Editor's note: Contributing writer Rebecca Goldfield gives us her story behind "Taps," as well as an actual letter to Keith Clark, as well as some photo references used by artist Paul Zdepski (notice JFK is in one of them).
My husband was in The US Army Band, so I’ve heard lots of stories over the years about that experience. Most of them are pretty amusing, like that of the colonel who displayed his musical naiveté by complaining that while the band sounded fine, he wished the trombones would synchronize their slides so that they all went in and out in unison (much to the merriment of the musicians, who well understood that were multiple parts being played).
The story he related of Keith Clark (my husband was privileged to perform during the funeral of President Kennedy), however, was the most poignant of the tales he told me. There were things I wanted to include which didn’t quite fit: some of the actual letters Keith received from the public--in a true outpouring of gratitude and empathy. One nine year old boy in a grade school band sent a letter of encouragement to Clark. “Anybody is bound to make a tiny mistake in front of millions opon millions of people” he wrote and then confided, “you should here some of the things I play.” Clark’s widow was generous enough to supply me with those letters, along with many photos, family records and her own memories.
I also wanted to include the fact that when Clark died in 2002, he, like JFK, was buried in Arlington cemetery, to the strains of “Taps”. That particular performance was flawless, but of course the bugler suffered nothing of the ferocious pressure and poor conditions Clark had endured. “A lot of people can sing in the shower”, Clark once said. His extraordinary grace under pressure is at the heart of this story.
In doing the research (and now this is the writer in me, speaking) I was struck by the simple beauty of the verse. I’d heard the words hundreds of times and given them no thought whatsoever. But now, as I read the words, really read them, I found an unexpected sense of comfort in what seemed as much a prayer as a poem. Here are the first 3 verses:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.