Chuck Tewksbury became enchanted with Taps when he was a young man at Boy Scout camp in Massachusetts. He found the slow “Day is Done” melody soulful and stirring as it echoed across the fields every night before lights out. He made it a point to learn to play it on his own instrument, the trombone. When he served in the Navy on a ship in the Pacific, he was disappointed that, in order to maintain quiet and not reveal the ship’s location, the Taps were spoken over the loudspeaker instead of being played on a bugle. “Now all hands hear this!” the announcer would say. “Lights out! Sleep well.” “That was not very comforting,” he joked at his well-attended performance and presentation on the history of Taps at the Lodge at Old Trail on April 12. We were all blessed to hear him play the musical version that day.
Taps can be played on a bugle—a small trumpet with no valves or keys—or a trumpet or a trombone, which uses a sliding bone to alter the pitch. The tune was written in 1862 by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia (near Richmond). Previously, the end of the day had been signaled by firing three shots, but it soon became clear that a bugle call was safer, which would be followed by three drumbeats—hence the name, “taps.” Dissatisfied with “Scott’s Tattoo,” the existing bugle call then in use, Butterfield decided to rework it. His 24-note tune quickly spread throughout the army, and was eventually officially adopted as the “extinguish lights” signal. Some referred to it as “Butterfield’s Lullaby.” The haunting melody is currently played at all military funerals, flag ceremonies, and other memorial occasions. There is a monument commemorating the origin of Taps at Berkeley Plantation—the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his son William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States—which sits on Harrison’s Landing Road near the site of its composition.
“Taps comprises two levels,” Tewksbury explained. “The first is played on an open trombone, and the second repetition is played with a mute, as if echoing from the distant mountains.” We were treated to both that day, played slowly and with feeling as they should be. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. “It is important to celebrate and express appreciation for the men and women who have given their lives to protect the freedom of our country,” Tewksbury pointed out. “It is an emotional experience.” Although rarely sung, the lyrics run “Day is done, gone the sun/ From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies!/ All is well, safely rest;/ God is nigh.” Don Gaines of the Lodge Family Singers led the audience in singing two patriotic hymns, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America,” to open and close the program.
Chuck Tewksbury was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, and played trombone in the Lowell High School marching band as well as in a jazz combo called The Katzenjammers (after a comic strip about a pair of cut-ups popular from 1900 to 1950; the name also means ‘wailing cats’ in German). After a long career in textile technology, he and his wife Skip moved to Charlottesville, where he was the director of the Institute of Textile Technology, retiring in 1994. He has played in the Senior Center’s Second Wind Band for twenty years. One night last year, Lodge resident Gerry Baer heard him playing Taps on the floor below, and asked him to play “76 Trombones” at the Lodge Family Singers’ performance of selections from The Music Man. By popular demand, this octogenarian now plays Taps every evening after dinner, either in the Lodge lobby or outside by the flagpole in nice weather. Sadly, our dear friend Gerry passed away in January of this year, but I’m sure she was with us in spirit for this moving performance.
Tewksbury and Skip have also joined the 16+-member Singers, which meet every Monday morning and perform at the Lodge on special occasions as well as at Hospice House and Mountainside Senior Living. They are directed by Susan Renard and accompanied by June Andrews of the Crozet Methodist Church. They recently performed Broadway tunes from My Fair Lady and Oklahoma. “I’m thinking of doing “silly songs like ‘Mairzy Doats’ for our next show,” said Renard, “and we always include a singalong.” The choir is only one of myriad activities available to Lodge residents. “This is not a rest home,” Tewksbury confided with a wink.