The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scotland's legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

Scotland’s legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

The original meaning of ‘military tattoo’ was a military drum performance. The term dates back to the 16th century in Holland. The Dutch Army was staffed mostly by mercenaries from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland with a Dutch commanding officer. Drummers were sent out each evening at 9:30 p.m. to inform soldiers it was time to return to their barracks. The process was known as a ‘Tap Toe’, a signal to innkeepers to shut off their taps and stop serving beer to the soldiers.

The boys' precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

The boys’ precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

Nowadays, a tattoo is a performance by military bands for entertainment, and one of the  world’s most prestigious tattoos is held outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle every August as part of the festival known simply as Fringe, which we attended. The show featured groups from Korea, Mongolia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, England and of course, Scotland.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The show opened with the massed pipe bands marching out from the castle onto the escalade while playing the bagpipes in unison. The collective musical force of fifty drummers and a hundred pipers is thrilling. It got the crowd fired up more than a Super Bowl halftime show! Following the pipers were the drum and bugle corps massed bands. There is nothing like marching bands in their dress uniforms to get the spectators energized.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

The Mexican group opened with an Aztec-style fire dance followed by a musical fiesta featuring dancers in traditional bright colored dresses. The Mongolian band had the most impressive uniforms and their dancers performed a tribute to the great Genghis Khan, complete with period costumes and replica spears and arrows.

The performers from South Korea contrasted with the power of the brass and pipe bands with a delicate dance with silk scarves and ballet-like choreography. Their presentation built to a crescendo of synchronized drumming that brought roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd of 8,600.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The New Zealanders stole the show with their energy. They started their presentation with the classic Maori haka or war chant. After a classic march they performed a drinking song where they staggered while playing, which drew laughs and cheers from the audience. They followed with the final movement of the classic Sousa march, Stars and Stripes Forever with six piccolo soloists. However, they completely won the hearts of the crowd when the trombone players set down their horns and danced Gangnam Style complete with sunglasses.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

As if that were not enough, the women’s drill team joined the band. Their precision movements culminated in a double file crisscross performed marching backwards. I have seen some amazing dance and drill routines, but I had never seen that before! It was one thing keeping their lines perfect, but they did so while blind to the movements of their teammates while marching in reverse. No wonder the Kiwis won over the crowd so completely on this night.

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks launched from Edinburgh Castle.

As exciting as the tattoo was, my words are inadequate to describe how stirring the performances were to see in person. If you ever learn of a military tattoo in your area, I urge you to experience it firsthand. You will not be disappointed.

A Big Weekend in Perth, Scotland

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an 'Anything Goes' event.

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an anything goes event.

The Kilt Run

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

Saturday was the 5k Kilt Run. This annual event has two requirements: 1) you must pay an entry fee, and 2) all runners must wear a kilt. There were close to 3,000 participants in this year’s event – men, women, old and young, wheelchair bound, athletic and not. Many local businesses fielded teams, and it was all for the great cause of raising money for charitable works.

The UK Tug o’ War Championships were also taking place at the park. I noticed not all the participants were big, burly men as I would have expected. I asked the coach of the English team whether there were weight limits. Since his lads had just defeated the Scottish team, he was delighted to talk about the rules with me.

Weight classes for the eight member teams collectively range from 480 kilos (1,056 lbs.) for junior women up to 760 kilos (1,762 lbs.) for men plus an unlimited class. The first team that pulls the mid-point four meters in their direction wins. Few bouts last longer than a minute or so.

The Highland Games

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Sunday brought the long-awaited Perth Highland Games. There were all kinds of competitions: pipe and drum bands, Scottish folk dancing, individual piping, drum majors, caber tossing, hammer throwing and bicycle and foot races. We counted twenty-four pipe bands. There were so many that the competition began at 10:00 a.m. in order to have time for everyone to compete.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage before the judges.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage.

The atmosphere was just like a county fair. There were rides for the kids, vendor booths, and lots of junk food (which we did not eat…except for some candy). There were good crowds although we never had difficulty seeing what we wanted to see. There are about 30 of these games throughout the summer in cities and towns all over Scotland. People come from miles around to hear the pipes and enjoy a day at the park.

We both love the pipe bands and the folk dancing. The other competitions are interesting, too. However, the folk traditions with the kilts and tartans and the music are hard to top. We both get goose bumps when we hear a bagpipe band play together. And we are relieved to be outdoors because the volume can get quite loud.

The occasional boy joins in the competition.  This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

The occasional boy joins in the competition. This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

I can imagine wartime when an army would wait near a battlefield. Then they would hear the inevitable bagpipes blaring in the distance as the Highlanders approached, the blare of the pipes shattering the stillness of the morning. The Scots’ reputation as fierce fighters preceded them, so there must have been times when the enemies of the Scots felt the chill of doubt creep into their consciousness. Those echoes from the past arise in us today as the pipers play.

Highland Games are at least as popular in the U.S. and Canada as they are in Scotland. If you have never been I suggest you check one out. It is fun for all children of every age.