Keith Clark’s broken sixth note was considered the only conspicuous mistake in the otherwise ornate and grandiose ceremony. It was thought that it was a deliberate effect. It was not. Clark was present hours before the funeral procession arrived at Arlington and placed in very close proximity to the firing party to appease the television cameramen. Captain Thomas F. Reid, Commander of Co. D, First Battalion, Third Infantry, wrote in his after-action report: “The television network coordinator (Bill Jones from NBC), though generally cooperative, insisted on the placement of ceremonial troops in some areas which were convenient for television coverage, but extremely difficult for the troops concerned. An example of this in [sic] his insistence that the Buglar [sic] stand directly in front of the firing party. This resulted in the Buglar [sic] having to play Taps immediately after experiencing the muzzle blast of the firing party firing three (3) vollies [sic] into his ear, with unfortunate results.”21
It was cold that day, and because Clark did not have much of a chance to warm-up, it is not surprising that he missed a note. Also, the fact that he was playing for a worldwide audience may have had some effect on him. Tom Sherlock, Senior Historian at Arlington remarked in 2001 that Clark’s flawed sounding of Taps seemed entirely fitting. “It showed the tension that the nation felt. It’s part of the emotion. It’s when a speech is well delivered and a voice cracks because it’s an emotional time. It’s what should happen. And in that way, it almost personalized it. And it made it immortal.”22
Clark returned to the band hall at Fort Myer after the funeral to change clothes before teaching several trumpet lessons for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.23 It was a long day for him. Clark’s family watched the ceremony on television. His daughter Karen remembered, “Our family nervously waited in front of the TV during the live broadcast. When we heard Dad play Taps and break a note, we all groaned in dismay. I was only in third grade and felt total humiliation that of all the perfect playing I’d ever heard from my Dad (I don’t ever remember him making a mistake, even when just practicing!); it had to be in front of the whole world. Hours later, when he came home, Sandy and I practically jumped him and asked why he had to have made a mistake. His face paled, eyes got huge, and he said, “What mistake!?” He didn’t even know about it until he watched it on TV himself.”24
The broken note took on a life of its own. Clark reported that for weeks afterward, the same note was missed by other buglers at Arlington. “We all thought it must be psychological,” he recalled.25 Newspapers picked up on the cracked note, calling it a “tear,” and the suggestion was made that the note was missed on purpose as in a “French” version.26 The French word sanglot was also used to describe the note. Sanglot translates as “sob” and as described in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, indicates a downward resolving appoggiatura (like a grace note) sung to an appropriate sound such as “ah” or “helas.”27 How this relates to a broken note of Taps is when a bugler misses a note, they will usually overshoot it and come down to it, making a “splee-ahh” sound. A broken note is also referred to in the common jargon of trumpeters as a split, a clam, or a crack as in, “He really clammed that note” or “He split that top note.” One article “America’s Long Vigil,” which appeared in TV Guide on January 25th , 1964 described Clark as “The bugler who played the sour note during Taps .” American journalist Edward P. Morgan stated, “The bugler’s lip quivered for the Nation.”28
In the weeks that followed the funeral, many cards and letters were sent to Clark thanking him for the rendition and expressing their understanding for the missed note. Much of the mail was simply addressed to “The Bugler, Arlington National Cemetery” yet made its way to Clark’s hands. One note in particular stated, “Hold your head high…In your one sad note, you told the world of our feelings.”29
After retiring from the Army in 1966, Clark went on to a successful career of teaching, performing, and writing. He served as a music instructor at Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y. He later was a conductor and performer with southwest Florida area musical groups such as the Venice Concert Band and the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. Clark’s great love for hymnody and psalmody resulted in a large collection containing more than 9,000 volumes. It also brought him much recognition resulting in a publication, “A Select Bibliography for the Study of Hymns” published by The Hymn Society of America. The Clark Hymnology Collection, which includes thousands of hymnbooks from various American denominations and churches, as well as several well-known books on hymnody from the 17th century to the present, was acquired by Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA in 1982.30
The instrument Clark used at the funeral was a Bach Stradivarius field trumpet (bugle) pitched in the key of B-flat. Modeled after the M1892 U.S. regulation field trumpet, the U.S. Army Band had acquired these specially made bugles through the efforts of Army Bandsmen George Myers and Gilbert Mitchell from Vincent Bach during the 1950s, for use at ceremonies at Arlington. Letters from Bach describe the type of professional model he wanted to create for the buglers in the band.31
The bugle, serial number 1962-1, was purchased in April 1962 from the Bach Corporation in Mount Vernon, New York. After being used at the Kennedy funeral, the bugle was used to sound Taps at the funerals of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Army Band was later directed to turn the bugle over to the Smithsonian Institution because of its association with the Kennedy funeral. It was transferred on April 3rd , 1973 and placed on display in the National Museum of American History. In 1998 work began by the author to have the bugle moved to Arlington as part of a three-year display of bugles and bugle related materials. Through the efforts of Army Band Commander Colonel Bryan Shelburne, Band Historian Michael Yoder, Arlington Superintendent John Metzler Jr. (whose father was superintendent during the Kennedy funeral), Arlington Historian Thomas Sherlock, and the author; the bugle was moved to Arlington in the spring of 1999 where it is currently on display in the Welcome Center.
