Monday, September 5, 2016

Reveille / Revelry Confusion


This is a remedial piece to clear up an item that apparently remains an occasional usage gadfly to some. I am a trumpet player and recently attended a music festival with lots of after-hours ensemble playing. Most of the instruments are strings, so the trumpet is an oddity in that environment, and on more than two occasions over the course of the week, I was asked if I planned to play “Revelry” (sic) the following morning.

What they were aiming for is of course “Reveille” (pronounced re-və-lē), an abrupt, piercing bugle melody used to awaken soldiers. Every soldier learns quickly that the bugler’s morning call is not to be ignored, and so the little ditty is associated with sudden and hurried waking under pain of ferocious discipline. Nobody likes that song.

On the other hand, in the mood of its sense at least, the word “revelry” is the precise opposite of “Reveille.” Revelry is high-spirited ebullience up to and including marching bands, fireworks and pom-poms, whereas “Reveille” wakes soldiers routinely on days that will see their deaths.

The word, “Reveille” is derived from “reveillez,” French for “Wake up!” and the composition “Reveille” reflects that brash imperative. It is harsh, it is unapologetic, and it conveys its disinterest in your opinion from the V to the I to the III and tumbling back down again in a vicious arpeggio that is then repeated.

And if that weren’t enough, it then moves its tonal center further upward and continues to peck away at a sleeping soldier’s mind whose overnight replenishment remains cruelly incomplete. It finishes its sadistic labors by repeating the first figure yet again and typically, the entire melody gets played again, even three times, just so no excuses can be made.

Revelry is what happens when the war is over. “Reveille” is what happens while you’re still fighting one.