Memorial Day and the Musician I Respect the Most

For Gavin and Holly

For those of us in the U.S., it’s Memorial Day weekend. Every year at this time, I’m reminded of the musician I respect the most.

It’s not the guitar player. It’s not the drummer or the bassist. It’s not even the first-chair violinist in a philharmonic orchestra.

These musicians are fine and all, but they do not hold a candle to–wait for it–yes, the trumpeter.

Now, I’m not talking about just any old trumpeter. I’m talking about the trumpeter playing “Taps” at a Memorial Day service.

Imagine yourself with a polished piece of brass, waiting for the ceremony to reach your part of the program. Keep in mind, this part follows stories and testimonies about some of the greatest men and women who have ever lived.

While listening, you inevitably compare yourself to them, the fallen soldiers, and realize your contribution to the United States of America is that you pay taxes. Well, that and you play the trumpet well enough to be asked to perform today.

Just after you’ve lowered your self-esteem to the height of an earthworm, the director of ceremonies will nod to you. You must now muster the grace of an angel with the fortitude of ten lions because your first note will need to pierce the utter silence perfectly. Come to think of it, by comparison, the silence is even quieter than silence as it comes after the three-volley gun salute.

By the way, can you think of any other musician who is cued to play by several military-issued rifles firing into the air three times?

Didn’t think so.

While the smoke slowly disappears, the scent of it reminds you of that cap gun your dad gave you for Christmas one year. You shake yourself out of the memory; all attendees’ eyes are on you, waiting.

And this is when you know without a doubt, all other musicians have it easy. Even the singer of the “Star-Spangled Banner” can ad-lib a little to cover mistakes. There is no ad-libbing “Taps.” It is one of the most recognizable tunes that you must clearly, simply, and flawlessly deliver.

The stakes are high; you are the last word. Will attendees be leaving in a reflective state, still pondering their privilege of being American citizens? Or will they be replaying every sour note and asking why, for heaven’s sake, did the head of the planning committee request you?

So this weekend, while we honor the men and women who have served and are serving, I also want to give a special shout-out to every courageous trumpeter across the nation performing “Taps.”

You are the musician I respect the most.

And I salute you.