The buglers had come from across the country for the simple ceremony. For many, including Blair, it would be their first and perhaps only opportunity to sound the famous melody on Arlington’s hallowed ground.
Blair, 43, is the state director of Bugles Across America for Virginia and the District. He is devoted to the nonprofit organization’s goal of ensuring that all veterans have a bugler to play at their funerals — in part, because he was unable to play for his own father’s memorial service in 2000. His music skills had lagged since he last played in college, he said.
Thanks to a local high school trumpet player, Blair’s family was spared having to play a recording of taps at the service. But Blair was distraught that he couldn’t sound the call for his father himself.
“I felt terrible for that,” he said. “It’s what motivated me to get back into playing.”
On Saturday, Blair and his fellow buglers sounded taps three times: twice all together at the cemetery’s Old Amphitheater, and once from various stations across the grounds, just after the noon chimes.
Blair stood in Section 34, at the grave of Frank Buckles, the last U.S. veteran of World War I to pass away. The grave was more than a thousand miles from where Blair’s father, a decorated Korean War veteran, was buried 12 years ago in Clayton, Okla. But Blair was sounding the call for him, too.
“For him and for all the heroes everywhere,” Blair said.
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The call is 24 notes long, a simple line of music that lasts only a matter of seconds. But taps, dubbed the national song of remembrance, has become one of the most recognized and evocative melodies in American culture.
Patrick Warfield, an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Maryland at College Park and a specialist in American musical culture, said taps has a “transcendent” quality that goes beyond the melody.
“Every country has their own national mythology,” Warfield said. “In the U.S., we are so connected to the notion of egalitarianism, patriotism, democracy, equality.”
Taps is, in essence, a musical representation of those values, he said.
“Taps is easy, it’s accessible, it’s uncomplicated. It doesn’t have any of the trappings of high art. There’s no sense that you have to be smart or gifted or talented to understand it, to like it, to love it.”
Jari Villanueva, who spent 23 years playing with the U.S. Air Force Band and is considered the nation’s foremost expert on taps, said the music has deep associations for many.