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What is Taps?


Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to evoke emotion than the twenty-four notes that comprise Taps.  The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy and myth.  The use of Taps is unique to the United States military, as the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services yet it is recognized anywhere around the world.

The call first sounded during the Civil War when Union General Daniel Butterfield was not pleased with the call for “Lights Out,” feeling that it was too formal to signal the day’s end.  With the help of the brigade bugler, Butterfield created Taps out of a dated bugle call, no longer in use, to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia following the Seven Days’ battle.  The call sounded that night in July, 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and may have been used by the Confederates by the end of the war.  Taps was made an official bugle call after the war.

So what exactly is Taps?

-It consists of 24 notes played on an instrument that can only play five pitches of the overtone series.

-It’s a call that is easily recognized within the first three notes.

-It’s usually played on a bugle or trumpet.

-It’s the only call in the military that is played slowly throughout.

-Its simplistic melody has evoked emotions from the most hardened combat veteran.

-Its origin has been clouded in mythology.

-It’s a call that has a dual purpose-one to signal lights out at the end of the day and the other as a formal military honor to those who have served in uniform.

-It’s a call that that has been open to interpretation and arrangement-from a solo rendition, to an echoed version, to accompanied arrangements as musical settings.

-It is a melody that has had many lyrics set.

-It is a piece performed by polished military professionals, amateurs, school bandsmen, and volunteers interested in providing the service at veterans’ funerals.

It is America’s National Song of Remembrance.

Presenting the flag

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