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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2016

March 01, 2016 at 8:09 AM

With thanks to Mr Andrew Lightfoot, Pipes & Drums teacher 

The Pipes & Drums departure to Wellington in February marked the culmination of many months of hard work in preparation for participation in the Massed Pipes & Drums of the New Zealand 2016 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  In the build up to the Tattoo, our students focussed on refining their playing skills and memorising the many and varied musical scores as they arrived in batches from Scotland.  As expected, the music was challenging and ranged from traditional songs and military marches through to some surprising modern dance music, and even a fanfare to provide a backdrop for a fireworks display.  

There was also the challenge of reconfiguring the band instruments from their traditional natural scale down to concert pitch in order to integrate their sound with singers, the brass and woodwind of the military bands and the sound and texture of the Shetland fiddlers.  All of the players also had to be kitted out with new doublets and plaids to meet the stringent requirements of full Highland dress.  This was achieved thanks to a kind donation by the Parents and Friends Association.

Arriving in Wellington at the Westpac Stadium to find a life-sized replica of Edinburgh Castle constructed at one end of the arena certainly set our students’ nerves buzzing. To hear that all available accommodation was full to capacity because of the Show brought home to everyone the immense scale of the event.

For 65 years, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has inspired and entertained its audiences.  It has always evoked strong emotional responses: from the quiet reflections at the introduction of the Show, the evening hymn, bugle calls of Reveille and Last Post and the lone piper high on the castle ramparts; through joy with fanfares and a variety of military and cultural performances; to an exuberant celebration of nationhood with anthems and the coming together in a finale of a 1200 strong international cast.  

The storytelling, the score and the programme signalled the themes of military and wider social history. Throughout, the storyline of the NZ show was rich in New Zealand and Britain’s collective history and shared purpose.  The production reflected on the extraordinary ANZAC Force withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsular, following a full year of ANZAC celebrations as part of 100 year commemorations of the First World War.

Our Pipes and Drums task was to join with a contingent of select New Zealand bands to make up the Massed Pipes & Drums, alongside the military Pipes and Drums including The Royal Scots Boarderes, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Highlanders and The Royal Air Force.  We were proud that we arrived ‘well prepared, only needing the rough edges knocked off,’ high praise indeed from the Director of Army Bagpipe Music.  

The Edinburgh Tattoo is the British military’s public face and opportunity to connect with the people it serves in a fusion with civilian bands and cultural performers. We set about the three days and nights of practices and dress rehearsals working under the close supervision of the Senior Pipe Major and Drum Major, learning the precision drill movements and routines.  Although the boys and girls found the long hours ‘gruelling’ and comparable to ‘Field Centre - only 10 times worse,’ the objective was compelling and enthusiasm and excitement (and endless supply of hot food) overtook fatigue as everything fell into place.  

Our band was teamed up with the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Dragoon Guards who guided us through the daunting responsibility of leading out our ranks in the marching formation of the opening medley of the show.  It was a thrilling experience to finally stand in front, facing out with head and eyes up to the record-breaking crowds that packed the Stadium for each of the four evening performances.

Later in the programme the pipers reappeared to join with soloist singer, small-pipes and Ceilidh Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, in the famous and deeply moving James Scott Skinner piece ‘Hector the Hero’ lamenting the death of Sir Hector MacDonald (“Fighting Mac” as he was known).  Our Drum Corps joined in to provide rhythmic textures to a separate modern Oceanic piece called ‘Tarakihi.’

In the final segment of the 100 minute performance, The Massed Pipes & Drums returned to the arena with the military bands of HM Royal Marines, The Welsh Guard, bands from other countries as well as from New Zealand’s Army, Navy and Airforce – over 700 musicians in all – in an ambitious and cleanly executed troop up and down the field to one of the greatest marches ever - ‘The 79th Farewell to Gibraltar.’ This was a magnificent build-up to the sights and sounds of the finale, bringing on the full international cast of 1200 people, and closing the biggest and one of the most successful shows seen in New Zealand to date. 

The students of our Pipes & Drums felt privileged and very proud to represent the College at this landmark event.  It certainly has left them with memories that will last them a lifetime. 

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