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The bugle call of Taps was originally created to replace the regulation call for lights out and remained in the Army manuals for 30 years as just that-the signal to extinguish lights and go to sleep. Taps went on to be associated with funerals by the end of the Civil War and used as a funeral honor at military funerals. It became an officially recognized funeral honors in 1891. The call was, and remains, a signal to mark the end of the day notifying one to go to sleep. It is the only call in the military with a dual purpose-to signal lights out and as an honor at military funerals. It should be noted Taps is never to be used as call to lower or burn the US flag.

Over the decades Taps has been used as a call to memorialize or remember those in uniform. In 2013 Congress recognized Taps our  National Song of Remembrance.  This movement was done to codify the music and protocols associated with Taps.

The call has transcended its original use. It has been used to mark the end of the day at many events. Many Americans can recall hearing it at summer camps, even at the Interlochen Center for the Arts music camp. Many fraternal and quasi-military organizations adopted Taps as part of their rituals.

The call was even incorporated into Scouting. As a Boy Scout I sounded the call at the end of weekly meetings. Girl Scouts have sung the words “Day is Done…” Over the years people have used the call to remember a loved one even if they have not served in uniform

After national tragedies such as a mass shooting or natural disaster someone has sounded Taps. The 24 notes bring a certain amount of comfort and a time for complementation and reflection. It takes about a minute and many use that moment to pray or remember. 

There have been news stories over the past decade of those sounding the call each evening at their home, on a street corner, on a beach. Many of these involved people using the digital bugle, an instrument that plays a recording of Taps. Some have used sound systems. However some did feature a live performer who sounded the call.

As a military funeral honors, Taps is reserved as a special musical tribute for those who served in uniform. That is sacrosanct. It’s as important as the flag being presented to the next-of-kin. I do not advocate anything more than a solo rendition of the call at a military funeral.

However, as a call of remembrance in the evening it is a call for all Americans. In this time of the current health crisis it is appropriate to sound Taps. I don’t believe it’s a breach of any type of military protocol. It’s a piece of music for all of us. I have always observed there are two pieces of music that stir the hearts of all Americans-The Star-Spangled Banner and Taps. Taps has gone beyond the military use in it has become a melody of peace, rest and strength.

Chaplain (Colonel) Edward Brogan (USAF, Ret.) wrote in May 1999,
“Lord of our lives, our hope in death, we cannot listen to Taps without our souls stirring. Its plaintive notes are a prayer in music–of hope, of peace, of grief, of rest… Prepare us too, Lord, for our final bugle call when you summon us home! When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and death will be no more.”

Can Taps be performed on any instrument?

There is a wonderful moment in the 1945 John Wayne movie entitled They Were Expendable when a young Sailor plays Taps on a harmonica. A moving tribute to a fallen shipmate.

I’ve been asked if Taps would be OK on any instrument. I’ve always stated it is appropriate to have the call sounded on a bugle, trumpet or cornet. But as I’ve been watching the registrations come in for the TAPS ACROSS AMERICA I see there are a number of participants who will perform our National Song of Remembrance on instruments ranging from Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, French Horn, Trombone, Tuba, to Bells, Organs, and piano

Images from last year

Is it wrong?

How can anyone deny these Americans from paying tribute to our fallen Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen? As we gather for Memorial Day ceremony I think it’s appropriate as these Americans want to express their heartfelt gratitude to those who, as President Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” And for Memorial Day, if a bugle, trumpet, or cornet is not available, it much better to have some render a heartfelt version on another instrument rather than the digital bugle.

President George W. Bush stated “This is a challenging and solemn time in our nation’s history.” The 24 notes of Taps exemplifies the gratitude of our nation for those who sacrificed so much in order for us to enjoy our freedoms. And what better way to honor our nation’s veterans than with Taps, our National Song of Remembrance.


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