Port Deposit bugler brings tears with ‘Taps’
— When some people listen to Edward Webb play his bugle, they get tears in their eyes.
That’s understandable considering that they are listening to Webb’s rendition of “Taps,” a solemn bugle call reserved primarily for military funerals and flag ceremonies — like the one he played Tuesday night at American Legion MasonDixon Post No. 194 in Rising Sun.
“Taps” is Webb’s signature song, one that he clearly knows by heart and plays with heart. Webb, who estimates that he has intoned that song thousands of times in the past 64 years, is a gifted bugler who delivers emotion with each and every note that he blows on his silver, valveless horn. “Taps” is a short, plaintive piece comprised of 24 notes.
“My job is to make grown people cry,” said Webb, who performs “Taps” as a member of Post 194’s honor guard and as a contracted bugler with the Maryland National Guard honor guard. “If I get tears, I did my job.”
Born and raised in Havre de Grace, Webb, 77, started playing the trumpet as a fifth-grade band student at Havre de Grace Elementary School. As for the bugle, which is the trumpet’s cousin, one in which notes are created solely with varied lip compressions and air flow, he learned that instrument on his own.
He was drawn to military calls on the bugle because his father, the late Harvey Webb, served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring with an honorable discharge.
“I taught myself most of the military calls, “Revelry,” “Taps” and others, and I got to be pretty decent,” Webb recalled.
Word got out that Webb was quite proficient with “Taps,” to the point that he was called upon to play that bugle call during military
events, including the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Millard Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.
“They would come and get me out of school, so I could play ‘Taps’ at military funerals,” Webb said, noting that it started when he was in the seventh grade and increased in frequency throughout his high school career, which ended when he graduated from Havre de Grace High School in 1958.
Even at such a young age, Webb could appreciate the reverence of those ceremonies and his key role in them.
“When you’re singled out to be part of it, you feel proud. You want to play it correctly and evoke emotion,” he said.
After high school, Webb’s bugle playing of “Taps” and other military calls continued while serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1958 through 1962.
The same is true when Webb served with the Army National Guard from 1966 to 1967; again with the Army National Guard from 1975 through 1978 and with the Air Force National Guard from 1978 through 1990, when he retired with a total of 21 years of military service.
Amid his stints in the military reserves, Webb worked for 37 years as an inspector with a Havre de Grace company that manufactured aerospace products.
He retired in 1999, freeing him up for more family time. Webb has lived in Port Deposit with his wife, Muriel, since 1963, and they have an adult daughter, Glenda, two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.
His retirement also freed him up for more bugle playing, which he has done primarily with the Maryland National Guard honor guard since 2001, along with volunteer appearances with area veterans organizations.
Webb has been playing “Taps” at military funerals in Maryland an estimated 300 times annually for the past 15 years, mostly with the Maryland National Guard.
“I’m out there quite a bit,” Webb said, outlining, “It varies. Sometimes I’ll do three military funerals in a day. Other days, I may do only one. Some days, none.”
Webb, who faithfully practices his bugle every morning, is aware that his playing of “Taps” causes some people to weep amid the solemness of military funerals and other ceremonies.
But what impact does his bugling of “Taps” have on him?
“I’ve been doing it so long that it doesn’t affect me. It never has because I’m more focused on the notes and the tone of those notes,” Webb said, explaining, “You play ‘Taps’ from the heart, but you’re honoring the veterans who have earned that respect. You want to play it well.”
The same clinical perspective is there when Webb hears other buglers play that military call.
“I listen to how they play it, how they phrase it,” Webb said.
Edward Webb bugles “Taps” during the Memorial Day ceremony at American Legion Mason-