150 Years Of ‘Taps’

Article courtesy of: NPR, Published May 18, 2012

This Saturday, 200 buglers will assemble at Arlington National Cemetery to begin playing “Taps,” a call written 150 years ago this year.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jari Villanueva, a bugle player, says he started out as a Boy Scout bugler at about age 12. He went on to study trumpet at the Peabody Conservatory before being accepted into the United States Air Force Band — where one of his duties over the next 23 years was to sound that call at Arlington National Cemetery.

Villanueva says “Taps” has taken him on a wonderful journey. “During the Civil War,” he says, “in late June and July of 1862, the Union Army is camped all along the James River, and especially at a place called Harrison’s Landing. Within that big army is a brigade commanded by Gen. Daniel Butterfield. Butterfield doesn’t like the regulation call for ‘lights out’ — that call, like most calls in the Army manual at that time, was derived from the French.

“So Butterfield calls his brigade bugler,” continues Villanueva, “a 22-year-old private by the name of Oliver Wilcox Norton. Butterfield gives him music to a new call, and asks him to play it that night. The next morning, Norton is approached by different buglers from other brigades who asked, ‘What was that you played last night?’ He then furnishes copies of the music to the other buglers, and pretty soon everyone is now sounding this new call” — the 24 notes of “Taps.”

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