Bugler Jari Villanueva plays taps at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va. (photo: tapsbugler.com)
For Jari Villanueva, the opportunity to visit Union College and pay homage to the man who created taps was something he just couldn’t say no to. No matter how busy he is.
A retired master sergeant, Villanueva, for 23 years a ceremonial trumpeter and bugler at Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington, will speak about Union College graduate Daniel Butterfield and the origin of the bugle call taps as part of the college’s annual Reunion Day ceremonies at 11:30 a.m. Friday at College Park Hall.
A resident of Catonsville, Md., Villanueva will fly back to Washington on Saturday morning for a celebration of the 150th anniversary of taps at Arlington, and return to Schenectady later in the day for a special performance of taps at 9 p.m. at Union’s Memorial Chapel.
“I was approached by Union College to talk about Daniel Butterfield, and my initial reaction was how great it would be to talk about Butterfield and walk the same grounds that he did while he was matriculating there,” said Villanueva.
Union College Reunion Day
WHAT: A talk on Daniel Butterfield by Master Sgt. Jari Villanueva
WHERE: College Park Hall, Union College, Nott Street, Schenectady
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.union.edu/reunion
WHAT: A concert by Master Sgt. Jari Villanueva and 15-piece band
WHERE: Memorial Chapel, Union College
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.union.edu/reunion
“I had a bit of a conflict because that same weekend we’re having a big celebration of ‘Taps’ at Arlington. But everyone on both ends has been very helpful, so I’m going to do it. It involves flying back and forth, but this will be my first visit to Union College and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Villanueva grew up in the Baltimore area and spent many days as a young boy visiting Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key composed “The Star Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812.
Bugle call expert
Considered the country’s foremost expert on military bugle calls, Villanueva served as a noncommissioned officer in charge of The USAF Band’s State Funeral Plans, and also was in charge of the command post at Andrews Air Force Base, overseeing arrival and departures during the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Ford.
As a ceremonial trumpeter, he participated in more than 5,000 ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, and from 1999 to 2003 was responsible for a special exhibit honoring the history of the military bugler at Arlington. Among the artifacts on display were Butterfield’s dress sword and spur that Villanueva secured on loan from the Utica Historical Society.
For more on Daniel Butterfield, click here.
Butterfield was an 1849 graduate of Union College who was working for his father’s company (American Express) when the Civil War broke out in 1861. A Medal of Honor recipient for bravery in action at Gaines’ Mills, Butterfield is also credited with creating taps in 1862 during the Seven Days Battle.
“What Butterfield did was re-arrange or adapt a bugle call that had gone out of regular use prior to the Civil War,” said Villanueva, who has music degrees from Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University and Kent State University.
“He was helped by a 22-year-old bugler named Oliver Wilcox Norton. They changed a few of the 24 notes, and came up with a piece of music that is played every single day in every corner of the U.S. It’s used for ‘lights out,’ it accompanies every military funeral or wreath-laying ceremony, and really strikes a chord in our national consciousness. Every American recognizes it within those first three notes.”
While he didn’t create “Taps,” Butterfield does deserve the credit for it according to Villanueva.
“Without his idea, without him creating that spark, it probably never would have happened,” said Villanueva, who since his retirement from the Air Force has served as the director of Maryland’s National Guard Honor Guard. “He got some help from a bugler, but Butterfield deserves the credit. It was his idea and it was a very good one.”
Playing taps hasn’t gotten old yet for Villanueva, and he said he still feels comfortable performing before an audience.
“It’s like being an athlete,” he said. “As you get older, if you keep practicing every day and keep your lip in shape you’ll do OK. There are instrumentalists in their 60s and 70s who play the trumpet and do a great job. I practice as much as I can so that I’m able to perform when I have to. I still feel comfortable doing it.”
Along with playing taps on Saturday night, Villanueva will perform with a 15-piece band made up largely of Union College faculty and students. Along with a number of songs from the Civil War era, the group will perform a few traditional military songs from the late 19th century.
“Butterfield took ‘Taps’ from an old tune that was derived from the French,” said Villanueva. “I’ll probably play it and describe it, and once people hear it they’ll understand why Butterfield thought it’d be a good idea to come up with something new.”