by David Krauss, principal trumpet
The still air quickly turned to a deafening rumble as the F/A-18 fighter jet ripped toward the sun directly overhead. Clutching our brass instruments, we stood on THE putting green wondering what the heck we were doing there.
Just two days before, I was on relaxing with my family on the beach at Hilton Head Island. While trying to darken my skim milk complexion (a byproduct of spending nine months of the year in the pit) my cell phone rang. It was Beth Glynn, longtime board member and a tremendous supporter of the MET Orchestra.
“Hey Beth, what's up?”
“David, the world doesn't know yet, but Neil Armstrong passed away this morning. Will you come to Cincinnati and play Taps at his funeral?”
“Uh, OK?” I replied.
“Can you gather a quintet from the Orchestra to play, too?”
“Sure…We’ll be there. Talk to you later.”
Beth and Gary Glynn were close friends of Neil and Carol Armstrong. They introduced me to the Armstrongs at a Metropolitan Opera party that was thrown in the Glynn’s honor after they endowed my Principal Trumpet chair and Michael Parloff’s Principal Flute chair. “Talk to him and shake his hand, but don’t bring up the whole astronaut thing,” Beth instructed before introducing us. “He’d rather talk about anything else.”
After talking to Beth on the phone, I leaned back down onto my beach towel. My wife, Kristen, asked who had called.
"It was Beth. Believe it or not, Neil Armstrong just died, and she wants me to play at his funeral in Cincinnati the day after tomorrow. I don't have any music, don’t even have my trumpet, and the only clothes I have are shorts and flip flops. I don't know what to do.”
"You go and you play,” she said, barely lifting her head out of her book.
Four quick phone calls later, my colleagues Ray Riccomini, Demian Austin, Javier Gandara, and Denson Paul Pollard were making their own travel arrangements to meet in Cincinnati. I took the first plane off the island, but was delayed overnight on a layover due to bad weather. I arrived the next morning just in time. The service was held at Neil Armstrong's local country club, where he was a regular fixture. It was a private, secular affair with family, friends, local politicians, and former astronauts, including John Glenn, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. The presence of a Navy Ceremonial Guard lent a formality to the proceeding, but the memorial had no mention of the moon landing or the impact Armstrong had on our world. Instead, it focused on a humble man who had a good sense of humor and loved his family and golf. As his two sons spoke about losing a father and grandfather, his wife Carol sat in the front row, comforting their family.
This intimacy would contrast starkly with our experience one month later, when Beth and Gary brought us to play at his memorial at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Thousands of people filled the space, listening to a recording of President Kennedy’s 1962 ”We choose to go to the moon” speech while gazing up at the Cathedral’s “Space Window,” a stained glass window that showcases a moon rock Armstrong brought back from his 1969 Apollo mission.
After the eulogies in Cincinnati, our brass quintet played the Navy Hymn and a few other solemn selections before I played taps. Everyone walked out and onto the golf course, where we played “When the Saints go Marching In,” as requested by the Armstrong family. Just then, a distant roar could be heard as four U.S. Navy F/A-18 jets approached and flew directly overhead in a "Missing Man" formation, honoring Armstrong's service as a naval aviator. Once the jets were gone, we no longer wondered, “What are we doing here?”. Musicians provide music when words aren't enough. Taps to honor, Hymns to reflect, and “The Saints” to smile. It was our honor to be there.