Thursday, August 9, 2012

Not Your Mother's Tattoo

No, this post isn't about the artistry of permanent ink mutilation.

One of the last things we've done here is attend the magnificent Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, held in the Esplanade before Edinburgh Castle and at the very top of the Royal Mile.

I learned a lot from this impressive gathering of the clans! First of all, Notre Dame isn't the only place that uses a fly-over to get things started: at precisely 9PM, the Royal Air Force sends one of their squadron to buzz the Castle and send everyone's hearts into their throats.

And here's a little background on the term. Tattoo is not a Scottish word, per se, even though the Highlanders have made this the centerpiece of their national expression. "Tattoo" comes from the Low Countries; it is Dutch in origin, from the phrase tap doe, which is a command to the local pubs to turn off the beer taps and send the soldiers home for the night. The command was followed by a mustering of the troops by drum, and eventually the words and the action became one and the same.

In Edinburgh, which is probably the oldest and best-known tattoo, this gathering has been elevated to an entirely new level – it's become an art form. Military bands come from all over the world (the night we were there featured ensembles from Norway, the United States, Australia, and Switzerland).

In addition to the fabulous bands, troupes of dancers are integrated into the festivities. One number, played by the resident Scottish military band, actually played a medley from the just-released Disney film Brave, complete with Scottish kids romping around the performance field. This is clearly not the stiff, regimented military exercise known by previous generations.

The military bands were amazing, the precision of the pipers was inspiring. Yet with all the regal pomp, two memories hold out the strongest for me.

The first was the welcome of Norway's military band and rifle corps. A thousand years ago, when Norway showed up on Scotland's shores, they carried weapons just like their contemporary counterparts ... but they had other things in mind besides a stint in front of the Castle. Now they were cordially welcomed as friends, saluted by the General and Master of Ceremonies, and – lo and behold! – the Norse contingent left the field singing "You Take the High Road..."

Proof, in my mind, that humanity actually is moving forward, inch by inch, to a point where music can unite those who once were enemies.

The second memory came from a simple, yet utterly profound musical moment, toward the end of the gathering. High atop Edinburgh Castle, near the end of the evening festivities, a lone Highland Piper stood, illuminated by a spotlight and playing a beautiful Scottish air. The thousands of attendees were perfectly still... The only one to be heard was the solitary musician, sending out his call to all who listened. No procession, no fireworks, no precision drums or tossing of rifles. Just one man, using a traditional instrument to remind all who cared to listen of their national heritage.

Sometimes, it is the simplest of songs that speaks the loudest in our hearts.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

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