Bugle Calls

With a little time off from school, my Boy Scout has been turning some of his energy into trying to earn Merit Badges. He enjoys school and is a good student, and as parents we’ve tried to teach him that learning for the sake of learning can be fun. Merit Badges are perfect for this, and allow him to sample a lot of different subjects long enough to have an understanding of the basic concepts. As a new Scout, he has taken to the program eager to learn as much as he can.

In school band, he plays the Trumpet. This was a great opportunity to introduce him to Bugling! Starting with Taps and Reveille, he has now learned almost all of the Bugle calls required to earn the Merit Badge!

And of course, while he has been learning, so have I. My musical talent may be non-existent, but I’ve sure taken a new appreciation in listening to him practice each evening in our living room, and sometimes practicing outdoors at night. It is an incredibly cool feeling to hear your son play Taps at the end of the day, only to have neighbors you don’t know cheer and clap when he finishes!

Here are some fun things I wanted to share from this not-often earned Merit Badge… In fact, according to MeritBadge.com, the last year they posted data was 2007 and fewer than 700 Scouts earned this MB! From discussion groups on the Internet, I learned that it is because the Bugler must hold the Troop’s Bugler position for at least 3 months in order to earn the badge – although a Troop can have multiple Buglers in the position at the same time, many do not have a Bugler at all. Additionally, the Bugler must recite all of the calls – requiring many, many hours of practice.

In fact, early in Scouting, many units were Drum & Bugle Corps! Today’s Drum Corps International (DCI) Madison Scouts are a remnant of that bygone age. [Video] So are the Racine Scouts right here closer to home! I’m not sure about the Racine Scouts, but I’m pretty sure the Madison Scouts are still an actively chartered Venturing Unit with the Glacier’s Edge Council. Once a huge tradition in our area, Drum Corps are slowly dying out – much as the Bugling Merit Badge has been. On a personal note, I’ve had the honor & privilege to attend many DCI events as my Uncle was once quite involved in the Madison Scouts. This included the DCI World Championships in Orlando Florida in 1996!

These marching units gave rise to a new instrument – bugles that had a rotary valve so that they could play in more than one key. Today’s bugle barely resembles the BSA or Army bugles of old however. These highly developed instruments are made to sound like a variety of instruments from French Horns to high brass! And one of the oldest surviving manufacturers of bugles is right here in our area – Getzen Manufacturing – in Elkhorn. And yes, I’ve contacted them and they’re happy to give Boy Scouts a tour of the factory and how brass instruments are made. If you call, ask for Dave Surber, Sales Manager. If you don’t want to visit in person, they have some very neat videos posted on their website.

Bugling as a Merit Badge was almost cancelled a few years ago due to the low numbers of boys earning it. Well, it WAS cancelled – but due to public outcry – it was brought BACK! Today there is NO book for this Merit Badge. The requirements are put in the pages at the end of the Music Merit Badge in the latest series of books.

Taps, an iconic bugle call, will soon be celebrating its 150th Birthday! A special website, Taps 150, exists to honor America’s Most Famous Bugle Call. It not only signals “Lights Out” but has become tradition to be played for military honors at many Veterans funerals. A LOT more information is available from TapsBugler.com. Jari Villanueva also has information on the effort to pass official legislation in regards to Taps becoming the official Song of Rememberance, and on Bugles Across America – an effort to help find live Buglers to play honors at military funerals where the armed forces do not have enough buglers.

In learning his calls, my son found that the best way to practice was to hear someone else play the call repeatedly, and then try to repeat it. There are apps for both the Apple iOS and Android that give you great practice examples to play along with. The US Army Bands also have a wonderful website with sheet music to print, and MP3s to download.

Finally, I have to say that I really appreciate music as part of the Scouting tradition. At the Gateway Camporee a few weeks ago a young man started playing the Marquette “Go Marquette” song. My son picked up his trumpet and played On Wisconsin. They went back and forth like that several times and everyone got a big kick out of it. In my son’s patrol we have a talented young man who occasionally brings his guitar with him when we camp. If there is one thing even more enjoyable than sitting around a beautiful campfire on a cool evening, it is the addition of a well played guitar. On his website, Mr. Villanueva points out that the “echo Taps*” tradition may have been started when armies on opposing hills each played Taps to sound the end of the day, and the sound carried from camp to camp. In my mind, I imagine the Buglers reaching out to one another – calling a truce for the evening through song.

Rest with Peace in your hearts, my friends. For all who serve, for those who seek to do their Good Turn Daily, may the Bugle ring long and true!

*this is an MP3 downloaded from the US Army Bands website that I modified in Audacity. I do not profess any musical talent.

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