The uniform worn by Clark that day is in the Heritage Museum at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda, Florida. Keith Clark suffered an aortic aneurysm after playing the trumpet at an orchestra concert and died on January 10th , 2002. He is buried in Arlington in Section 34 near the grave of General John “Black-Jack” Pershing. Section 34 is also the final resting place for other Army Band musicians including buglers George Meyers and Patrick Maestrolo. Indeed, the broken note has become part of our American heritage as much as the crack in the Liberty Bell, which occurred, by legend, during the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835. Clark’s one note remains in our collective memory of a beloved president and a bugler’s rendition of a military honor for his commander-in-chief. Thanks to the family of Keith Clark for their help with this article. A commemoration of Keith Clark and the 50th anniversary of the sounding of Taps at the Kennedy Funeral will take place at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday November 16th , 2013 at 10am. For more information, please visit www.tapsbugler.com
Click here for recording of Taps by Keith Clark at the Kennedy Funeral If you have any questions please contact Jari Villanueva by CLICKING HERE
Jari Villanueva is considered the country’s foremost authority on U.S. military bugle calls, especially the call of Taps . He retired from the United States Air Force after serving 23 years as a bugler at Arlington National Cemetery. He was responsible for moving the bugle used at President Kennedy’s funeral from the Smithsonian Institute to Arlington, was behind the 150th anniversary ceremonies of Taps in 2012, instrumental in having Taps designated as the National Song of Remembrance, and is currently involved with Taps For Veterans, an organization that helps provide live buglers for military funerals. Villanueva is the author of “Twenty-Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions: The Story of America’s Most Famous Bugle Call” and is featured on the CD “Day is Done: Music Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Taps”. He currently serves as the Director of the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard and is commander/conductor of the Maryland Defense Force Band. He resides with his wife Heather in Catonsville, MD. His website is www.tapsbugler.com
1 Karen Clark-Moore, Daughter of Keith Clark, interview by author, 1 February 2013
2 Dan B Fleming, Ask What You Can Do For Your Country: The Memory and Legacy of John K. Kennedy (Clearwater, Florida: Vandamere Press, 2002), 72.
4 Keith Clark, personal letter to author, 8 July 1992.
5 Ernest Kay, editor, International Who’s Who in Music , (Cambridge, England: International Who’s Who in Music, 1988), 41.
6 Barbara Lee, “The Broken Note.” Washingtonian Magazine (November 1993): 48-49.
7 William Manchester, The Death of a President (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 490-497.
8 Robert M. Poole, On Hallowed Ground-The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (New York: Walker & Company, 2009), 210.
9 Manchester, 559
10 Keith Clark, telephone interview with author, April, 1999
11 Lee, 48.
12 Ibid, 49.
13 Ibid, 49.
14 Irving Lowens, “Accurate Listing of Funeral Music,” The Washington Star 1 December 1963
15 Manchester, 598.
16 Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer, Bach’s Bugles , www.bachbrass.com/bachology 2006
17 Manchester, 600.
19 Clark, letter
20 “Bugler’s Note Still Plays on Him” Associated Press 22 November 1988.
21 Thomas Reid “After Action Report, President Kennedy Funeral (Interment Ceremony)-16 December 1963” 3rd U.S. Infantry records, Old Guard Museum
22 Richard Goldstein, “Keith Clark, Bugler for Kennedy, dies at 74.” New York Times , 17 January 2002.
23 Douglas Bialecki, “Bugler Recalls JFK Funeral Taps” Vero Beach, Florida Press-Journal 22 November 1988 13A.
25 “Bugler’s Note Still Plays on Him”
26 “Behind the Scenes”, Eureka Humboldt Standard , 6 December 1963, 4.
27 Stanley Sadie, editor, The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: MacMillian Publishers Limited, 1980) Vol. 16 472.
28 “America’s Long Vigil” TV Guide (25 January 1964) 21.
29 Letters and postcards send to Keith Clark after the funeral in the possession of the Clark Family.
30 Keith C. Clark Hymnology Collection www.regent.edu/lib/special-collections/clark-hymnology.cfm 2013
31 Vincent Bach, Letters to Sergeant George Myers, 14 and 20 February 1950
The JFK Bugle
An audio file TAPS SOUNDED AT THE KENNEDY FUNERAL NOV 1963
You can view the video of Clark sounding Taps here:
Much more information about the “Broken Taps” can be found in the booklet “Twenty Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions: The story of America’s Most Famous Bugle Call”, by Jari Villanueva, visit http://www.jvmusic.net
Video of JFK Funeral
Video of entire Graveside Ceremony
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