Kearney High School students Bailey Premer, left, and Caleb Hardy wait to play taps, a traditional military bugle call. The two students have recently been performing taps at military funerals because of a shortage of buglers.

Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 11:45 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Tue Sep 15, 2015.

KEARNEY — Students at Kearney High School are stepping up to fill the need for buglers at military funerals.

Rick Mitchell, KHS band instructor, said he has played military funerals for several years and he discovered there is a shortage of buglers. Because of the shortage, an electronic bugle is often used to play a recorded version of taps. That didn’t stand well with Mitchell.

“There’s no reason why any veteran who has sacrificed for our country should have to have a recording played at their funeral,” he said.

So Mitchell decided to do something about it — he volunteered. Mitchell said that since learning of the shortage, he’s played taps at dozens of military funerals, but when he found himself unavailable to play at a funeral, he turned to band students Caleb Hardy and Bailey Premer to fill the void.

“The fact that we were chosen to be a part of that is really an honor,” said Hardy, a senior.

Premer, a junior, said families regularly express their gratitude to the students.

“I’m just amazed with how friendly and grateful everyone is,” he said.

Mitchell said veterans at military funerals “really liked the fact that young people were doing it.”

He also said that his students had stepped up to the task.

“I’ve really been impressed with the professionalism of these guys,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that Hardy and Premer perform well under the pressure that comes with playing at a military funeral.

“They realize they have a job to do, and they don’t let their nerves get in the way,” he said.

Both students said that playing taps isn’t technically difficult — but managing the emotions that come with performing the piece at a funeral is.

“The live instruments bring more emotion out,” Premer said. “To convey that emotion and feeling into it, it’s a very hard piece.”

Hardy said he recently played taps from a church balcony and saw the crowd below overcome with emotion as they heard the music.

“As I was playing, I looked down and I saw people starting to take out handkerchiefs and Kleenexes and start crying,” Hardy said.

Family and friends aren’t the only ones who choke up — Premer said playing taps at military funerals regularly moves him to tears.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, taps is believed to have first been played during the Civil War when Union Capt. John Tidball used the bugle call for the burial of a fellow soldier in place of the traditional three-rifle volley because they were close to Confederate forces.

Since then, taps has evolved into a part of military funerals, accompanying the lowering of the flag.

According to the Veterans Affairs website, taps has been required at military funerals since 1891.

To reduce the shortage of buglers for military funerals, Mitchell has a taps clinic planned for 10:30 a.m.-noon Oct. 31 at KHS.

With the help of members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mitchell will discuss protocol and proper playing technique for taps.

Email Mitchell at to learn more about the clinic or to participate.

Mitchell said there is no cost to attend the clinic but participants must bring their own instruments.

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