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The Long Distance Musician - Last Post

LAST POST: Five Powerfully Emotive Notes C, G, C, E, G.

At 2.55pm Friday 8th May 2020 I joined the national call up for buglers, trumpet and cornet players to sound the Last Post from their homes to recognise the 75th anniversary of VE day . There was also the call to adorne uniform. I have no such brass band or military uniform so I wore my uniform of the theatre player. All blacks.

A little piece of history for me personally. Today I performed the last post on my bugle. Yes, it did feel different but it somehow also felt right.

I have sounded the Last Post several times every year for over 40 years on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day around the local villages where I live. I always thought that if men and women gave their lives for me to be free then the very least I can do is to play for free, for a few minutes each year and I try to fulfil as many requests as I can fit in.

It would be a popular thought that having played the Last Post and reveille 4 or 5 times every year for 40 years (approx. 200 times plus practicing it) this would be a much less nerve wracking and stress free performance than say, Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony or the lead trumpet part in The Full Monty. The Last Post has only five different notes. No change of valves is required, no slurring, complete absence of double or triple tonguing, it’s not high, it’s not fast and not too slow. There are more notes in the lead trumpet part to the exit music of The Full Monty than the whole of the Last Post.

What on earth is there to worry about? Not much one would think.

(Last Post or Exit Music to The Full Monty is one more difficult than the other?)

Then why oh why do the nerves kick in every time I play the last post? I mean every time, including outside my house with an audience of two neighbours, my dog and my son taking a picture. I will not be this nervous when I play, (restrictions willing) a run of nightly performances of The Full Monty in September.

The reason for me is this simple piece of music, of just five notes means so much to so many around the world. It stirs the emotions in every listener from young to old, continent to continent. Yes, it is solo, unaccompanied, which leaves no room to hide.

Playing outside has its perils too. Where to warm up? Acoustic is not complimentary outside and then there is the challenge of standing for a period of time in the freezing cold before playing those first two evocative notes, the perfect fifth, C-G. These two notes most of us learned in our very first few lessons. Now these same two notes take on a whole new meaning to everyone listening. Each listener will have different thoughts of lost loved ones, friends or the sheer gratitude for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their life.

When I play this in the local villages the act of remembrance takes it's usual course. The names of those in the village who died in conflict from WW1, WW2 and beyond are read aloud. This is followed by the poem ending 'we shall remember them' also said aloud. This is the signal for me to raise the trumpet, chest up, deep breath; C-G

However many times these names are read I can not remove from my mind these were real people, just like you and I. Men and women who had family and friends just like you and I. People who had hopes and dreams just like you and I. Fears and tears just like you and I. They lived in the village where I find myself standing. They went to the same village shop like I have many times to buy the Sunday paper. They walked across the same fields where I now walk. Now they are a name called aloud, or appear on a brass plaque in the church, on a memorial stone or gravestone in the churchyard (if they made it home), or maybe still lie in a picture in a family album smiling full of hope, just like you and I.

While these names are read I stand trumpet in hand emotionally humbled by the reality of the ultimate sacrifice they gave for you and me. Would I have done the same for them with the roles reversed? I like to think so, but I cannot be sure. It is due to them that the question has never been asked of me.

So there I stand trumpet in hand. Two minutes silence, the emotional responsibility upon me to deliver. It’s not how many are listening to me, or whether that middle C will speak clearly when I am so cold. My mind is full of how many millions gave their lives and how many loved ones and friends suffered subsequently in their absence. How many mum's and dad's, didn't see their children married or enjoy the success and joys of life together.

This is why the Last Post for me is the most challenging piece of music I have ever played or will ever play. It is just five notes but can I display through the sound of C, G, C, E, G the deep significance and meaning of these five notes? Five powerful emotive notes that speak to every person in a different way. Does another piece of music exist on these terms? I don't know of one.

I have had people say to me I need to detach myself from the occasion and the meaning and just play. Treat it as a job. Very good advice I am sure, but that’s the point, the Last Post is never a job for me. I pray I never ever treat those five notes as such. The day I do I have lost the connection of the power of music. Music and emotion split from each other is never an option for me. I would much rather hear the Last Post played with meaning and heart along with the odd split note than perfect and devoid of an emotional connection to those listening whether it be two or two thousand.

Much more important than this is every note I produce is for those who lost their lives so I now have the chance every year to play these five emotive notes a free man.

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