Playing taps is a solemn duty. He wanted to do it right.

Published: 27 May 2024

By Michael Laris
via the Washington Post newspaper website

Gekker header image

Dressed in a WWI uniform, Chris Gekker plays taps at the World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Monday. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Chris Gekker has played the trumpet — and taps — for decades. But it carries special resonance on Memorial Day.

Chris Gekker stepped up to the flag flying at half-staff, trumpet tucked against a borrowed wool uniform. Before him was the World War I Memorial and its lines of poetry on a granite wall.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

He raised the mouthpiece, took a pause. Then a breath.

The son and grandson of immigrants who fought for America in two World Wars was about to perform taps — the 24 most solemn and beautiful notes he ever plays.

Gekker is a professor of trumpet at the University of Maryland School of Music. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Gekker has been with this instrument for 62 of his 70 years. He’s recorded with it, taught with it, shared it with his music-loving father before his father was gone too soon.

He thinks of taps as eight groups of three notes each. Fairly simple.

But sometimes, he says, “simple things are not that easy to do.”

Taps has a sacred presence in Washington. Its soulful melody can be heard dozens of times a day at Arlington National Cemetery — after the three sharp rifle volleys at military funerals and after wreaths are placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Daily soundings of taps began three years ago at the World War I Memorial, just after the partially completed monument opened to the public. The work will be completed after a 58-foot bronze sculpture is installed, starting in July.

The Doughboy Foundation, a nonprofit group helping operate the memorial, plans to keep buglers and trumpeters performing taps there at 5 p.m. every day in perpetuity. Foundation officials say a bugler has been absent only one day, when a nearby protest in January prevented him from reaching the spot.

By the time Gekker got the call, he had spent decades with the weight of taps.

He played it for families of the victims after terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. He played it on the edge of a cliff in the Teton mountains for the family of a man who fell to his death nearby. For years, he played it five times each Memorial Day weekend at a Catholic church in Bethesda, seeing the tears of those in the pews when he was done.

It has not become easier.

Read the entire article on the Washington Post website.
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