Interlochen alumni and the sound of taps

 Only a handful of individuals have had the sacred honor of performing taps at presidential funerals. Two Interlochen alumni, Sgt. Keith Clark and Sgt. Maj. Woodrow “Woody” English, share this distinct experience.

Interlochen camp alumni are intimately familiar with the 24-note melody of taps. For many, it evokes memories of warm summer nights in rustic cabins situated among the Northern Michigan woods. Two Interlochen alumni went on to make their careers performing the melancholy, reflective refrain for some of America’s most distinguished political figures. This Veterans Day, we honor the careers of Sgt. Keith Clark (IAC/NMC 45, AS 43-44) and Sgt. Maj. Woodrow "Woody" English (IAA 69-71), who both served as buglers in the United States Army at pivotal points in American history.

Sgt. Keith Clark

Sgt. Clark, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., first attended Interlochen as an All-State camper in 1943 and 1944, and then in the High School Boys division as a trumpet major in 1945. The following year, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States Army and served as Trumpet Soloist with the famed United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.” After 21 years, he retired from the Army in 1966. Following his retirement, he taught music at Houghton College, then relocated to Florida where he performed in various musical groups.

Sgt. Clark is best-known for performing taps at the conclusion of the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963. Clark famously cracked the sixth note, and his imperfect rendition came to symbolize a nation in mourning. In his book The Death of a President, William Manchester described that note as being “like a catch in your voice, or a swiftly stifled sob.”

Clark passed away in 2002, survived by his wife, four daughters, 12 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sgt. Maj. Woodrow “Woody” English

Sgt. Maj. Woody English attended Interlochen Arts Academy for two years, graduating in 1971. He began his career in The United States Army Band in 1977. In his early days in the ensemble, Sgt. Maj. English performed at such distinguished events as the 1977 Camp David Peace Accords and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1991, he was named Trumpet Soloist and also served as the band’s Special Bugler until his retirement in 2010. Like Clark before him, English performed at burials and memorials for many prominent American leaders, including President Ronald Reagan.

Before his retirement, he recorded his rendition of taps, which is now played at any U.S. military funeral for which a live bugler is unavailable. Special electronic bugles have been equipped with the recording, requiring only the push of a button to hear English’s rendition.

Achieving Immortality

English and Clark, two Interlochen alumni with similar career trajectories, have each been immortalized in their own ways. Of Clark’s cracked note, historian Tom Sherlock said this, as quoted from the New York Times’ obituary of Clark: “It's part of the emotion. It's when a speech is well delivered and a voice cracks because it's an emotional time. It's what should happen. And in that way, it almost personalized it. And it made it immortal.'' As for Sgt. Maj. English, he joked in a 2004 story from USA Today of his own digital bugle recording: “I think I’m the only bugler who will be able to play for myself when I die.”

This Veterans Day, Interlochen honors alumni Sgt. Keith Clark and Sgt. Maj. Woodrow English, along with all of America's veterans, for their patriotism and service for our country.

—Jack Schwimmer, Engagement Officer, Interlochen Center for the Arts