Taps Bugler: Jari Villanueva

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Celebrate 150 Years of Taps

An Introductory History of the Bugle From its Early Origins to the Present Day

The ancient Olympic Games in Greece included contests of trumpet playing in 396 B.C. These contests were judged not by musicality but by volume of sound. The instrument used by the Greek trumpeters was the Salpinx, a reported copy of which is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This Salpinx measures 157 cm. and is made of thirteen cylindrical parts made of ivory with a bell made of bronze, as is the mouthpiece.

Drawing of a Greek musician playing a Salpinx

Among famous trumpeters who participated in the games was a trumpeter named Achias (also: Archias), who won three times and to whom a column of honor was erected for his achievement. Another contestant was Herodorus of Megas, whose playing was so loud that many in the audience were stunned by the concussion. He was a giant man, slept on a bearskin, and when playing two trumpets at one time forced the audience to move back due to the force of his immense sound.

A Medieval manuscript showing angels with trumpets

Passages can be found in the Bible and in early writings of troops being marched to martial blasts and of trumpets used in ceremonial rituals. As recorded in the Book of Numbers 10.1-10, Moses was told by God to “Make two silver trumpets; of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation, and for breaking camp.” The trumpets were also to be used to sound the alarm when the people went to war, in religious ceremonies, and at feasts. As a fanfare instrument the trumpet was used in celebration of Solomon’s temple with 120 priests sounding the horns, as recorded in II Chronicles 5.12-13.

The story is well known of how Joshua had seven priests with trumpets sound and blow the walls of Jericho down (Joshua 6.4). Gideon, in Judges 7.16, also used trumpets to save Israel from the Midianites, who, in one of their forays into Palestine, had murdered his brothers. Gideon gathered 300 men and gave each a trumpet. They crept to the Midianite camp in the dark, and on signal blew all the trumpets simultaneously. The terrified Midianites fled with Gideon behind them. He captured their two kings.

There is a story that this tactic was repeated centuries later during the American Civil War. A Union army colonel, James H. Wilson, allegedly used 250 buglers during the battle of Front Royal, Virginia on September 21, 1864. The Union buglers charged the Confederate lines all blowing at the same time. The Confederates broke and ran in full flight. This could be one of those Civil War myths. If anyone has more on this please contact me.

Signal musicians used as an integral part of a military organization appear first in the Roman Legion. These musicians, called aenatores, utilized a wide variety of trumpets, and signals were sounded on these instruments which the Romans inherited from the Etruscans. The Etruscans were superb metallurgists and smiths, and must have been skilled in the making of bronze or silver trumpets. A collection of forty-three signals were used in the Roman Army.

Roman Cornu

Instruments in the Roman Legion included trumpets such as the Tuba which was conical shaped and about 117 cm. long. It was a straight horn that had a slightly flaring bell with no bends.


Roman musician with a Cornu

Another was the Buccina, which was in the shape of a “J” and was more like an animal’s horn. The Cornu was a long curved instrument made of bronze, in the shape of a “G,” which was more of a modern french horn shape and was played with the bell placed over the shoulder. The Lituus was also shaped like the Buccina, in the shape of a “J.”



The first authentic instance of a command being given by trumpet call was at the Battle of Bouvines, where Philip Augustus of France defeated Otto IV of Germany in 1214, when the trumpets sounded the signal for the victorious French charge. According to Markman in his Soldires Accidence, the different signals or calls were as follows with their modern equivalents:
-“Butte Sella” – Boots and Saddles
-“Mounte Cavallo” – To Horse
-“A la Standard” – To The Standard or Color
-“Tuquet” – Forward
-“Carga, Carga” – Charge
-“Aquet” – Watch (Sounded at night as the Tattoo and in the morning as Reveille)
The earliest notated calls can be found in Janeqequin’s composition depicting the French victory at Marignana in 1515. The piece, La Bataille, contains trumpet and drum calls. By 1544, descriptions of the specific trumpet signals used to issue commands were prepared by the British army as it waged its French campaign. These trumpet signals were used for cavalry while drums were used for the infantry.

Bendinelli Trumpet

Cesare Bendinelli of Verona, Italy was a musician and the leader of a trumpet ensemble for the Duke of Bavaria. In 1614, Bendinelli published The Entire Art of Trumpet Playing. Included in the method are military trumpet calls. The military signals – field pieces, as the German trumpeters called them – were the chief repertoire of the field, or military, trumpeters. These signals were limited mostly to only three tones of the harmonic scale. The signals have syllables under them in order for the performer to know how they are to be tongued. Bendinelli suggested pronouncing certain syllables “dran,” “hardly touching the first note and passing to the other with a kind of accent. The ‘dran’ is quite useful in the toccatas and in the [military signal] stendardo, but it is hardly used [higher] than in the striano [register]; when it is performed fast and precisely in the grosso and vulgano [parts] it sounds marvelous.”

Bendinelli lists the following military calls for the trumpet:
-“Bring up the Saddle”
-“To Horse”
-“To the Standard”
-“Call to the Skirmish”
-“Pitch Tents”
-“To Retreat”
-“To Watch”

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