9/11 calls local bugler into action
By Lisa Williams Ackley
HARRISON — It was right after 9/11 when Julie Stevens decided to pick up her trumpet again, after 30 years, and join Bugles Across America so she could play Taps at military funerals.
“I decided to do it, because of 9/11 — it called me to action,” said Julie.
“Bugles Across America started in 2000,” Julie explained. “Congress finally authorized, in 1995, that it be mandatory to have two uniformed military people to attend a funeral to fold the United States flag and play Taps on a CD player. Tom Day, a former Marine, decided that was just a disgrace to have fallen warriors buried to a taped rendition of Taps played on a CD player or boom box. So, in 2000, he founded Bugles Across America, and, as of today, we have over 7,500 (members) across the country.”
“So, now people can go to buglesacrossamerica.org, if they want to become a volunteer or if they want to request a bugler,” said Julie. “You do not have to be (former or current) military” in order to play Taps at funerals of military personnel, she said.
“I’m definitely from a military family,” stated Julie, who has not served in the armed forces herself. “My husband and father-in-law were in the Marines, my father Ray Stevens was in the Air National Guard and served in Korea and my stepdad was in the Air Force. Everybody around me served in the military. My husband’s father, Francis Keaveney, was a 17-year-old when he served in World War II and he died of a service-related brain tumor at the age of 48. My husband, Francis Keaveney II, served four years in the Marines and was a staff sergeant.”
When she saw the notice for Bugles Across America, right after 9/11, Julie decided to contact the organization.
“I immediately called,” said Julie. “I have a musical background. I play both the bugle and trumpet, but playing a bugle is more difficult — it takes a tough lip. So, I play a trumpet — it’s what I choose to play for Taps — it has a clearer tone.”
Both of Julie’s parents are professional musicians who played with the Portland Symphony Orchestra — her 81-year-old mother, Jo Baker, played the clarinet with the PSO, while her dad, 82-year-old Ray Stevens, played the oboe.
“My mother was first chair in the All New England Orchestra, and she taught all the woodwinds, piano and saxaphone,” said Julie. “I played piano for nine years, and I almost attended Juilliard.”
Ironically, Julie developed her talent on the trumpet, because her brother had to wear braces.
“How I got into playing the trumpet was because my older brother got braces,” said Julie, laughing. “He was really bummed. He said, ‘I love my trumpet!’ I was about nine and I wanted to go to girls’ camp. So I could afford to go, I worked my way through camp for four years playing the trumpet. When that was over, I just put it down and never picked it up again until 2001, when I found out about Bugles Across America.”
Julie, who calls herself a “jock,” loved sports and came to a point where she had to decided between playing sports or music.
“I’m a jock, and my senior year of high school I ran cross country, track and competed in ski racing,” said Julie, “and I would have had to practice six to seven hours a day.”
Julie went on to become a certified ski instructor through the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association from Arapaho Basin and she taught at Copper Mountain.
“24 little notes”
“Then, these 24 little notes came up to me,” said Julie, referring to Taps.
“It took me a good year, to get my lip back,” she said. “It numbs and gets a little shaky. You have to develop the lip, especially when you’re going to play Taps for something so precious as a veteran.”
Noting that the original arrangement of Taps was faster than we know it today, Julie said, “The bugle call to Taps was revised in 1862.”
It was during the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War that Taps was written by Major General Daniel Butterfield, Army of the Potomac, with assistance of his bugler, Oliver W. Norton. And so it was that Taps went from being an alternative to Lights Out for military personnel to becoming a solemn tribute to fallen soldiers.
Julie explained that the slower version of Taps as it is played today used the same notes as the original but “you hold this one a little longer and other notes a little shorter,” she said.
“So, the new rendition of Taps was played for the first time on a hot summer night in 1862. The previous rendition wasn’t calming,” stated Julie. “It took hold, even in to the Confederate Army, and became a mandatory call for the U.S. Army, in 1891.”
A very special event took place in May at Arlington National Cemetery, where Julie and 187 other buglers celebrated the 150th anniversary of Taps in a most moving way.
“We played for the 150th anniversary of Taps on May 19th, when 188 of us from around the United States played at Arlington National Cemetery,” Julie said. “I get goose bumps, just talking about it. We started out in unison playing in the Concert G key and then in the key of B flat. It was held at the old amphitheater where there were 200 seats set up, along with the hundreds of other people who were there in the national cemetery that day. It was beautiful, with 188 of us playing together and then we split up and went to different points in Arlington National Cemetery.”
“We each had chosen a specific spot to play Taps individually,” said Julie. “I chose the 1st Marine Division. We all started playing Taps — if they started, you waited — so, for over an hour you could hear Taps being played throughout Arlington National Cemetery. It was so incredible. Oh my God, those 24 little notes — there’s only 24 of them and it is such an honor to be able to play them for our fallen warriors.”
Julie’s mother was in attendance with Julie’s husband, Frank, at Arlington National Cemetery.
“They were pretty proud,” she said of her parents’ reaction to her taking part in such an historic event.
Moments after she played Taps at Arlington National Cemetery, Julie stood in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial chimes for a photograph to be taken. She held her trumpet to her lips, but did not play it. All of a sudden, an elderly military veteran approached her, saying, “Where’s the sound?”
“So, I backed up and facing the Memorial, I played Taps for him and the others,” said Julie. “He was an 87-year-old Navy corpsman who had played Taps over 2,000 times in his service as a Navy corpsman. So, I pulled my medal commemorating the 150th anniversary of Taps out of my pocket and I pinned it just below his service bar on his chest and gave him my medal. I told him it was for what he did for our country.”
All of the over 7,500 individuals who comprise Bugles Across America are volunteers, said Julie.
“This is all volunteer,” she said. “Again, I just feel so honored to do this, especially with my family’s military background.”
Julie is a property manager-consultant, so she pointed out that she can make her own schedule and find the time to fully participate in Bugles Across America — here in Maine from mid-June through mid-October and also in Florida from mid-October through mid-June.
Those who wish to have a bugler from Bugles Across America play at soldier’s funeral can access the website or, if it is within 100 miles of the Lake Region, they may call Julie directly at 904-687-9232.
“I want to get the word out there and let people know we’re here — especially, on the 150th, the sesquicentennial,” said Julie. “We will, generally, travel up to about a 100 mile radius.”
Said Julie, in conclusion, “They’re 24 little notes that take about a minute to play, but traveling the more than 100 miles each way for our heroes is so worth it!”