Definitions

mess-call

Bugle call

A bugle call is a short tune, originating as a military signal announcing scheduled and certain non-scheduled events on a military installation, battlefield, or ship.

Historically bugle calls indicated the change in daily routines of camp. Each morning a bugler would sound "Assembly of Buglers." At this signal, all the buglers would come together at their commander’s tent. Soon, "Assembly" commanded the soldiers to form ranks and stand at attention for roll call. Every duty around camp had its own bugle call, and since cavalry had horses to look after, they heard twice as many signals as regular infantry. "Boots and Saddles" was the most imperative of these signals and had an electrifying effect on camp. It was sounded without warning at any time of day or night, and sent the men flying to equip themselves and their mounts. In addition, buglers relayed instructions from officers to soldiers during battle. Bugle calls translated commanders' orders into action on the front lines. Bugle signals could instruct the company to go Forward, To the Left, To the Right, About, Rally on the Chief, Trot, Gallop, Commence Firing, Disperse, March, and Cease Fire.

A defining feature of a bugle call is that it consists only of notes from a single overtone series. This is in fact a requirement if it is to be playable on a bugle or equivalently on a trumpet without moving the valves. (If a bandsman plays calls on a trumpet, for example, one particular key may be favored or even prescribed, such as: all calls to be played with the first valve down.) Some examples of bugle calls:

  • Adjutant's Call (Indicates that the adjutant is about to form the guard, battalion, or regiment.)
    The top staff is for the Bugler, while the lower staff is for the Drums and the Cymbals.
  • Alarm (as played by Sam Jaffe near the end of Gunga Din)
  • Assembly (Signals troops to assemble at a designated place.)
  • Attention (Sound as a warning that troops are about to be called to attention.
    This is taken from the British Alarm, at which call the troops turned out under arms.
    Attention was also used for custom automobile horns in the 1930s and 1940s, and is most recognizable for that reason.)
  • Boots and saddles
  • Call to Quarters (Signals all personnel not authorized to be absent to their quarters for the night.)
  • Charge (Signal to execute a charge: gallop forward into harm's way with deadly intent. A simple unmistakable call, recognizable even by experienced horses.)
  • Church Call (Signals religious services are about to begin.
    The call may also be used to announce the formation of a funeral escort.)
  • Drill Call (Sound as a warning to turn out for drill.)
  • Fatigue Call (Signals all designated personnel to report for fatigue duty.)
  • Fire Call (Signals that there is a fire on the post or in the vicinity.
    The call is also used for fire drill.)
  • First Call (Sound as a warning that personnel will prepare to assemble for a formation.
    Familiar at horse tracks in the US to announce Post Time.)
  • First Sergeant's Call (Signals that the First Sergeant is about to form the company.)
  • Guard Mount (Sound as a warning that the guard is about to be assembled for guard mount.)
  • Last Post is a bugle call used at Commonwealth of Nations military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in a war. "The Last Post" is also the name of a poem by Robert Graves describing a soldier's funeral during World War I. During the 19th century, "Last Post" was also carried to the various countries of the British Empire into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell. It is used in public ceremonials commemorating the war dead, particularly on Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations and The Netherlands (known as Veterans Day in the United States). In Australia and New Zealand it is also played on ANZAC Day.
  • Mail Call (Signals personnel to assemble for the distribution of mail.)
  • Mess Call (Signals mealtime.)
  • Officers Call. (Signals all officers to assemble at a designated place.)
  • Payday March (A bugle march to announce that troops will be paid.
    The sounding of Pay Call will consist of only the first strain repeated.
  • Recall (Signals duties or drills to cease.)
  • Retreat (Signals the end of the official day.)
  • Reveille (Signals the troops to awaken for morning roll call.
    Used to accompany the raising of the National Colors.)
  • The Rouse
  • School Call (Signals school is about to begin.)
  • Sick Call (Signals all troops needing medical attention to report to the dispensary.)
  • Swimming Call
  • Taps (Signals that unauthorized lights are to be extinguished.
    This is the last call of the day.
    The call is also sounded at the completion of a US military funeral ceremony.)
  • Tattoo (Signals that all light in squad rooms be extinguished and that all loud talking and other disturbances be discontinued within 15 minutes.)
  • To Arms (Signals all troops to fall under arms at designated places without delay.)
  • To The Colors (To the Colors is a bugle call to render honors to the nation.
    It is used when no band is available to render honors, or in ceremonies requiring honors to the nation more than once.
    To the Color commands all the same courtesies as the National Anthem.
    The most common use of To The Colors is when it is sounded immediately following Retreat when the National Color is being lowered for the day.

An appendix to Upton's A New System of Infantry Tactics (1867) contains the tunes of numerous calls in addition to the ones listed above, such as "Turn Right," "Turn Left," "Rise Up," "Lay Down," "Commence Firing," "Cease Firing," and so on.

Historically, bugles, drums, and other loud musical instruments were used for clear communication in the noise and confusion of a battlefield. Naval bugle calls were also used to command the crew of warships (signalling between ships being by way of signal flags.)

Link to 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article

Popular culture

Many of the familiar calls have had words made up to fit the tune. For example, the US Reveille goes:

I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up this morning;
I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up at all!
The corporal's worse than the privates,
The sergeant's worse than the corporals,
Lieutenant's worse than the sergeants,
And the captain's worst of all!
< repeat top six lines >

and the US Mess Call:

Soupy, soupy, soupy, without a single bean!
Coffee, coffee, coffee, without a drop of cream!
Porky, porky, porky, without a streak of lean!

and the US Assembly:

There's a soldier in the grass
With a bullet up his ass
Take it out, take it out
Like a good Girl Scout!

Irving Berlin wrote a tune called, "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning". In a filmed version of his musical, This Is the Army, he plays a World War I doughboy whose sergeant exhorts him with this variant of words sung to "Reveille": "Ya gotta get up, ya gotta get up, ya gotta get up this morning!" after which Berlin sang the song.

"Taps" has been used frequently in popular media, both sincerely (in connection with actual or depicted death) and humorously (as with a "killed" cartoon character).

"Taps" is also quoted in the introduction to the popular big band hit Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. Written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince, likely the most well known recording was done by The Andrews Sisters.

First call is best known for its use in Thoroughbred horse racing, where it is also known as the Call to the Post. It is used to herald (or summon) the arrival of horses onto a the track for a race.

Another popular use of the "Mess Call" is a crowd cheer at football or basketball games. The normal tune is played by the band, with a pause to allow the crowd to chant loudly, "Eat 'em up! Eat 'em up! Rah! Rah! Rah!"

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