BELDING — There may not be another 24 notes that more profoundly echo the importance of American history than those which are strung together during the playing of taps at military funerals.
For 2007 Belding High School graduate Ryan Ruble, the playing of the song on his b-flat trumpet took on a deeper meaning after he had the opportunity earlier this month to play the musical piece on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Va.
“I am now one of a few people that have ever been able to sound taps at Arlington,” he said. “It’s very seldom offered to be able to walk on those hallowed grounds. To be able to do that, it’s pretty amazing.”
Ruble has been playing the trumpet since he was a sixth grader at Belding Middle School. He is currently entering his fifth year at Grand Valley State University where he will graduate with a degree in music education with a goal of becoming a high school band director.
But the opportunity to take a break from schoolwork and play at Arlington is an experience Ruble said he could hardly put into words.
“I’ve played in front of 14,000 people at GVSU football games where fans cheer and scream like crazy and that gives you chills,” he said. “But playing at Arlington brought on more emotion than anywhere I have played before. It’s overwhelming. It’s not as much adrenaline, but it really gives you goosebumps.”
Ryan said the effect of complete silence after playing taps at the national cemetery left within him a feeling that will go unmatched in comparison to other performances.
“After playing at Arlington, there was no applause, no cheering, yet I felt like I had accomplished something more profound than playing a nine-minute halftime show,” he said.
Ruble was offered the opportunity to play at Arlington National Cemetery on May 19 after joining the Bugles Across America program.
According to Ruble, the program was founded in 2000 in effort to provide live buglers at military funerals to avoid having recorded audio versions of taps played on cd players.
“A friend had told me she signed up for it, and being a trumpet player, I thought it would be interesting to do,” he said. “I’ve played for the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and now I can say I’ve played in Arlington National Cemetery.”
Ruble said much of his inspiration to want to play taps during military funerals comes from his sister, Krista Swinehart, who served two tours of duty in Iraq as an Army combat medic and currently serves in the Coast Guard in North Carolina.
“I would say she’s been an influence because I have that understanding of the military and the involvement they have in protecting our freedoms,” he said. “There’s not much we can do to honor their service as a civilian, so this is my way of trying to do my part.”
For Swinehart, Ruble’s playing of taps transports her back in time, reflecting on her time spent overseas.
“It kind of really makes me remember the experiences that I have had as a medic in the Army,” she said. “It brings back memories of people I had worked on and lost in Iraq.”
Swinehart, a 2003 Belding High School graduate, said she’s flattered that her service has helped inspire her brother to take on playing taps at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I would hope I had a positive influence in him wanting to do that,” she said. “It’s a great honor to even be selected to participate in something like that … It also made me feel special and I’m very proud of what he’s done.”
Ruble said he was one of 200 members of Bugles Across America to play at the cemetery in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the original playing of taps during the civil war.
“I was one of four people from Michigan to participate,” he said. “Everyone from civilians to high school kids to elementary students, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, current military, everyone you could possibly think of — we had a half-hour service celebrating taps and at the end of the service we had all 200 of us perform the 24 notes of taps.”
After the ceremony, the 200 members spread throughout the cemetery to designated locations, playing a domino-style effect of taps that harmonized throughout the cemetery.
“I was designated to play at the U.S.S. Serpens memorial, which stands on those grounds representing the coast guard ship that exploded while loading depth charges during WWII,” he said.
Ruble said a combination of his sister serving in the coast guard and running into a relative of a survivor of that explosion while at the cemetery made the experience stand above nearly anything he has ever done.
“A gentleman and his family came up to me, his grandfather was one of two survivors of that explosion,” he said. “After I played, taps kind of cascaded throughout the cemetery. You could hear it playing all throughout the afternoon. It’s a pretty sobering experience hearing taps like that in Arlington Cemetery. Seeing headstones from what seem like have been there forever to veterans who have died as recent as last year. It’s hard to put the experience into words.”
For Ruble’s sister, she said this is only one stop on his way to having a very successful career teaching music to students in the future.
“He’s always loved music, playing and teaching other people how to do stuff, so this is a perfect profession for him to pursue,” she said. “I’ve heard him play a couple times and I’m very proud of what he’s done.”