Larry Cushenberry’s instrument of choice Monday at Hillsboro’s Memorial Day ceremony was bigger than a trumpet, shorter than a trombone, had only two valves, and took more than 15 years for him to find. When deep somber tones issued forth as he played “To the Colors” Cushenberry felt a sense of peace.
“I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time,” the Durham resident said. “I’ve always been a non-traditional kind of guy and I wanted a more masculine tone. When I play this, it just makes me feel better.”
A Marine Corps veteran, Cushenberry plays his euphonium bugle in memory of friends and fellow service men who did not come back from military enlistments. He plays for fellow firefighters who died in service and whom he got to know during his years as a firefighter in Wichita. He also plays to ease the loss of his son, Brett Cushenberry, a bull rider who died in the 2003 finals of the Central Plains Rodeo Association in Hutchinson.
“The lower tones of this instrument bring a lot of emotion with them,” he said. “It is a more soothing tone.”
Feedback from Cushenberry’s performance at Hillsboro’s Memorial Day ceremony was mostly positive. While many commented that they enjoyed the musical quality of his instrument, he said there were questions about his song choice.
“Some wondered why we didn’t play the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’” he said. “Most veterans know that ‘To the Colors’ is equivalent to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ at smaller bases where they don’t have a full-size band.”
Cushenberry is a certified member of Bugles Across America and plays military songs, revelry, charge, and taps cadences for 15 to 20 military funerals or honor ceremonies each year.
A website lists Bugles of America services and contact information. When a family requests a funeral service with military honors or an organization needs a bugle player, they post needs by mass e-mail to the red book service.
“We respond on a first-come, first serve basis,” Cushenberry said. “Most of us do it as a personal way to honor friends and fellow vets who didn’t make it back.”
For Cushenberry, playing the right horn and sharing the right sound at emotional ceremonies is very important.
Two valves give it the flexibility and accuracy to handle march songs and big band songs as well as the typical taps requested by bereaved families.
“With this horn I am 99.9 percent accurate,” Cushenberry said. “This is the middle size bugle out of five different ones in a full-scale military bugle corps. It is a pretty rare find.”
Cushenberry works full-time with Marion County Road and Bridge as a road grader. He retired from service with the Wichita fire and sheriff departments.
“I started out a music major in college,” he said. “Playing with the bugle corps brings me full circle. It gives me a way to justify my college education.”
His wife, Yvonne, also took part in Hillsboro’s Memorial Day service, singing several patriotic songs to open the ceremony. Cushenberry credits her with finding the unique euphonium bugle.
“She found one for me in Florida,” he said. “New ones usually cost $4,000 to $5,000, but this one was advertised for $140 with some valve problems.”
Cushenberry took a chance on the instrument and had it shipped to Kansas. Technicians at Senseney Music in Wichita fixed it for him for $250.
“What makes it special is that it is in the key of G,” he said. “Most horns today are B flat horns because they are cheaper to make. Today’s trumpets come in all sizes and they call some of them bugles. But my horn is old school. It’s the sound I like.”