Funerals are not something I attend for fun. The two words are, after all, pretty much antonyms. It is a fact that often funerals are the only occasion at which I get to see many of my relatives these days, and that is enjoyable. Still, funerals are among the most solemn occasions we experience in life, and generally are very sad occasions.
To say funerals are not particularly enjoyable is not to deny the fact that at times they are exceptionally stirring. I will admit that rarely do I attend one at which military honors are given when I am not moved to tears – at least a little misty-eyed. Generally the military personnel who handle such events do a first-class job, and when the officer kneels before the widow and pays his respects on behalf of the nation, it is a touching moment indeed.
Often at military funerals Taps will be played, and that will really put a shiver down my spine. The bugler typically will be stationed some distance from the grave, and since it is in an outdoor setting, there frequently is an echo of each phrase of the call. If the bugler really knows what he is doing, he will allow each phrase to sort of die out into the horizon before he moves on to the next one.
I was never in the military, but I actually got to play Taps at a funeral once while I was in high school. My main instrument in band was the French horn, but in marching season I would play trumpet or baritone horn. One day the principal contacted the band director and said that someone had called and requested a bugler for a military funeral at the cemetery there alongside Highway 10. I was glad to comply, although I was a little nervous about botching it at such a solemn occasion. I used a trumpet instead of a bugle, but the effect is almost the same. As I recall, I escaped without any major flubs, which relieved my mind greatly. I also remember that it was on a very cold, wintry day, which definitely does not make the playing of brass instruments any easier.
Perhaps I am in the minority in this opinion, but there is one recent trend in funerals to which I am unalterably opposed. That is the using of fake instruments which have Taps pre-recorded, so that the call is not actually played, but only played back. It has a “tinny,” very unsatisfying sound. I recognize that, just as when I was drafted to play, buglers are not always easy to find; and the military probably use records played over loudspeakers these days instead of the real thing. But it just is not inspiring. What ought to be a highlight of the whole ceremony instead ends up being a let-down.
If there is any music at my graveside, I would prefer that it be some old hymn with sound and solemn lyrics. But if any of you gets a wild notion to “play” Taps on a phony bugle when I die, even though I was never in the military, just take a deep breath and the urge will soon pass. I had just as soon have nothing if that is the only option.
Or, come to think of it, a few years ago I wrote a piece of music called The Ugly Husband Blues. It might be of some comfort to my wife to realize that she won’t have to endure looking at me any longer, so someone might sing that. We homely old men have reason to be glad that our wives’ vision gets worse as they grow older. Just let them live on memories of when we were dashing and at least a little closer to handsome.