An Honor of a Performance

SSJ E.J. Ramos, Ph.D.

Class of 2004
Trumpet, U.S. Army Band (Pershing’s Own)
Solo flugelhorn, The Brass of the Potomac
Washington, D.C.

E.J. Ramos still gets emotional when he thinks about the moment he realized how important music is to him.

He was studying with Valparaiso University trumpet instructor Charles Steck when it happened. “I was in a trumpet lesson with Mr. Steck,” E.J. recalls. “We were playing through something, and I just put my horn down and said, ‘This sucks.’ Mr. Steck said, ‘What? Excuse me?’ I told him I needed to do what I love and what I enjoy, and I had to change my major.”

E.J. began playing the trumpet when he was in fourth grade but chose to attend Valparaiso University to study engineering rather than music. Then, after two years in the College of Engineering, E.J. says, “I loved the engineering department, but I got to a point where I just didn’t feel right.”

It was in that trumpet lesson that E.J. realized his true calling and decided to pursue a meaningful vocation.

Today E.J. is a trumpeter and bugler in Pershing’s Own — the U.S. Army Band. He is a member of the band’s ceremonial ensemble that plays at the White House and the Pentagon for foreign dignitaries and special ceremonies.

The band’s main function, though, is to play at the funerals of both active duty and retired military members, and as a trumpeter, E.J. has a special distinction. It’s his responsibility to play “Taps”, the 24-note bugle arrangement played in the Army to honor the dead.

Today “Taps” is a standard part of U.S. military funerals — a responsibility that E.J. does not take lightly.

“My job is so important to so many people,” he says. “It’s a true honor to put these soldiers to rest. I know I have to give them my best.”

In addition to performing “Taps” at funerals, E.J. also plays often at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

“I get to play right next to the two guards,” E.J. says. “I get to be there on the platform where they walk and are there 24 hours a day guarding the tomb of the unknowns.”

This distinction is not one that many trumpeters attain. After graduating from Valpo, E.J. earned a master’s degree in music from Indiana University and a doctorate in musical arts with a focus on the trumpet from the Catholic University of America, putting him in a special class of musicians.

But the process to become a member of the U.S. Army band is long and competitive. E.J. says based on his qualifications, he was one of 60 people invited to audition for just one of two openings as a trumpeter. Only 10 people make it to the next round, and then three are invited back to a final audition.

“It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work. They’re looking for good players and a specific type of player, someone who is confident and has a characteristic sound.” And, of course, E.J. says, “Someone who can play a good ‘Taps.’”

In 2008, E.J. was the focus of a short documentary — also called “Taps” — that detailed the important role the bugler plays at military funerals and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Only military buglers are allowed to sound Taps at the Tomb,” E.J. explains in the film. When he plays, E.J. says, he tries “to focus on what I’m doing at the moment and not focus on what is actually happening. I’m there to play as beautifully as I can and honor the fallen soldier being laid to rest.”

While playing in the Army band isn’t a career he ever imagined, E.J. is honored to have the opportunity. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be in the United States Army band,” he says. “But I wasn’t ever going to turn down an opportunity to do something as important as this.”

And he’s grateful that it all started as an undergraduate at Valpo. “I was very involved on campus, fraternity and sorority life. It was a great experience.”

E.J. has also returned to Valpo to give back. In January 2013, he joined the University orchestra for a U.S. tour. “They needed a trumpet player, and I was happy to do it,” he says.

“I’ve been so very blessed,” E.J. continues. “I can’t imagine being anything other than a musician.”