When I was in high school, way back in the middle of the last century, I bought two musical instruments at a local secondhand store. For a total of seventy-five cents I got a ukulele and—of all things—a bugle, both made of “genuine” plastic. The uke was a cheap “Carnival” brand but the bugle was sturdy Army surplus. Sadly, both are long gone from my various collections.
I strummed at the uke, learned the three or four chords that are all that are really necessary, had some fun, and set it aside until college. In those early days, however, I was in the high school band (trombone) and knew enough about tooting a horn to be able to play the bugle. Sorta . . .
We all know that with a ukulele and its four strings and dozen or so frets, one can play over fifty distinct notes and innumerable chords. The bugle, on the other hand, is one of the simplest of musical instruments.
It has no valves and pitch changes are achieved by “embrouchure,” that is to say, lip control. Consequently, the bugle is limited to only five notes, middle-C, G, C, E, and G—the basis for the entire repertoire of standard bugle calls!
While the musical range of the bugle is limited, the music surrounding the bugle and those who play it—buglers—can be quite a rhythmically and melodically complex. Take the famous”wake up call” . . .
The bugle, along with an array of drums, has long been a favorite marching group genre.
Alas, not so with the ukulele, even a nice loud banjolele!
And that, gentle readers, is what we are going to explore in this week’s musing.
Ancestors of the modern bugle were made of animal horns and have been used for communication and signaling since ancient times.
And, remember what the biblical Joshua did to the walls of Jericho with those animal horns!
Here’s a quite youthful take on the old, old Jericho spiritual on the ukulele, no less. Click or tap on triangle in the next image for a listen!
Needless to say, a more modern brass bugle has been used by military forces since the 17th century and most countries developed a series of standard bugle “calls” that could direct and regulate military life and actions.
After World War I . . .
. . . the bugle also became a standard part of the camp routine of the Boy Scouts of America. In fact, I even earned a merit badge for it! Toot, toot, tah!
American and British music publishers touched on bugle themes in the 19th century and early 1900s.
Even the suffragettes joined in!
But, particularly during World War I, the bugle became a rallying trope!
This one was written by Irving Berlin as part of a World War I era musical review for troops returning from France. Tap or click on triangle in the next image or link to rise up with this one.
Here’s a Ted Lewis rendition of this swing favorite of the 1920s. Click or tap on the next image or link to start to swing and sway
One of the more musically intriguing versions of this one is by the Mills Brothers. All of the “instruments”–including the bugle and other horns being “played” are actually vocal sound effects. What fun! Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link for this really different sound.
The popularity lasted through the World War II era . . .
with, probably, the most well-known “bugle song” ever!
Here we have the Andrews sisters with this one. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to hear their lively version!
Since this is the 21st Century, why not a Zoom/Ukulele version of this old chestnut–one singer, three screens. Wow! Click or tap on the next image for this high-tech treat!
There were other songs, of course.
Now here’s an rchestral version of this classic along with some really nice graphics! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to watch and listen.
Back to basics! The three or four best known bugle call that most of us know and relate to today seem to be:
First, the good old “wake up” call of “Reveille.” So as to not jar you awake with this one, here it is on a ukulele! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to see the simplicity of fingering for this one.
Then there is the “Call to Post” that brings horses and riders to the gate in the Kentucky Derby. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to thrill to this one!
Omnipresent at any sporting event where the stadium organist has the stage is the good old cavalry bugle call “Charge.” Here’s a musically augmented take on this simplest of bugle calls. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to be taken out to the ball park. How many times have you heard this one?
And, probably, the most moving five note melody ever composed—“Taps,” as played at the end of the camp day or at military funerals. Click or tap on the next image to hear this tearjerker clip from the movie “From Here to Eternity.”
The British Commonwealth’s equivalent to “Taps” is “Last Post.” Tap or click on the next image or link to listen to this poignant call of remembrance.
So, while we contemplate the hundreds of combinations of notes and chords we have available to us as we strum on our favorite little musical instrument, the ukulele, let’s appreciate what can be done with only five single notes!
So, stay safe and stay as masked as neede to protect your lungs and embrouchure,
and STAY TUNED!
So, give a salute to all those veterans out there and remember: There’s no substitute for the real thing!
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