Today had been a dark, cold and wet day in the city. As I walked back to my car late at night, I could hear, somewhere, in the distance, the wail of a piper and the deep roll of bass drums echoing within the Castle walls, the sound seeming to linger long after they had fallen silent.
I had gone down to the Castle early this morning, as there was a detailed schedule of practice sessions planned for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2014, which will run from the 6th to the 8th of November, with a dress rehearsal on Wednesday night and a matinee on Saturday afternoon. Tickets are available at Computicket – go book your seats now! You really do not want to miss this event.
Although it wasn’t raining all that hard, the persistent steady drizzle meant that the musicians couldn’t go through their routines in the increasingly waterlogged arena or in the practice field at the rear of the Castle. In this weather, the risk of damage to their instruments, many of which would be prohibitively costly to repair or replace, is high. Instead, they huddled under shelter whenever the drizzle became too intense, played their pieces in the colonnade near the entrance, or warmed up their instruments in the spacious mess tent. Ever so often, when the sky lightened sufficiently, a group rushed out into the arena to run through a certain routine.
Unfortunately, the inclement weather meant that the schedule was quickly abandoned.
I had very much been looking forward to seeing all the military marching bands, all the pipe bands, the drill squad, the dancers, the bikers… all the performers go through their various routines and sequences of entrances and exits in the main arena. I was particularly eager to see the new acts, and was keen to get some dramatic close-up action shots – this is often easier during the rehearsals when I can move around more freely.
I was also very curious to see how it would all fit together, and how the various groups would be moving across the arena and positioning themselves in relation to each other and the spectators. This year, because the stands are arranged very differently, the lines of sight, angles and perspectives – and backdrops – are all completely different. This also means that the positions for the best photos have changed, which brings with it entirely new challenges… Never mind the challenges posed by the lighting, which will only become clear during the first evening run-through and the dress rehearsal.
Although it was a somewhat disjointed and slightly frustrating day, photographically speaking at least, what I remember most were the many wonderful moments shared with the people who give so freely (and often without remuneration) of their time, their energy, the experience and their skills to make this whole event happen: the musicians, the troops and officers, the admin staff, the backstage crew, the behind-the-scenes helpers, the family and supporters and fellow photies.
Since the preparations at the Castle started in earnest last week, there have been so many of these wonderful moments of connecting with people: some were just brief exchanges or a nod of acknowledgement, while others were friendly conversations over tea and sandwiches, a shared tea and muffin, or a plate of food at suppertime, or speaking with some of the officers and NCOs of the participating units behind the scenes, or chatting with the security guards who guard the perimeter. I loved getting to know someone I had seen at previous Tattoos or someone I hadn’t met before, whether it was a corporal in the kitchens, a groundsman or a painter, a drum major or a musician in a band, or a supportive family member on the sidelines.
There were so many unforgettable moments: learning something new about the valuable instruments used by the musicians; shivering in the arena or on the stands, as the temperatures dropped in the evening, because none of us wanted to miss a single moment of the rehearsals; and sheltering from the rain under the stands with a couple of bandsmen, while the massed military bands played the full glorious 1812 Overture – and expecting the 25-pounder guns outside the Castle to fire in synch! Because that’s what they will do at each performance.
Let us definitely not forget the glorious music!
All the bands who participate at the Cape Town Military Tattoo have such a vast repertoire. They don’t just play marching tunes for the soldiers on parade or celebratory pieces at passing out parades or mournful ones at funerals and memorial services. They play classical, pop, jazz, rock, marimba, percussion, operatic style, themes from well-known movies… the list is endless.
Most of all, what I remember about today was the feeling of camaraderie that so often built up over the week of the Tattoo: that feeling of “We’re all in this together, so let’s do the best we can, and make this the best Tattoo it can possibly be.”
It is that feeling of being part of something bigger, something spectacular and thrilling, that brings so many of the participants, whether regular force or reserve force or civilian, back again year after year, to the Cape Town Military Tattoo. And I like to think that the audience too can sense that feeling, and that they too will feel part of it all.
May we have a rockingly fabulous Tattoo at the Castle this year!!