After nearly 20 years, Alberta Duncan is being asked to set aside her trumpet and instead play an electronic version of “Taps” at veteran services and funerals where the song is typically performed.
Contacted Friday, Duncan confirmed that she was recently informed that the Highland County Honor Guard has asked her not to play the live version of “Taps” anymore.
“They do not want me to play live ‘Taps,’” she said. “They want me to hold that stupid electronic bugle.”
Duncan said she was told that she hits too many flat notes, and that her 53-year-old trumpet is too old and worn-looking.
“I’ve made some mistakes,” she said, “and it’s not the best looking trumpet that there is.” But she said she is “beyond hurt” that she has been asked to stop playing.
Along with playing “Taps” on the trumpet, Duncan often sings patriotic songs at events, and serves as a fundraiser and promoter for the Honor Guard.
Duncan is not a veteran, but she has been an honorary member – “or ornery member,” she jokes – since she played “Taps” at the funeral of a friend’s father and was asked by veterans officials at the time to keep playing with the Honor Guard, along with performing at various patriotic ceremonies.
“I might make a mistake or two,” she said. But she recently had her trumpet thoroughly cleaned. She said the person who performed the task remarked that the instrument was in surprisingly good shape for its age.
Honor Guard Commander David Bays confirmed Friday that a motion was made, seconded and passed at a recent meeting to replace Duncan’s live version of “Taps” with the electronic bugle.
“I’m not the one who brought it up,” he said.
An electronic bugle looks like a typical trumpet but plays a recorded version while someone holds it to their lips to imitate playing.
Bays said the electronic bugle’s version has “perfect pitch” and is particularly moving, bringing tears to the eyes of listeners. He said the families of fallen soldiers deserve the utmost respect at their funeral services, including pitch-perfect music and rifle salutes that fire their volleys with precision.
Bays said he appreciates everything Duncan does for the Honor Guard, and that seven years ago – when he said some had suggested replacing her – “I defended her.” But he said he agrees now that it’s time for a change.
Honor Guard member David Pinney said Friday he disagrees. He said he was “one of the few” who voted against the motion to replace Duncan’s live “Taps” with an electronic version.
Pinney, who is quartermaster with VFW 9094 and chaplain with AMVETS, said Duncan does not just serve the veterans year-round, but “the whole community.”
“She has a God-given talent,” said Pinney, both in singing and instrumental playing.
While “Taps” is technically a “bugle call” and not a song, words have been written over the years to accompany the tune. Pinney recalled a ceremony in Greenfield three years ago for a World War II Army nurse, where a family member asked that the words to “Taps” be recited. Instead, Duncan sang the words a cappella.
“The family’s response was wonderful,” said Pinney.
“She might make a squeak on the trumpet now and then, but it doesn’t bother me, personally, and I don’t think it bothers the families,” said Pinney. “She puts her heart into it. I’m a supporter of Alberta.”
Duncan said she laughed when she was told her trumpet looks too old and decrepit.
“I said, ‘Have you guys looked in the mirror lately?’”
Duncan, who plays with the Southern State community band, said she refuses to pretend to play an electronic bugle. She plans to attend the next Honor Guard meeting.
“That meeting was theirs, the next meeting is mine,’ she said.
“I’ve brought many a tear to people’s eyes” with her rendition of “Taps,” she said. Duncan, who now lives in Centerville, said she makes no money from her participation, other than asking for $5 for gas, even though the Honor Guard policy says she is entitled to $20, she said.
“I love my veterans in Highland County. I love all this stuff,” said Duncan.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.