Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo a show to remember

If you like bag pipes, military drum bands and the military in a variety show, the Royal NS Tattoo is for you.

Tattoo 2011 Finale (photo Royal NS International Tattoo)

I knew it would be special when I was gifted tickets for the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.

There is no show on earth that will raise the hair on the back of your neck with patriotism and pride in our military and RCMP like the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, which has run every summer since 1979.

The Tattoo runs from July 1-8 every year when more than 2,000 performers entertain near packed audiences for three hours.The show moves along quickly with 3-6 minute performances. The announcer said there are still some tickets left for the rest of this week.

This year’s Tattoo features a special salute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her 60th Anniversary.

There are pipe and drum bands, military brass bands from around the world, Highland and Acadian dancers, gymnasts, Broadway show tunes, a salute to Cole Porter, military exercise contests, and enough general entertainment to keep everyone amused.

 Tattoo 2011 Highland Dancers (photo Royal NS International Tattoo)

The NS Tattoo is the largest indoor tattoo in the world.

Your eye keeps trying to sweep the Halifax Metro Centre for what is happening on the screen, on the floor, and the stage.

It is hard to take it in all at once, which might explain why some people come back year after year.

This year was only my 2nd Tattoo, the first was in 1995. My partner warned me to bring tissues: the show is so thrilling at points it brings me to tears of pride, patriotism and nostalgia.

Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo 2012

The 2012 Tattoo was full of excitement, music and pageantry. The show opens with a tribute to Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee as the assembly sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’ It made you proud to be Canadian and a member of the Commonwealth.

  NS Tattoo 2012 Massed Pipes and Drums (photo Royal NS International Tattoo)

Halifax is a Navy and Canadian forces city, founded as the British military port on the North Atlantic.

One expects Canadian military bands to be impressive in dress and their performances.

The bands did not disappoint the audience with precision marching and the best in military music.

The bands included the Stadacona Band of the Military Forces Atlantic, National Reserve, Land Force Atlantic, and the Ceremonial Guard. The Massed Canadian Forces and the RCMP Pipes and Drums stirred the hearts of Nova Scotians, Scotts and everyone in the audience.

Stephen Pate and RCMP honor guard outside the Royal NS Tattoo (photo E. Larkin)

The RCMP National Troop looked stunning in their scarlet tunics representing our national police force.

One of the officers, who had stood for a tourist shot outside, took the time to find me during the intermission. We had a great chat about the show.

Did I mention how great all the pipe bands were?

You can never hear enough pipe bands and nothing beats the Massed Canadian Forces and the RCMP Pipes and Drums.

La Baie en Joie performed Acadian dances reminding us that Nova Scotia has a mixed heritage of Acadian, Scottish, British, and German settlers. Celtic music and fiddle of Kathleen Gorey-McSorley was used to great effect in creating variety in the show.

The NS Tattoo is an international show with military bands like the US Marines Band of the Few (retired), from Germany Heersemusikcorps 1, Swiss Army Central Band, and the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force.

The military demonstrations were not only exciting, they demonstrated the value of practice drills with the Rappel Team coming down from the rafters, a naval gun race, and a Canadian Forces obstacle race.

The singers including the Tattoo Choirs were awe-inspiring. Their clear and musical voices rang out in the Metro Centre and brought me to tears several times.

There is just no show like the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and my words cannot do it justice.

Military Tattoo

During the Thirty Years War in the 1600s, Dutch drummers were sent into the towns to announce the curfew at 10 PM, with a  in the Netherlands. Their rat-a-tat-tat was a signal of “doe den tap toe (Dutch for “turn off the tap”)” (Wikipedia).

Soon then added music and parades to the “doe den tap toe” and it became part of military pageantry.  Tattoos were popular in England during the World Wars as an entertainment for the towns near military bases. They became elaborate musical productions. There are several famous Tattoos in the UK at Edinburgh and Windsor Castle.

Nova Scotia Tattoo

“Canada’s Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is the largest annual indoor tattoo, each year featuring over 2000 performers from around the world. The Tattoo has been produced since 1979 by Colonel Ian Fraser, who also produced the 1967 Canadian Centennial Tattoo, the world’s largest travelling show. Through the course of his career Fraser has produced and / or directed more than 1000 international Tattoo productions across the globe.”

“The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is unique in that it is a full theatrical production, comprising costume designers, props designers, full wardrobe staff, and is presented as ‘theatre in the round’. The show is intensely rehearsed over a two-week period and is a wholly combined military and civilian production.”

“The Nova Scotia Tattoo was the first Tattoo to receive royal designation on the occasion of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th Birthday in 2006(Wikipedia)


For a military tattoo the pacing was perfect. The gymnasts provided humor and variety.  I wondered about the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ song but then realized they need to focus our attention away from the other end of the floor while major props were being set-up.

The Paris Police gymnasts were entertaining except the dangerous trapeze bit that went on far too long.

It would have been right to include a Míkmaq dance troop, considering their place as a founding people in Nova Scotia.

We didn’t sing ‘God Save the Queen’ at the finale which would have been proper since the show was dedicated to Her Majesty. In Halifax movie theaters that was a regular event.

Take Away

I bought the CD of this year’s rehearsals which is an excellent memento. I have enjoyed the 2-CD set while I write this. The audio level fluctuates too much between the announcer and the bands on the floor, which had to be fixed with auto volume leveling.

CD’s and DVD’s can be ordered online after August 1, 2012. The concession person said the DVD was not the best quality so I didn’t buy it. The Tattoo is really meant to be enjoyed live. There is no show like it.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald reviewed the rehearsals in Tattoo preview busier than three-ring circus

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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1 Comment

  1. Good review. I’m in the string quartet featured in the Titanic scene, and a couple other scenes in the the second act, and I’ve had a chance to see the show many times now. You are right about the dangerous Paris Police Trapeze act- it is nerve wracking to watch, and could be a bit shorter.
    About not singing God Save the Queen– every night we’ve been playing the Canadian national anthem plus an of the anthems from one of the other countries represented. God save the queen was sung at the opening show, and will be sung again tomorrow at the closing show.

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