By Kathy Abbott
John Schmitt in his World War I uniform is the “face” of the Doughboy Foundation’s Daily Taps, with his photo frequently use in promotional roles. But when he is not playing Taps at the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC, John is a trumpet player and assistant live sound engineer for the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast.
Daily Taps at the National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC
This month, National WWI Memorial Daily Taps bugler John Schmitt shares the story of his life-long commitment to honor Veterans and their families by sounding Taps. He is also known by his peers as one of the greatest trumpet players of his generation.
“I’m from Northeast Ohio originally. I moved to Baltimore to live with my wife about twenty years ago.
“I don’t recall the first time I sounded Taps, but I think it was in high school at a Memorial Day event. A few years later I sounded Taps at my grandpa’s funeral.
“I met Jari Villanueva (Director of Taps for Veterans, and Daily Taps at the WWI Memorial, DC) after moving to Baltimore, and applied to the State of Maryland to be a bugler with the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard. We are one of the few states, if not the only, that has a small contingent of live buglers available for military funeral honors. I currently sound Taps almost every day.
“I am a trumpet player and assistant live sound engineer for the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast. One of five Air National Guard bands, our area of responsibility extends from Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia Northeast through Maine.
“Both of my grandfathers and one grandmother all served in WWII, three uncles have also served since then.
“Sounding Taps is meaningful to me first and foremost because it is important to the veterans and their families. Music is a powerful thing. It can bring forth memories and feelings in a very unique way that are difficult to reach otherwise. When I speak with people at an event or a funeral, they often mention being transported to another time they heard Taps.
“Sounding Taps is a unique experience. It’s not a difficult call technically speaking. I would say an average trumpet player with a few years of playing experience could get through it somewhat easily. What makes it difficult is the situation. “Everyone knows what it should sound like. No one else is playing. The call carries a great deal of meaning to a great many people. The key for me is to remain connected enough emotionally to provide a meaningful performance while being disconnected just enough to facilitate a technically good performance. It can be a difficult balance to find.
“Interesting for me is the overall experience of Daily Taps (at the WWI Memorial, DC) almost as a long time scale minimalist piece of art. The repetition doesn’t seem to take away from the meaning, even though many people who hear it day-to-day may or may not take notice of it. They would probably notice more if it was missing at this point.”