In 2013, with their trumpets sounding the poignant "Echo Taps," Larry Ransom and his friend and professional trumpeter Gary Cordell signaled the closing of a funeral for the grandfather of Ransom's wife. The pair had considered it a privilege to play the solemn composition, so often played at veterans' funerals, in honor of the man who served as a B-29 Bomber pilot in World War II.
But, it turns out, the honor of a live performance is rare these days. After the grandfather's funeral, members of the Nellis Air Force Honor Guard thanked them for the unique service they provided. That conversation was also an education for the two trumpet players, who then learned that an electronic version of "Taps" is played during most services. They learned then that, while the U.S. Veterans Administration does provide some for some burial benefits, such as a headstone and burial flag, it does not furnish trumpeters for the iconic "Taps" performance.
"Gary and I talked for about an hour-and-a-half after the funeral and thought about how we could fix this," said Ransom, '02 BA Music.
The pair, who were longtime friends from their years attending UNLV, enlisted Joseph Durk, another UNLV music student and professional trumpeter, in their cause. The trio established the nonprofit organization TAPPS (Trumpeters Alliance to Perform Patriotic Services) in January 2014 with the mission to provide live performances of "Taps" at veterans' funerals free of charge.
The three professional musicians have extensive professional credits. Ransom has played with Phantom The Las Vegas Spectacular and is a contract member of the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra. Cordell has performed with top headliners Billy Joel, Elton John, Gladys Knight, among others; while Durk has performed with Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo to name a few.
Ransom and Cordell worked with the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians to arrange for TAPPS trumpeters to be paid for their service and earn union credits toward health insurance benefits. They also reached out to local funeral homes to ensure personnel know about the service they offer.
TAPPS is also branching out to serve at funerals for public servants, such as firefighters and police officers. The group also plays other songs at flag ceremonies and events that benefit veterans or public service personnel.
Ransom, whose day job is as a representative for Country Financial, handles the administrative side of the operation. Durk, also a financial representative, is treasurer. Cordell recruits, hires and trains trumpeters. There are about eight trumpeters working with the organization today.
To date, the group has raised about $10,000 and has performed at more than 100 funerals. The performers are paid a very modest fee -- about $17 per performance -- so that the grieving family doesn't have to worry about. Ransom expects performances to double in 2015. He hopes that eventually the nonprofit eventually will expand to other areas of the country.
"My goal would be to replace the electronic bugle and have no need for it. ... Every veteran signs on the dotted line that they'll put themselves in front of the bullet first. It would be disrespectful not to show up and thank them for it," he added.