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Music professor brings Civil War horn to life in ‘Lincoln’ movie

by John Chamberlain, communications and marketing last modified Dec 10, 2012 10:54 AM

A year is a long time to keep a secret but that was the agreement music professor Michael Tunnell signed in the fall of 2011for a movie project named “Office Seekers.”

Music professor brings Civil War horn to life in ‘Lincoln’ movie

Reese Land, left, and Michael Tunnell in costume.

Tunnell, music alumnus Reese Land and other members of the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets group were engaged to play Civil War trumpets in a scene reenacting President Abraham Lincoln’s visit to celebrate the Union victory at Petersburg, Va.

The project turned out to be the much-heralded movie “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg.

“Spielberg was adamant that everything in the movie was historically accurate, even the instruments used by the band,” Tunnell said.

Tunnell was introduced to the Civil War instrument that he played in the movie scene in rehearsals only two days prior to the shoot — and it was the morning after an all-night drive to Petersburg from Louisville.

“This was in December 2011 and I could not leave Louisville until after our commencement ceremonies,” Tunnell said. “Fortunately, Reese joined me to help the long drive.”

Although accustomed to playing replicas of 300-year-old instruments, Tunnell said that playing the vintage trumpet used in the movie was a challenge.

“The pitch levels are different than modern instruments and quite higher,” Tunnell said.

Although he spent more time in makeup and hair arrangement than in playing, the limited practice for him and the group didn’t show.

Spielberg said they sounded great when they played on camera the next Monday, Tunnell said. The director used their musical performance instead of overdubbing for the final movie cut.

Tunnell and the band, called “President Lincoln’s Own,” reunited with Spielberg last month at a commemoration of Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg.

The unique musical journey may continue, Tunnell said, as the group may be invited to other events during the 150th anniversary of the epic war.

Since his movie performance, Tunnell also has added a “new” instrument to his collection — a Civil War cornet that he recently acquired.

“It intrigued me,” Tunnell said. “The horn is a humbling thing to play from both musical and historical perspectives.”

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