Echo Taps is a custom of sounding the call with two buglers standing at some distance apart to achieve an echo effect. Although a popular way of sounding Taps, it is not correct protocol to have two players sound Taps. Arlington National Cemetery does not permit Echo Taps to be performed during services in the cemetery. The Defense Department does not authorize the use of Echo Taps at military funerals.
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This idea of sounding Echo Taps may have started right at the creation of the new call, when Union buglers sounded it for the first time at Harrison’s Landing (now Berkeley Plantation). Confederates across the James River repeated the new sound, thus introducing it into both armies. As the call grew in popularity, it was not uncommon to hear the sound of Taps being sounded at the same time each evening by buglers in other companies, thereby giving an echo effect. The playing of the echo has been around for some time. I have found references to it in some newspaper articles in the first part of the 20th century. It was written into one one manual-the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps Manual of 1959. Notice that it has the incorrect rhythms in the third and fourth measures. This version was dropped from later editions of the manual. One of the USAF field bands had it on their website for a while until it was removed. Unfortunately, their recorded version is still available on some CDs.
Plus, it use in Hollywood movies has contributed to the practice.
However, the call is meant to be sounded by a solo bugler and really should be that way. I personally have nothing against the playing of Echo Taps at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies but don’t think it should be performed as part of Military Funeral Honors.
ONCE IS ENOUGH, THANK-YOU
I heard a solo bugler play a version of the echo at a Memorial Day ceremony a few years back. He finished a phrase then turned in another direction and played the echo. Not only did it sound funny, it looked ridiculous with the choreography. The idea of sounding two complete (sounding it once, then walking a distance to sound it again) Taps seems to be bad form. Not only does it prolong the ceremony it is not part of tradition.
If you are going to play Echo Taps, For Goodness sake, REHEARSE IT before you do it. That way you will find out:
1. How far you need to stand apart (it defeats the purpose of Echo Taps if you have the players standing next to each other)
2. If you are in tune with each other (good luck on that!)
3. How you are going to phrase the piece.
4. If you have matching instruments (ever hear a Bb and a G bugle try to do the echo? yikes!)
Think about the message you are sending when you do the Echo Taps at a funeral. Many organizations that provide volunteer buglers are based on the premise that there are not enough live buglers to perform at veteran funerals, yet there are those who would use two buglers at a service? Is there then a funeral that has to settle for a recording because of the manpower requirements needed for TWO buglers?
My concern is that Echo Taps is not appropriate for funerals. That’s my personal feeling based on tradition.
Tradition is something that I feel strongly about. Using live buglers at funerals is something that is dying thanks to recordings, lack of good players and a strong system to support the use of live players. Musicians seem to have the knack for shooting themselves in the foot. Look at the professional world today and you will see live music being used less and less. From Broadway shows to club dates to wedding bands live music is being replaced by virtual musicians.
Want an example that relates to bugling? Look at the use of buglers at racetracks today. Very few tracks still use a live bugler. And what have buglers done? Trying to jazz up the First Call (Call To The Post if you will) has made the First Call a joke. Trying to “improve” on traditional call makes it become a rather poor shadow of its great past.
When was the last time you saw a racetrack bugler use the correct instrument (a posthorn) and wear the correct outfit?
However I know that stopping performances of Echo Taps is like trying to stop the darn Taps Myth. If it is going to performed, at least practice it!
I along with several other buglers were at a Civil War reenactment and decided that at the time for lights out we would recreate how it probably sounded like echoing in camps. We were spread out over a large area in various camps and after the Brigade Bugler (me) started the call the closest bugler would wait till it was halfway done then started the call without trying to echo phrase for phrase. This went down the line with 5 buglers each sounding the call on his own and the effect was chilling!
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