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Over the years, the Tattoo has expanded to include civilian as well as military performers- the choir is made up of local singers, and there are always Highland and Irish dancers in celebration of Nova Scotia's Celtic heritage. There are also troupes of gymnasts, etc who come from overseas to take part.
One of the best visiting groups was Top Secret, the precision drum corps from Switzerland. They were literally amazing, their routine including everything from a drummer's duel to flaming drumsticks, as well as truly incredible rhythms which never falter no matter what they're doing.
One fun part of the show is the soldiers' race. For many years, this was the "Gun Run", in which competing teams from two different military bases would race through an obstacle course carrying all the parts of a small cannon, which they would then have to assemble. The first team to get theirs together and fire it would win. They switched it up a few years ago, and now the teams race the course with their rifles, "shoot" at a target, then race back through the course, assembling and firing on the target again.
This year's show also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This included songs from the era being played by the massed bands and sung by the choir and soloists as film footage from the war played silently on the screen behind them. As well, the show honoured our fallen in Afghanistan with a solemn tribute which included a reading of the names of all those from Nova Scotia who gave their lives. For each fallen soldier, a member of the military stood holding a torch. As each name was read, a torch was extinguished, a visual expression of their loss.
I always have mixed feelings about the finale. On one hand, it's the best part of the Tattoo. On the other hand, though, it means that three hours have flown by and the show is nearly over. As all the participants gathered in the arena, and the massed bands and choir joined in 'I Vow To Thee, My Country', I couldn't help wishing that there was still more to come.
Each night of the Tattoo, the anthem from one of the participating countries is played- it was Germany's the night I was there- followed of course by 'O, Canada', which rocks the building. Then, as everyone marches out, the pipe and drum bands take over, with a medley of Scottish songs and marches, which always include 'Scotland the Brave', and as they finally march out themselves, 'Black Bear', which I always have to concentrate on so that I shout, "Hoy!" at the proper times.
I've attended the Tattoo many times over the years, and it never gets old. At various times it will make you laugh, gasp in awe, and well up with tears of pride and sadness. Tourists often plan their vacations to Nova Scotia to coincide with the ten days that the Tattoo runs, and I'm always surprised when I meet Nova Scotians who have never seen it, missing out on one of the greatest shows in the world which takes place in our own backyard. The motto for the Nova Scotia Tattoo is, "Beothaichidh Sinn An Cridhe Agus Gairmidh Sinn Dhachaidh Sibh", which is Gaelic for, "We stir the heart and call you home." That describes it perfectly.