The Trumpet as a Medium of Communication in Military Life: A Philosophical Analysis through the Lens of Thomas Aquinas

Cite this article as:

Paraskevas-Marios Tourtounis. (April 24, 2021). The Trumpet as a Medium of Communication in Military Life: A Philosophical Analysis through the Lens of Thomas Aquinas. International Journal of Music. Accessed July 25, 2024. https://ijm.education/winds/brass/trumpet/the-trumpet-as-a-medium-of-communication-in-military-life-a-philosophical-analysis-through-the-lens-of-thomas-aquinas/

Acknowledgements: This post is dedicated to my beloved trumpet teacher, Mr. Spyrogiannis Alexandratos, as well as to the Greek Armed Forces.

The trumpet, a musical instrument with roots tracing back to ancient times, has long been intertwined with the tapestry of military life. In both the calm interludes of peace and the tumultuous landscapes of war, the resonating calls of the trumpet have served as the heralds of commands to soldiers, directing them in various facets of their duties—commands ranging from waking up and going to sleep to initiating hostilities, ceasing fire, and orchestrating strategic retreats. The historical significance of the trumpet, especially during military conflicts, is well-documented, with instances where the instrument played a pivotal role in averting disasters for armies worldwide.

One particularly intriguing episode highlighting the significance of the trumpet in military life is found in a book authored by my unmemorable aunt Mrs. Irene D. Davaris, chronicling the adventures of her father, a soldier in the Greek army during the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and the closing actions of the First World War as an ally of the Entente Powers.((Davaris, Irene D. 2003. Ημερολόγιον του στρατιώτου Δημητρίου Νικ. Δάβαρη εκ Λιόπεσι (Παιανία) Αττικής. Εκστρατεία: α) 1912-1913, β) 1918-1919 [Diary of the Soldier Dimitrios Nik. Davaris. Expedition: a) 1912-1913, b) 1918-1919]. Athens: Eptalophos Publications.)) On page 30 of this captivating account, a Greek infantry section, marching towards the Kozani village in today’s Greek Macedonia (then still part of the Ottoman Empire), faced an unexpected and potentially catastrophic situation. A section of the Greek artillery, situated near the location, continuously bombarded the infantry section, mistaking them for enemy forces. The potentially tragic misunderstanding was averted when the trumpeters from both sections played characteristic blares, allowing the soldiers of the Greek artillery to recognize and interpret the familiar trumpet calls. Consequently, disaster was averted, showcasing the instrumental role of the trumpet in preventing harm to the Greek infantry forces marching towards Kozani.

Inspired by such historical narratives, I embarked on an engaging exploration of the communication process in military life through the unique lens of the musical instrument—the trumpet. This endeavor was catalyzed by attending a lecture on February 26, 2015, delivered by the distinguished Italian professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Salento, Fernando Fiorentino.((Born in 1941 in Matino, Lecce, Italy.)) The lecture delved into the philosophical thought of the Italian priest of the Dominican order and renowned medieval philosopher, Thomas Aquinas.((San Tommaso d’Aquino, 1225 – 1274.)) As a trumpet player, I discerned intriguing parallels between Aquinas’s philosophical tenets and the use of the trumpet in the military context.

According to Thomas Aquinas, the foundation of human knowledge lies in the senses. To comprehend feelings, desires, or decisions, these abstract concepts must be translated into conventional sounds and letters. Sight and hearing, as primary senses, play a pivotal role in serving logic and realizing both sound and written signs. Applying this philosophical framework to the military context, I posit that military leaders, to convey their commands effectively, translate them into characteristic sounds—conventional “marks” represented by various trumpet blares.

In this context, each trumpet blare serves as a symbolic representation of a specific command. Soldiers, attuned to the nuances of these distinct sounds, interpret them upon hearing, facilitating the execution of desired movements commanded by their leaders. The term “interpret,” derived from the Greek “ερμηνεύω” (herminevo), aptly describes the cognitive process undertaken by soldiers as they decode each trumpet blare. Drawing a parallel to ancient times, where Hermes served as the messenger conveying the decisions of the gods to humans, the trumpeter emerges as a modern-day Hermes, acting as the conduit between the military leader and the ordinary soldier.

A visual representation of this intricate communication process within the army through the trumpet is presented in a schematic triangular diagram. This diagram, reminiscent of one used by Professor Fernando Fiorentino to expound Aquinas’s philosophy on communication between the author and reader of a book, illustrates the translation of commands into conventional sounds, their interpretation by the soldiers, and the subsequent execution of the commands—a process mirroring Aquinas’s emphasis on “marks” as indispensable elements in effective communication.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the trumpet emerges as an invaluable tool in the complex tapestry of military life, proficiently conveying commands in both periods of peace and times of war. By aligning this analysis with the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophical foundations emphasize the role of “marks” in effective communication, I provide a compelling interpretation of the trumpet’s multifaceted role within the army. This exploration not only enriches our understanding of military communication but also underscores the timeless relevance of philosophical concepts in diverse domains, transcending the boundaries of time and context. The trumpet, in its melodic and symbolic prowess, continues to echo through history, shaping the intricate dance between command and execution within the military realm.

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