The solemn sound of a solitary bugler is often heard at a military funeral. But have you ever questioned where the melancholy tune originated? The music of mourning, as Taps has been called, started out as a humble bugle call during the Civil War called ‘Extinguish Lights’.
It Started with Napoleon
Around 1809, a French bugle call became a personal favorite of Napoleon. This particular call is one that would be sounded at the end of the day for soldiers to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, Union Army Bridadier General Daniel Butterfield felt that the call was a little too formal to be sending his troops off to bed, so he eventually revised the call.
Only 24 Notes
While General Butterfield didn’t technically compose the simple 24 notes that make up ‘Taps’, he did commission the changes that led to this historic music. His 22-year old brigade bugler by the name of Oliver Wilcox Norton worked with General Butterfield to make the changes; morphing the melody into that which we hear at a military funeral even today.
The Meaning of Taps
To military buglers, the piece has extraordinary significance when played. The bugler has the responsibility of representing the entire country in saying farewell to someone who has served – possibly someone who has given their life for their country. This can be a difficult and emotional task for those who do the duty, as not only are there personal emotions to deal with but also the ongoing challenges of the weather – extreme cold, extreme heat, snow, rain – all of these factors can alter their performance.
Most Well-Known Lyrics
While the original lyrics were not very inspiring, the currently-accepted lyrics can bring peace and acceptance to families during a difficult time. While not truly “official” lyrics, these are incredibly fitting for a military funeral.
Day is done, gone the sun.
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky . . .
All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.
As a tune, ‘Taps’ transitioned from “lights out” to “eternal rest” during the Civil War, when a captain named John Tidball did not want to give away their position to the enemy by firing volleys over the grave of a fallen soldier, so instead he asked the company bugler to play ‘Taps’. This was around 1862, and the tune has been representative of a military funeral since that time.
If you have additional questions about how to appropriately stage a military funeral, check with your funeral director at Mountain View Funeral Home. The friendly and caring staff is well-versed on military funerals as well as the different needs for traditional funerals.