The Traditionalists



Taps is a short musical piece played at a military funeral. It is usually played by a solo bugler or trumpeter.

David Hurley was dismayed to learn that veterans were sometimes buried to recordings from a portable cassette player. So, being an amateur trumpet player, Mr. Hurley – a veteran himself – would travel, at his own expense, to veterans’ funerals to perform taps.

As well as paying his own way, Mr. Hurley also, as his SFGATE obituary explains, refused payment.

His son heard a story about a captain’s widow showing surprise that there was no charge. Mr. Hurley reportedly replied: “We can talk about it after you hear me play. Then you’ll probably understand.”

Mr. Hurley was not alone in volunteering his services. This AP story notes, however, that demand continues to exceed supply.



Tekuo. Rabbi, wearing prayer shawl, blowing from a small shofar, a ram’s horn. 1901, New York. Library of Congress


Jennie Litvack was an amateur trumpeter, and, in her childhood, even befriended Dizzy Gillespie. As her Economist obituary recounts, it was while pursuing a career in economic policy that she had a change of heart:

She played the trumpet some more when working as an economist for the World Bank, in northern Cameroon, Vietnam and Morocco. And then, at 43, having just had her last son, she decided to follow what she called her still, quiet voice and be part of a movement to revitalise Jewish spiritual life in America.

A shofar is an instrument used in Jewish religious ceremonies. It’s traditionally made from a ram’s horn. Ms. Litvack had one made specially for her, and would play it at her local synagogue.

Along with the birth of her sons, she liked to say that blowing the shofar brought her closer to God than anything else in her life. Even after her metastasing cancer meant the removal of a large part of both her lungs, she would take up her instrument with kavanah, “intention”, close her eyes, shut out the world and concentrate on her breath, her shofar, her soul.


This 2009 NPR interview ends with Ms. Litvack playing taps on her shofar.