great past.
When was the last time you saw a racetrack bugler use the correct instrument (a posthorn) and wear the correct outfit?
However I know that stopping performances of Echo Taps is like trying to stop the darn Taps Myth. But it is our intention to provide buglers with the information, knowledge, protocol and tradition that many are not familiar with.
If it is going to performed, at least practice it!
I along with several other buglers were at a Civil War reenactment and decided that at the time for lights out we would recreate how it probably sounded like echoing in camps. We were spread out over a large area in various camps and after the Brigade Bugler (me) started the call, the closest bugler would wait till it was halfway done then started the call without trying to echo phrase for phrase. This went down the line with 5 buglers each sounding the call on his own and the effect was chilling!
We now use the “Cascading Taps” effect at the 100 Nights of Taps for the opening and closing programs. It is received well and gives all buglers and trumpeters who attend to sound the call.
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