I wrote this early Sunday morning, even though I didn’t get it posted until today. I bring this up because I’ve left the present tense used in the entry since I wrote it before I began playing on Sunday
I’ve been playing the trumpet for around 25 years, since the 6th grade to be exact, and it’s something I really enjoy a lot. Most people don’t know that I have my bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in Trumpet Performance, but at one point I planned on being a full-time musician. After graduation, I changed paths and I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made. I don’t play as much as I used to and to be completely honest, I simply don’t have a lot of time for it. It takes a lot of practice to keep your chops up and I don’t make the time like I should. However, there are a few gigs that still come my way. This weekend I was asked if I would play for all the masses at church in honor of Memorial day. I readily agreed to perform, but there was a part of me that wanted to say no.
Why? Because the reason I was asked to perform was so that I would play Taps after each mass in remembrance of our fallen soldiers. In all of music, I cannot think of a sadder song than Taps, yet for a trumpet player it is part of the standard repertoire. Think about it, the only time you hear that song is when it’s played for the dead. Funerals, memorials, anything where you’re remembering a soldier that has died, Taps is called for. I suppose that if I did it often enough, I’d grow hardened, or accustomed to the song and the scene that accompanies it. However, that’s not the case so as a result each time I play it, it’s a struggle to get through it.
Here’s how it will go today. I will arrive about 10 minutes before mass and touch base with the choir director and the priest just to let them know that I’m here and that I know what to do. I’ll sit outside the church proper, in the lobby area, and wait. The priest will conduct the mass, give his homily, take the collection and give communion. After everyone has received communion and is back in their pews, the choir will sing two verses of “America The Beautiful”. When the first verse is done, I’ll take my trumpet and go stand outside the church in the courtyard. When they song is finished, I will play Taps. When I’m done there will be no applause, no fanfare. I’ll simply walk back into the lobby, place my trumpet back into it’s case and leave. I may get a few “Thanks yous”, or other forms of appreciation from the ushers and I’m very thankful for that, but I just want to get out of there as fast as I can.
I will have done this five times this weekend, so why do I flee like I’m leaving the scene of a crime? Because I’m barely holding it together and I don’t want to break down in public. I would hope that my playing causes people to pause for a moment and reflect on the sacrifices that our soldiers have given so many times throughout America’s history. Given the current war on terrorism, there’s plenty to think about. From Afghanistan to Iraq, there are plenty of sacrifices made that are still fresh and on the minds of many Americans. Maybe some will be reminded of 911, Kuwait, Grenada, Vietnam, Korea, or even World War II. There’s plenty to be thankful for and there’s plenty to bring you to tears.
But I can’t think of all that. It’s right there at the edge of my mind, but I have to block it out. It’s easily recalled by flipping through the rolodex of my mind, but if I let it, I won’t be able to finish the song. Taps thumps the heart strings of anyone listening, but I have to harden mine for the few minutes it takes for me to play it. I go numb and simply focus on my playing and doing justice to the song. When it’s over, all those feelings begin to rush back into my mind and my heart. Sometimes I feel like I’m taking on some of the feelings of those that listened to my playing as well. I know that sounds kinda new age, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. As I’m putting my trumpet back in it’s case, it’s like a tidal wave of emotion that pours out from the church.
So I head for the hills once I’m done. I get in my car and I drive away. It doesn’t matter where I go as long as I can find some small place of isolation. As I make my way down the road, it’s inevitable that I’ll begin crying, no matter how hard I try to fight it. For about five minutes I’ll weep as I face all the images and memories in my mind that I held back and all the emotions that I took on while packing up my trumpet. I’ll purge myself, then my tears will dry up and this wave of emotions will subside. Those feeling will still be there, just under the surface, but the storm will have passed. Then I’ll turn around and go back to the church to play Taps again.
I didn’t want to make this entry such a downer. When I started writing, I just wanted to share an insight into what it’s like for a trumpet player playing Taps. Little did I know just how depressing it would sound once the words hit the page. I’m not trying to give a Mea Culpa, it’s just that there’s more to it than just getting bummed out. Playing Taps is an honor. There’s a ritual to playing it and there is a certain amount of pride that you feel if you’ve done it right. It’s not that it’s a hard song to play, it’s that it’s a very important song and you don’t want to make a mess of it.
Memorial Day is about being thankful and not about feeling depressed. Thankful that someone else took up the responsibility of defending and protecting our nation so that we could live in peace. From World War I to the current war on Terrorism, men and women have been called to duty and many, way to many, have given the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives. For their sacrifice, we live in the most privileged nation in the world. A nation that gives me the freedom to create a silly little weblog where I can write about almost anything I want. I’m thankful that I’m afforded these luxuries and I’m thankful for my freedom. So today I’ll do my little part and show my appreciation by playing Taps after Mass. It’s the least I could do.
I know what you mean. Harelson played taps at Glenn’s funeral, and he disappeared immediately after. I asked him later where he went, and he said he needed to get away from there before he lost his composure. I still can’t hear Taps without it evoking powerful emotions. I’m glad you keep at it, too!
Thanks buddy. 🙂
Was searching the web looking for pics of soldiers playing taps. Was making a slide show about the history of Taps and came across your story. I got choked up reading because I know the exact feeling. Im also a bugler so I could relate. A very good read and also very true.