A Day in the Life of a Bugler

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ani Berberian
  • The United States Air Force Band
Whether inspiring audiences across the land during community relations tours, adding decorum at high-level protocol events or positively connecting with the global community through the education outreach program, the members of The U.S. Air Force Band wear many different hats. The one mission that is regarded as especially meaningful is paying tribute to our nation’s fallen heroes. 

At any given time, there are approximately ten buglers who are prepared to sound “Taps” during funerals held at Arlington National Cemetery. These buglers are members of the Ceremonial Brass, the official ceremonial ensemble of the U.S. Air Force, and one of six performing flights that form The U.S. Air Force Band.

The Ceremonial Brass’ history can be traced back to 1964 when the U.S. Air Force Headquarters Command Band was incorporated into The U.S. Air Force Band as a ceremonial unit. In 1985, it became an all brass and percussion ensemble and was renamed the Ceremonial Brass. Today, this premier group is responsible for over 1,000 ceremonial performances each year. Members also perform in smaller chamber groups at formal military and civilian functions, education outreach events, and local concert venues.

The primary mission of the Ceremonial Brass aligns with the Band’s mission in honoring those who have served, inspiring American citizens to heightened patriotism and service, and connecting with the global community on behalf of the U.S. Air Force and the United States.

Ceremonial Brass Flight Chief and Drum Major, Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Valadie adds further insight into the mission of the Ceremonial Brass. He states, “We honor the sacrifice that service members and their families have made to the country by providing musical support to significant events such as promotions, retirements, and most importantly funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. We perform at arrival ceremonies for foreign dignitaries to help develop connections between our nations and support meetings or conversations with our military and civilian leaders. 

Additionally, we also perform at events and on national broadcasts such as the Super Bowl, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and NBC’s TODAY to represent all men and women of the U.S. Air Force and inspire patriotism around national holidays.”

For the families of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery, the impact that a live bugler can have in sounding “Taps” is immense and poignant. 

Trumpeter Master Sgt. Matthew Misener illustrates, “I hope that I can help honor and mourn the loss of their loved one. It is very common to see people wiping away tears after “Taps” is sounded. It is both sad and beautiful. It is both anguish and joy. I truly think it is one of the most important jobs a trumpet player can do.”

For the bugler, sounding the 24 notes of “Taps” lasts approximately one minute. However, preparation for this pinnacle moment involves many hours and days, in addition to the physical, mental, and spiritual groundwork. 

Misener explains, “When I got the job with the Ceremonial Brass, my father told me, ‘You might play Taps at Arlington National Cemetery thousands of times, but that family only gets to hear it once. Make it special for them.’ I have tried to do that every time I sound Taps. It is a fitting and joyously sorrowful moment. After the three volleys from the firing party, I always say a prayer. I pray that my sound will be beautiful, that I will not chip any notes, and that my phrasing will be impeccable. I have played in wind chills below zero, and I have played when the heat index was over 105. It is difficult to play beautifully when the weather can be so drastic. Under those circumstances, that prayer takes on special meaning.”

Not only can the weather conditions be unpredictable and grueling, but the bugler will inevitably  perform for multiple funeral missions per day. 

Misener explains, “I have done as many as six in one day over Christmas break where there were no other buglers available. I remember a day fondly when the weather was warm for that time in December. The wreaths on the graves made for a beautiful and poignant day.” 

The sounding of “Taps” at Arlington can be a life-changing experience for the bugler. In their time of service, many buglers can recall one or two extraordinary moments. Misener is no exception. He recalls, “Very rarely does a fallen member not have any family members that are in attendance. At one funeral a few years ago, it was me, the honor guard, and the Arlington National Cemetery representative. It was a perfect day, the temperature was just right and there was no wind. It just so happened that another family was walking by the graveside at the exact moment that the firing party sounded. They all turned and stood still, one of the men saluted, they then witnessed me sounding Taps and bowed their heads. That is the level of respect paid to our fallen service members. Everyone understands that this is a solemn moment.”