Celebrating the historic richness of beating retreats and tattoos, the annual military musical spectacular of the Ceremonial Guard of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Fortissimo, is set to take place this week.
Fortissimo is designed around two evening routines carried out by soldiers every day for hundreds and hundreds of years. The first, is known as the retreat, and since drums were commonly used during this routine, it is widely known as the beating retreat. It occurred at sunset when soldiers fired evening guns, withdrew into fortified camps and cities, locked the gates, and as the sun set, lowered the flag. This was known as the retreat and since
The second routine, is known as a tattoo.
“The soldiers would be out in the bars and, as part of the routine of the end of the night, drummers and flute players would parade through the streets of the town and village, playing music. And that was a warning for the soldiers and mostly inn keepers to turn off the taps and soldiers to return to barracks,” explained Captain David Rennie, Adjunct of the Ceremonial Guard.
The word “tattoo” is said to have derived from the Dutch “die den tap toe,” which is translated as “turn off the taps.”
Fortissimo combines these age-old traditions into a “military and musical spectacular” that features massed military bands, pipes and drums; and attracts thousands of visitors each year since 1997.
“Because we’ve been doing it so long, it’s a key initiative, a key event. It’s allowing the general public to see military music at its best,” added Rennie.
Held on the grounds of Parliament Hill, Fortissimo is modelled around the Beating Retreat of the Household Division of the Ceremonial Guard in London, England.
The show not only features Canadian military performers, but also has an international flavour with bands from the U.S. and Germany.
A major crowd pleaser every year is the 1812 overture which features the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard, who is garbed in the attire of the era.
“If somebody was watching in 1812, you would see the RHLI advance across the field, east to west, firing muskets and actually executing weapons drills from that time period,” recalled Rennie.
Overall, the upwards of 350 musicians that will play in Fortissimo 2017 include: Dominion Carillon, the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Band of America’s Few, the Royal Canadian Air Force Band, Ceremonial Troop of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, 30th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, and the Elite Drill Team and Fife and Drums of the German Wachbataillon.
The event will also include a fly-by operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
This year’s Fortissimo will take place every night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the evenings of July 20-22. The event is free to attend. There is limited seating, attendees are advised to bring lawn chairs.