Virginia International Tattoo - One Piper's Experience

By: Andrew Fusco

Wow, what an experience!  In April, I had the pleasure and honor to be asked to participate as a bagpipe player in the Virginia International Tattoo with the Wake & District Pipe Band.  I arrived to Virginia late on a Saturday and rehearsals began Sunday morning.  It was 8 days of craziness from there… an amazing craziness!  

Now your first question might be… “What is a Tattoo?”  A tattoo is a military performance of music or display of armed forces in general. The term comes from the early 17th century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe ("turn off the tap"), a signal sounded by drummers and trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks.  In modern times, it is generally a display of military music from all over the world, including dance and other interesting musical displays.  

I had never met anyone in Wake & District before; only spoken to their main man, Joe Brady, on the phone previously.  Joe put an incredible amount of trust in me, a player he had never met or heard play before.  We shared a common appreciation for and love of Atherton Bagpipes and a similar vision for our bands, and that’s all  we knew about each other.  Not wanting to let Joe down, or give him anything to worry about, I worked hard to be familiar with the music before arriving.  

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only out of town player they brought in to play with them.  Some really excellent players came from all over… Olivia from Oregon, Matt from Massachusetts, Kenny and Andrew from Tennessee, and a bunch of their “local” players from all over North Carolina.  A truly impressive group of people, and to pull this off, they had to be.  

We rehearsed for 2 days and then went on a 10 show bender, starting on Tuesday.  Performing for school kids on a field trip each day and then for enthusiastic crowds each evening.  

You can watch the finale here to experience a little of the magic yourself.  At the 17:28 mark, you can see the most moving part of the whole event for me, the riderless horse.  Joe and I were standing next to each other during formations at this point and the running joke was how this part would make our hearts hurt (in a beautiful kind of way) each time it happened.  Ten shows deep and it moved me every time.  

From there, we would go right into Amazing Grace.  For most pipers, Amazing Grace is easily overlooked and over played but this was very moving rendition, especially with the singers performing each verse in a different language and the combined bands joining in at the end with the hundreds of singers they had at the event.  

It was a truly invigoration experience.  I can’t thank Joe and all of the Wake & District band enough for including me in this wonderful event.  A significant realization for me was how important it is to be ready for an opportunity when it presents itself to you, in piping or in life.  But more on that next time…