The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo


The term tattoo derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”) a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour.[1] With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term “tattoo” was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.[

The first public military tattoo in Edinburgh was entitled “Something About a Soldier” and took place in 1949 at the Ross Bandstand in the Princes Street Gardens.

– quoted from Wikipedia.

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The twenty-minute walk up the hill to Scotiabank Centre, the venue for the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, reminded us we are not as fit as we used to be! We were slightly out of breath and in need of water, but it turned out to be well worth the effort.

I know I can’t begin to describe this show with only words, but I’ll do my best to make you want to see it for yourself, or at least look it up online.

When we arrived at the Scotiabank Centre, a large sports stadium, there were many people milling around, chatting, enjoying drinks and popcorn, and buying 50/50 tickets. When we entered the arena, there were still many empty seats. We were surprised. But as we watched and waited, we chatted with a couple of ladies behind us who turned out to be from…yes, Ontario!

It wasn’t long before the MC, Peter Anthony, appeared on the floor below us to make some announcements and tell a few jokes, while preparations were still being made. Peter is a Canadian Comedy Award winning comedian who appears on many popular comedy stages throughout Canada.

Soon the seats were nearly filled and the lights were dimmed. The spotlight was on the centre of the floor where a group of Mi’kmaq singers (pronounced mikmak), known as Eastern Eagle, was seated in a circle performing the opening entertainment in Native Powwow style.

Several minutes later, they disappeared as the spotlight shifted to the end of the arena where the sound of bagpipes and drums could be heard. The International Massed Pipes and Drums swept across the floor.

Opening Mass Bands

I can’t say why, but most people, including me, are very moved by this big music production. Having played a snare drum in a pipe band for a few years, in another life, I had experienced marching in such a massed band a few times, on a smaller scale.

German Army Band at Bottom

From that moment on, smooth transitions were made, from the mass bands to highlight individual bands, such as The German Army band from Neubrandenburg, and the Jordanian Armed Forces Band, that included their own breed of bagpipes, as well as brass instruments. While these bands played, a slide show of them performing in their own country was shown on an overhead screen.

The Tattoo International Highland Dancers performed several dances in perfect unison wearing a variety of costumes to match the music.

But it wasn’t all about music. The floor was cleared more than once to make way for other forms of entertainment.

The Soldiers’ Race pitted members of the Royal Canadian Navy against the Canadian Armed Forces in an obstacle course, one team at each end of the floor. When each group had completed the course, they carried away the obstacles. The Navy came out the winner that night.

Then, long silk scarves of bright pink were lowered from the ceiling and we watched in awe, often holding our breath, as Anastasia performed acrobatics on the scarves, climbing high, using only her hands and feet to twist her body, swing up-side down and suddenly drop, stopping herself just in time.

The German Bicycles, a group of young Germans who rode sometimes in singles, sometimes in pairs on two-wheeled bicycles around the floor, balancing on one hand or one foot, riding backward and forward and spinning around, also gave us cause to gasp at times. Sometimes it was just comical.

More comedy was provided by the Flying Grandpas, a group of men of varying ages who ran, jumped and bounced off and on a trampoline with near misses, while allowing the preparation for the second half of the show to be completed.

High Flyer RB3 also had us clenching our teeth when she jumped and turned from hands to feet on a narrow, bouncing, balance beam, being held by two very strong male assistants.

There were historical scenes, this year focusing on the bravery of The No. 2 Construction Battalion, formed in 1916, two years after being told World War I was a “white man’s war” and they were not allowed to enlist. When things weren’t going well, the formation of this all black battalion was approved. Many of their descendants were in attendance in the scene that night. Another tear-jerker.

When MC Tom led the Tattoo Choir and the Children’s Choir in a compilation of Beatles Tunes, the audience was singing along, waving their phone flashlights in time to the music.

A Clip from the Beatles Medley with Children’s Choir and MC

The second half of the show was much the same as the first, with different music. Throughout the whole show, three young women singers gave beautiful renditions of popular British songs.

The Finale Fanfare had all the participants together in one massive band, marching back and forth, crisscrossing and dividing, bringing the audience to their feet, with their flashlights again.

The Finale Mass Bands

What a Show!