One tiny little spot on the sidewalk.
It was all U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Byrne wanted focus on as he stood at attention waiting to play “Taps” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Wednesday’s historic presidential inauguration.
“I made it a point not to look at anybody or anything. I found a little spot on the sidewalk to focus on,” Byrne, a 1991 graduate of Connetquot High School, said of the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. “It was a spot that I could look at without looking at anyone else and still keep my head straight and looking forward.”
This meant averting his eyes from former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and their spouses, and not watching President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris approach the wreath placed at the hallowed space.
And it definitely called for avoiding eye contact with any of his buddies in the front row of the assembled U.S. Army band, said Byrne, 47, a trumpeter in the ceremonial element of The U.S. Army Band Pershing’s Own since 2004.
Before too long, Byrne performed a solo rendition of the eloquent and powerful bugle call to perfection — as he’s done thousands of times before. (You can watch his performance in the video box below the story.)
“I’m proud every day at this job. Every time we do it, it’s important. There’s an overall sense of pride in doing the job, all the time,” Byrne told GreaterSayville.com yesterday, moments before heading out to play “Taps” at a funeral for a deceased U.S. Army veteran.
“It’s a very special place, as far as what we do and what our responsibilities are. I’m proud of (the inauguration performance), but not more proud than I am of going out today and playing ‘Taps’ while at a funeral,” Byrne continued. “Yes, I was nervous Wednesday, but I’m nervous every time. I’ll feel nervous this afternoon, even though there will be probably 10 people there and no cameras. It’s still that moment for somebody.”
Since the inauguration, the Ronkonkoma native said he has heard from many friends and colleagues with whom he’s lost touch with over the years. “That’s what’s made this particular experience unique,” he said.
Stationed outside of Washington, D.C., with his wife Dallis and their two children Macadger, 14, and Madelyn, 12, Byrne mostly performs during ceremonies at Arlington and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but he also plays at military functions in and around the nation’s Capitol.
“It’s very rare to be a musician that gets to play their instrument for a living,” he said, “to know every day that you wake up and your job is to make music and be part of something that’s pretty important.”
Byrne, who began playing the trumpet in fourth-grade, attended Ithaca College on a viola scholarship after graduating from Connetquot. He returned home following graduation from Ithaca and taught music in Connetquot and Sachem elementary schools for three years.
Byrne eventually returned to school at the University of Louisville, earning a master’s degree in music performance. While at Louisville, he successfully auditioned for The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and joined the unit upon completion of basic training in 2004.
Byrne is one of six children. His older brother Edward is a U.S. Air Force colonel and his younger brother Kevin is a U.S. Army staff sergeant — and trumpet player — stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story in Virginia Beach. Their father, Edward Byrne III, is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
Matthew Byrne performs ‘Taps’
The “Taps” performance begins after a drum roll at the 2:55 mark of the video.
Photos of Matthew Byrne at the ceremony
The three photos above are courtesy of Matthew Byrne.