A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Blogging on Bugling

This morning, friend Maggie and I took a ride to New Haven to visit the Foundry Music Company. Maggie's a musician who can drop hundreds of dollars in a place like that and call it business expenses. I'm just a person who can be talked into going on a random ride on a beautiful day. Especially if the destination lands us within a few blocks of the world's best pizza.

We had an hour on the meter, and Maggie had no trouble using it up at Foundry Music. I'm not very musical, but I had no trouble amusing myself. I found an interesting book, "Bugle Signals, Calls & Marches for Army, Navy, Marine Corps Revenue Cutter Service & National Guard," by Captain Daniel J. Canty, U.S. Army, Retired. From this little book, the size of a postcard and 34 leaves thick, I learned more in twenty minutes than I've accumulated in the last six decades about bugling.

I learned that to be a bugler, it is not necessary to read music (although of course it's very helpful). It's possible to learn "by air." The real requisites for a good bugler are 1) an ear for music 2) knowledge of proper breathing 3) medium sized lips and 4) good front teeth.

This little book contains many familiar and not-so-familiar marches: "You're in the Army Now," "Marching Through Georgia," "The Blue and the Gray," "The Drunken Soldier," "Chicken on the Fence." Also sound-offs: parade calls originally supposed to heighten the troops' spirits before marching off to battle.

Most interesting to me, however, were the signals and calls. Although bugle calls are mostly ceremonial in nature now, historically they were a method of issuing commands over distances greater than that over which a human voice could be heard. That is to say, they are a musical language.

Drill signals tell the military unit how to move: to the right, to the rear, trot double time, double section left oblique. Reveille tells the unit to get up; mess call, to eat; tattoo, to stop drinking and get ready for bed. The navy has the most interesting calls: clean bright-work, knock off bright-work, point guns abeam, man overboard.

Man overboard?? I wonder about that one. When a man falls off the boat, first somebody has to go round up the bugler, and then the bugler has to signal everyone, and then people rush over and help? If you fall off a navy ship while the bugler's in bed, pray there are no sharks.

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