A long, hot and windy day of rehearsals at the Castle for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2012

Exciting update: An article I wrote about the daytime rehearsals has been published on the Reserve Force Division website! Here is the PDF document.

The spectators are thoroughly enjoying the performance of “The Gael” from Last of the Mohicans

Monday, 29 October 2012, was a long and very busy day at the Castle of Good Hope for all the organising committee members, act coordinators, backstage crews, and performers. Not only was it necessary to do some repair-work in the aftermath of a gale-force southeaster the previous night (the wind continued to blow throughout the day), but a march through the central city streets by most of the participants to promote the 2012 Tattoo provided some wonderful entertainment for people working in and visiting the city at lunchtime.

During the entire day, the rehearsals continued in the large, almost rectangular, front arena. Two run-throughs had been scheduled for the evening: the first for the bands to practice their entrances and exits, the audio-visual crew to go through their lighting cues, and for the wranglers to figure out the sequence with which chairs, musical instruments, microphones and assorted other items needed to be removed. The second was a full run-through of the entire programme from start to finish, for timing purposes. This only finished about 23h30 – which in my eyes is clearly testimony to the dedication and commitment of everyone involved in staging this event!

Mortar run practice

The three mortar run teams – two teams from the Cape Town Highlanders, and one team from Cape Field Artillery – under the control of Corporal Cox were put through their paces under the watchful eyes of WO2 Alfie Wort of the Highlanders. They use an 81mm M3 Mortar, which is a patrol and base weapon firing high explosive, smoke screen and illumination bombs, and can be handled by a team of four persons. It consists of a base plate assembly, a barrel assembly and a mount assembly. The full mortar, incidentally, weighs just on 15 kg – and each bomb around 1.8 kg – and due to its short range, it is usually deployed fairly close to the objective and thus under enemy fire. Strength – and speed – are clearly essential.

They throw their guns into the air, clap their hands and catch their weapons again – a tricky move!

The SA Navy’s Silent Drill Squad under Warrant Officer Carl Daniels rehearsed their silent drill. All of the movements in their act are controlled entirely by the beat of the drum, without any orders being shouted, so you can imagine how good their concentration and focus, as well as the coordination between the team members, needs to be!

Meanwhile, the SA Army Bands of Cape Town and Kroonstad, together with the South African Medical Health Services Band were rehearsing their combined pieces behind one of the seating stands. Corporal Godfrey Rahube was the soloist of the beautiful “Thank you for the Music” – a most appropriate song, as this year’s Tattoo pays tribute to the Military Musicians.

Corporal Godfrey Rahube singing “Thank you for the music”

Bandsmen – particularly drummers and trumpeters – have always been part of the Cape’s garrison; they are responsible for transmitting and relaying calls in the field, acting as a communication system, warning the garrison of parades or danger, and recalling off-duty soldiers to their barracks at sunset. This latter ritual is the source for the name of this event, a “Tattoo”:

The word “tattoo” is derived from a centuries-old military ritual, which originated in the Low Countries during the 80 Years’ War in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each evening, before nightfall, patrols would be sent out to warn off-duty soldiers that it was time to return to the garrison for the evening parade and guard duties. Tavern-keepers would be ordered: “Doe den tap toe!”(Close the taps on your beer-barrels). All the armies in the Low Countries adopted this nightly ritual. Over the centuries, it became a unique and colourful show, known as a “tattoo” in English, “taptoe” in Dutch and “Zapfenstreich” in German. As the Dutch were the first occupants of the Castle from 1652, this ritual was adopted here too.

The combined army bands – a heart-stirring sound!

Monday was also the first time that I heard the bands performing the hauntingly beautiful “The Gael” from “The Last of the Mohicans”. I had heard this extraordinarily powerful piece, with its booming drums and swirling bagpipes, for the first time during the SA Navy Band’s gala evening of music in 2011, when they had been joined by the Pipes and Drums of Cape Field Artillery. One doesn’t normally associate violins with military bands, but these dedicated musicians are clearly multi-talented!

I stood there, together with a couple of tourists who happened to be visiting the Castle at the time, and was overwhelmed by their music… it’s lump-in-the-throat stuff. It’ll be even more extraordinary when they are joined by the pipe bands during the evening performances, with the magical lighting and the excited crowds, all against the unique backdrop of the historic Castle and Table Mountain.

Pipes and Drums of 1 Medical Battalion

One by one, all the groups had a turn on the arena: the SAMHS Band, led by Drum Major Staff Sergeant Mashiya, were joined by the Pipes and Drums of 1 Medical Battalion, under Pipe Major Tom Fuller. I do not know the name of the piece they performed together, but it was very powerful and dramatic, giving me goosebumps!

The young girls and boys of Westcott Primary School in Diep River were back to weave their magical spells with djembe drums, recorders, xylophones and glockenspiels. In Grades 4 through 7, they are between 10 and 13 years old, and all are learners at the Music Department; Jill Scheepers, who accompanied them on the keyboard, is responsible for the musical arrangements for the band, and Maya Maille is their conductor.

Westcott Primary School

Videographer Andrew Schofield, who is shooting a DVD of the entire Tattoo, took a couple of the girls aside for some close-up footage of them playing their instruments – tight shots that he won’t be able to get during the actual evening performances.

Andrew was the talented creator behind the DVDs of the 2009 and 2010 Cape Town Military Tattoos, which you can purchase either at the entrance to the Castle during the Tattoo, or via his website.

The lovely beauties of the Celtic Dance Tapestry

The Celtic Dancers took to the stage, wearing their black stockings and soft and hard dancing shoes. Andrew and Simone got some close-up shots of their feet and legs, as these flashed through the air – their legs always move soo fast that it is difficult to get fully focussed and non-blurry shots.

The audio crew had miked up the stage to capture the sound of their tapping feet, which led an interesting dramatic effect to the power and impact of their performance.

Thereafter, it was time for a short break and a quick bite to eat, before the start of the evening’s rehearsals. But I will post pictures of that in another post!

6 thoughts on “A long, hot and windy day of rehearsals at the Castle for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2012

  1. Reggie you’re really getting good with capturing photos of people marching about. I can imagine that it’s not easy and you must be running about constantly.
    I like the one on the bottom right – the legs all lined up just right

    • Thank you, Rosie, it is so challenging to get a good shot, actually – but soo rewarding when you do! And you’re quite right, it does involve a lot of running around. The tricky thing is knowing the bands’ routines well enough to be in the right place at the right time.

    • You are so welcome, Pauline. I wish you could be there too in person, to experience it for yourself. That one piece, ‘The Gael’ from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, is just sooo haunting and powerful, I really look forward to hearing it again tonight. Can you make a plan to attend the Tattoo?

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