Pensacola bugler is rare live player of Taps - WKRN News 2

Pensacola bugler is rare live player of Taps

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In addition to the bugle Held also plays Taps on a trumpet. In addition to the bugle Held also plays Taps on a trumpet.
PENSACOLA, FL (WFLA) - Bryson Held is the only bugler on Pensacola Naval Air Station, and he's also an increasingly rare breed at military funerals and commemorations such as those recently played on Memorial Day.

When Held played the melancholy melody known as taps at Barrancas National Cemetery, he was a notable exception to the more common practice of using recorded versions.

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And Held is proud to play taps live.

"The electronic version is always going to be perfect," he said. "But it lacks the dignity and the respect that people deserve. There's no such thing as a perfect live performance, but I think it means so much more to people when you play taps instead of just hitting 'play."

Yet the canned recordings of taps gradually have become the standard during the past 15 years or so. National cemeteries such as Barrancas have two regular options for taps: a recording device at a covered shelter or a smaller one discreetly tucked into the bugle's bell. In the latter instance, a bugler essentially lip-syncs the minute-long tune.

The affected method in which the bugler pretends to play is somewhat stealthy. In fact, the website for a ceremonial bugle that use an inserted recording device, marketed by S&D Consulting International in New York, advises those who play the instrument to "breath normally as if actually playing the instrument. This will provide the veteran's family with a more realistic visual image of a live bugler."

Reasons for the unmanned trend are mainly financial. Reductions in the size of the military have cut into the availability of buglers. Meanwhile the pace of funerals at which rifle salutes and other formalities are requested have soared as large numbers of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam pass on.

But devotees of taps refuse to let live performances die out.

"I think it adds significant meaning to any ceremony to have a live bugler," said Jill Hubbs, a board member of the volunteer Veterans Memorial Park Foundation. The Navy granted her organization's request for Held to play at its downtown Pensacola facility during a commemoration on Sunday.

"Any time you hear taps, it stirs emotions, especially to those who have lost someone in war," said Hubbs. Her father, Donald Richard Hubbs, disappeared after his plane was shot down in Vietnam.

The 24-note bugle call known as taps is thought to have evolved from a French musical signal that notified soldiers to cease an evening's drinking and return to their garrisons. Taps became an official U.S. Army bugle call in 1874. Since then, the tune has become a popular accompaniment to lowering the flag and to signal "lights out" at the end of a command's work day.

A national volunteer group called Bugles Across America began in 2000 when Tom Day, a Chicago area Marine Corps veteran, noticed the trend toward recorded taps at ceremonies and decided to fight it. Day, who attended aviation mechanics school at Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1961, has used the Internet and word-of-mouth to recruit a network of about 6,000 horn players across the country.

Mary Brockmeier, a Pensacola bugler who joined Day's group two years ago, is a former Navy musician who said every event where taps is played should have a live performance, rather than a recording: "There's no comparison."

Held vows to do his best to honor to the tradition of live taps. As a member of the Naval Aviation Group, he practiced every day for several weeks before Memorial Day.

"He's very dedicated," said Marc Covington, a Navy petty officer first class and an aviation technical school instructor at the base who also volunteers the supervise Color Guard unit. No matter how many times he hears Held play taps, Covington said, "It always gives me goose bumps."

Held switched to the bugle from the trumpet, a similar instrument differentiated by valves that allow it more musical range, and which he played in high school and college bands. Although Held acknowledges that taps is "actually pretty simple" to play, he also recognizes that he'll be under much more pressure performing in front of several hundred people than alone in front of his barracks.

But if he hits a wrong note, Held says he'll "just keep going."

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