The Last Post presents challenges for buglers

Battle of Britain ceremony

Todd Farrell, left, plays at September’s Battle of Britain ceremony.
Photo: Jeff Gaye

Jeff Gaye

The focal point of a Remembrance Day ceremony is the two minutes’ silence in honour of those who have died. A bugler sounds The Last Post to signal the beginning of the silence, and The Rouse (“Reveille”) to signal its end.

For trumpet players, The Last Post is not especially difficult, at least technically. But its importance, and the conditions under which it is often played, can bring special challenges.

WO Bruno Godere of the CAF Central Band is an accomplished trumpet player. He has performed extremely difficult music as a soloist and an ensemble player in concert settings around the world. He approached his bugling responsibilities at this year’s national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa with all the attention he would devote to a concert performance.

“Whether it’s November 11 in Ottawa, or a smaller gathering at a veteran’s funeral, The Last Post is always important,” he said. “I begin preparing days in advance. I always practice it to make sure I have it in my mind when it’s time to play.”

Todd Farrell, a civilian volunteer with the 4 Wing Band, says the emotion of the situation presents special challenges. “The hardest ones have been playing at friends’ funerals, or for vets that I have known personally,” he said. Even at a funeral for a stranger, the trumpeter is not immune from the emotion in the room, and that can affect their playing.

“It’s a wind instrument, so if you’re choking up in any way, that gets broadcast through the horn,” he said.

But he says the emotional factor can also make for a more meaningful performance. “You have to respect tradition, but the way it’s written allows the player some licence. I’ve been at services where a good Last Post had everyone in tears. It’s extraordinarily powerful.”

WO Godere agrees. He says players will interpret the call differently, but “you have to approach it with sombre humility. It is for all the vets and for their fallen comrades.

“I try to put some sensitivity into it. Some drama and intensity,” he said. “It tells a story by itself.”

Playing outdoors in the cold adds to the challenge. The cold air can affect the instrument’s pitch, the moisture in the player’s breath can condense and even freeze in the horn, and the player’s facial muscles can stiffen up. Farrell and WO Godere say players have techniques to mitigate the cold, but it remains a trumpet player’s worst enemy.

“November 11 had extra pressure because of the VIPs in attendance, the large crowds, the TV cameras et cetera,” WO Godere said. “But it was more stressful because of the cold.”

The Last Post was one of many bugle calls soldiers of old had to recognize in camp. Its original purpose was to signal that the duty officer had completed his evening inspection of the camp, and that silent hours had begun. The Rouse was sounded in the morning to wake the soldiers up.

While it has no direct religious significance, the ceremonial sequence of Last Post – silence – Rouse has parallels to Christian teachings of life, death and resurrection. This complements the Remembrance liturgy used in British and Commonwealth countries’ armed forces.

Every trumpet player in every military band can expect to play The Last Post at some time in their career. While it doesn’t require virtuoso talent to play it, it can be hard to play it well.

And WO Godere says no matter the occasion, it’s important to play it well.

“No Last Post deserves more or less attention than any other,” he said.