Sunday, September 11, 2011
The Bands of Battle in Scotland
Inside the ancient castle that towers over Edinburgh, Scotland, is a small chapel with stained glass windows and regimental books containing the list of names of Scots who lost their lives in wars around the world. The Scottish National War Memorial was opened in 1927, initially in honor of the 147,000 Scots who died in World War I.
Every summer for the past six decades, the bagpipers and drummers who have played the Scots into battle gather on the castle esplanade to perform the military music that can be haunting, rousing and even homorous at times. Today’s military tattoo is performed by a cast of nearly 1,000 in a temporary stadium packed with tourists drawn to the city for the theater and book festivals.
To some, military music is at best an acquired taste; to others, it is part of our cultural DNA, ingrained from years of Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades or as background to fireworks displays. Bagpipes also divide people sharply between fans and foes. There is no denying, however, that pipes and drums along with horns (and even strings) can be very stirring given the history of their roles on battlefields and at funeral services.
This year’s tattoo was surprisingly global with enough comdey to make the Disney folks take note. The first show stopper came when the music band of the Royal Netherlands Army rode into the arena on vintage bicycles, in World War I khakis, playing their instruments. Can you ride a bike and play a snare drum at the same time? While weaving in and out of crossing bicycles?
And who knew that the Brazilian Navy had a military band that included bagpipers? They were there and performed with Bossa Nova dancers in short frilly beach outfits. Not to be outdone the German Army Mountain Band from Bavaria brought along a synchronized wood chopping demonstration, four alpenhorns and an anvil (which they played).
Between musical numbers, there was a cannon pulling contest by teams from the Scottish Royal Navy and a (slightly hokey) reenactment of anti-piracy raid by sailors from the HMS Montrose.
Then it was back to music and marching, with three units from the Royal Marines who were joined by the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and finally, the other bands from around the world for the finale: The National Anthem, Auld Lang Syne and the Evening Hymn. Then from the ramparts a lone piper played A Parting Glass across the castle heights and across the years.
As the mournful sounds died out, the massed bands struck up a rousing march-out medley led by Scotland the Brave which had everyone ready to follow William Wallace with swords drawn.