EDINBURGH, Scotland – Sailors from the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band are among about 1,000 international military and civilian musicians and dancers preparing to perform in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo outside Edinburgh castle Aug. 3-25.
The Edinburgh tattoo showcases music, dance and displays from around the world and is played against the brooding backdrop of the famous castle there for a live audience of approximately 217,000 people throughout the month in addition to being broadcast in 30 countries across the globe.
“This is like the Superbowl of tattoos,” said Musician 1st Class Richard Bruns, NAVEUR Band public affairs petty officer. “It’s an honor to be here at the most famous and most well-known tattoo in the world.”
The vision of tattoo Chief Executive and Producer British Brigadier David Allfrey, formerly the commander of the Royal Scottish Dragoon Guards, involves telling Scottish history through the ages from the Pictish barbarians to the modern digital age, according to NAVEUR Band Assistant Director Navy Ens. Christopher Cornette. He said each performer in the tattoo has his own portion of that story and the NAVEUR Band’s music represents comic book heroes meant to take the audience from the 1930s to the digital age of 1980s and ‘90s.
Allfrey said the characters represented by the music are universal to Scotland and while the tattoo seeks to entertain and inspire, it also hopes to create a fun atmosphere.
“I am thrilled with our international guests and as ever, the tattoo is proud to present some of the very best,” Allfrey said.
Another vision being created is one of lasting international partnership. British Royal Scottish Dragoons Guardsman Capt. Harry Braitwaite said while this is only his second time with this tattoo, this is not his first time interacting with Americans.
“When we were in Hong Kong last time for the international tattoo, we worked alongside your 7th Fleet Band, and it was absolutely fantastic,” Braitwaite said. “It is lovely to meet other service members from around the world and particularly our closest allies. It not only gives us perspective, but makes you feel as if you have friends all over the world.”
Braitwaite said his relationship with Americans goes back to his childhood when his father was posted to Washington, D.C., and his more recent interactions with American troops in Afghanistan. He also said the physical location of the tattoo is special to his unit.
“The Edinburgh tattoo has a long standing presence and as a Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, and, though we are based in Germany at the moment, our spiritual home is very much Edinburgh castle,” Braitwaite said.
One Australian sailor said the tattoo also has the power of showing the lighter and friendlier side of the world’s militaries.
“When I first joined nine years ago, one of the best quotes I ever heard was that military bands are the frontlines of peacetime defense,” said Australian Able Seaman Musician Ellen Zyla, with the Sydney Detachment of the Royal Australian navy band. “This event shows that even though there is a great deal going on in the world, we stand together and that our solidarity holds strong.”
Zyla said she found out about the U.S. Navy musicians coming to perform through her social media contact within the band.
“I’m friends with one of the U.S. Navy French horn players,” Zyla said. “I got a birthday message online asking if I was in Edinburgh for the tattoo ... I was extremely surprised, and truly this event feels to me to be more like a meeting of old friends.”
Among the many groups coming out for the tattoo are soldiers attached to His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guards Band and Drill Team. One Norwegian officer in the group commented on the power of music to unite cultures and strengthen bonds between nations.
“I think music is powerful,” 1st Lt. Gir Toege said. “You can be from America, Germany or Norway and yet still have the same music and a common marching style; it’s a truly worldwide language.”
Toege feels this event differs from other military-to-military engagements due to its peaceful undertones.
“We’re not training for war,” Toege said. “We’re training for peace here; it’s quite a different concept.”
Toege said he feels the world of the future will be better off because of the relationship building happening at places like Edinburgh. He said it is easier for a foreign national to integrate into a multinational unit if he already knows the service members and their customs.
To another musician, the tattoo presents an opportunity to play alongside the NAVEUR Band again.
“I served about a year with the NAVEUR Band,” said Musician Laura White, with the Royal Marines Band Service. “I travelled over to Italy, and I learned a great deal from the Navy band. Honestly, when we stand up there and perform, we’re all mixed together, and we become one unit. Music is the same language, and by talking with each other here, we’re building bonds between our nations.”
Cornette said the long-term effect of events such as the Edinburgh tattoo is showing the world the possibility for military and civilian interaction across boundaries.
“Whether that’s here in Europe, or certainly down in Africa, we always try and provide a picture to make people realize that no matter our differences, it is possible to come together and work toward a unified vision,” Cornette said. “This is the first time in about 10 years the U.S. has been part of this and the first time the U.S. Navy has been involved, and we are deeply honored to be here.”
Cornette also said music is a universal language, and, though all the military musicians may not speak the same language to each other, they all can understand and play the same music.
“It’s very easy to bring these people together, put a sheet of music in front of musicians who can’t otherwise communicate, and instantly they’re working together to make a product everyone can understand,” Cornette said.
Braitwaite said he hopes to see U.S. bands at future tattoos and hopes one day to work with American service members again.
The first tattoo was the Army in Scotland’s contribution to Edinburgh’s international festivals. Today, the tattoo is an international extravaganza, over time bringing together more than 40,000 performers from more than 46 countries.