Charge into summer with Fortissimo

Article / July 15, 2019 / Project number: 19-0095

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By Second Lieutenant James Benning, Ceremonial Guard Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — It couldn’t have been called pianissimo, which means “play it delicately.”

Not with the booming bass drums and screaming brass and reed instruments of huge marching military bands.

Not with the awe-inspiring skirl of dozens of bagpipes and the rat-a-tat-tat of scores of snare drums.

Not with the sights, sounds and smells of 19th-century battlefield manoeuvres with muskets blazing.

Not with the howling jets of a Royal Canadian Air Force fly-by.

Not with the resounding crescendo of an orchestra of musicians and Howitzers performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

This impressive and large-scale assembly will make it very clear to audiences just why this military and musical spectacular event is named after fortissimo, a musical term that means “play it VERY LOUD.”

And they certainly do.

This year, Fortissimo will once again play out on the lawns of Parliament Hill from July 18 to 20 at 7 p.m. It promises to provide two solid hours of excitement and thrills, filled with old and new traditions, magical moments and fun for the whole family. 

This extraordinary extravaganza that was created for the lawns of Parliament Hill features the soldiers of the Ceremonial Guard and guest performers from around the world. It is a showcase event in the Nation’s Capital that has drawn thousands of spectators since it began in 1997.

The 2019 Fortissimo event will include performances from:

  • The Ceremonial Guard, made up of more than 400 members of the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Governor General’s Foot Guards;
  • The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces,
  • Massed pipes and drums assembled from various units of the Canadian Armed Forces;
  • Aerial acrobatics by the Canadian Armed Forces’ Parachute Team, the SkyHawks;
  • The Guns of the 30th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery;
  • The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard;
  • The Band of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry;
  • The Dominion Carillonneur, who will play the bells of the Peace Tower;
  • Drummers and dancers from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Indigenous performers from Quebec;
  • A fly-past by the Royal Canadian Air Force; and
  • The Latvian National Armed Forces Staff Orchestra.

Merging both old and new military traditions, Fortissimo tells the Canadian Armed Forces story, celebrates its past, and looks towards the future. Its origins lie in two evening routines soldiers used at the end of every day.

As the sun was setting, soldiers would fire evening guns, withdraw into fortified camps or cities, lock the gates and lower the flag for the night. This ceremony became known as the Retreat. As a drum was used to signal this routine it became known as “Beating the Retreat”.

The second routine followed at dusk when rounds were made to check the sentries, drum and bugle calls indicated when the “First Post” and the “Last Post” sentries were in place. During this time, the drums would be played and the soldiers would be alerted that it was time to return to barracks. That ceremony became known as “the Tattoo.”

The word “Tattoo” is said to have originated from the Dutch “die den tap toe,” meaning “time to turn off the taps in the tavern.” It originated in the late seventeenth century and is associated with the practice of a drummer signalling to tavern and innkeepers to stop serving ale, and the soldiers to return to their quarters.

For Warrant Officer Kazimierz Rutkowski, the Regimental Quartermaster of the Ceremonial Guard, the highlight of the show has always been the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) (Wentworth Regiment) 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard as they demonstrate soldiering during the 1860s.

“I am really looking forward to the performances of RHLI again this year,” said WO Rutkowski, “Their unique style of drill and muskets always make for a good show.” The RHLI 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard was stood up in 2008, and is supported by the Regimental Foundation. The RHLI wear the uniforms, carry the weapons, and perform the foot, rifle and tactical drill of the period when the Regiment was first formed in 1862.

For many, Fortissimo is also a chance to experience the traditions and history of other countries.

Corporal Elise Rossignol, a current member of the Ceremonial Guard and veteran of many Changing of the Guard ceremonies and Fortissimo events, has previously worked with the members the Latvian National Armed Forces, which has sent the Latvian National Armed Forces Staff Orchestra as one of this year’s guest performers.

“Fortissimo gives me an opportunity to work with people from other countries. Spending time with Latvian soldiers who I trained with overseas is really exciting,” said Cpl Rossignol. In previous years Fortissimo has included guest performers from Germany, and the United States of America. It is through events like Fortissimo that we are able to honour the past with other Allied countries, while strengthening these same relations as we move towards the future. 

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