Taps is Fitting to a Long Career
By Sue Loudon
Don Shaffer has been playing Taps at John Knox Village for more years than he can remember. It’s a fitting end to an over fifty year career as a music teacher and band director. He is best known as the band director at Center High School for over two decades or the Hallmark Volunteer Band director for over 30 years.
After Shaffer retired from Center, he got a job as personnel manager at Hallmark. He volunteered to organize an employee’s band to play and practice during lunch. “They were really interested!” he recalls. “We had a good group to start and it kept growing. We played at Crown Center and outside on the Plaza for the lunch crowd.” He added the volunteer performers not only gave up their lunch hour, but time after work as well. That was a schedule he had grown used to.
“When I was teaching, my day started at 7:30 am and many times didn’t end until after 9:30 pm with a jazz group or a football or basketball game,” said Shaffer. “My bands at Center were usually about 130 good kids who had ideas about what we should do for half time at football games. One time they decided we should do fireworks at the end of the performance in the middle of the field. The only problem was we caught the grass on fire. The football coaches did not like what we had done to their field so the next band practice on the field the sprinkler system came on! Music, instruments and people got very wet.”
Todd Swartz, now of Lee’s Summit, grew up in the Center School District and played trumpet in the high school band in the 1980s . ”Mr. Shaffer was more like a father to me than a teacher,” he said. “He taught us a lot more than music. For instance, he would say ‘If we start at 7 and you arrive at 7, you are late!’ I still arrive at appointments 10 minutes early because being late is simply not done.”
“ All the band kids liked him and loved being in the band,” said Swartz. “I even had him play at my wedding.”
Nowadays, Schaffer performs nightly in a different manner.
“It was my idea to play Taps here at John Knox Village. I walked out on my patio and started playing,” said Shaffer. “People seem to like it and I haven’t had any complaints.”
I asked a resident of John Knox Village and veteran Dick Erickson if hearing Taps at night wasn’t depressing and sad. His answer was, “ it’s sad but comforting.”
Taps is believed to be a variation of “Tattoo” a drum roll to mean “extinguish lights”. The tune is a variation of an earlier bugle call but was arranged in its present form during the Civil War by General Daniel Butterfield in the Union Army. It was officially recognized by the US Army in 1874. Taps is a bugle call not a song but Horace Lorenzo Trim wrote a set of words intended to accompany the music. The first verse is:
“Day is done, gone the sun from the lake, from the hills, from the sky, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
(Sadly, Don Shaffer passed away October 9 after this article appeared in the September 16 issue of the Telegraph.)