In the heat of Bermuda, the Governor General’s Foot Guards’ rendition of Disney’s Frozen was among the hits

Article / January 4, 2016 / Project number: 15-0167

Hamilton, Bermuda — Even in the near-tropical climate of Bermuda, which has never seen snow in recorded history, the Regimental Band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG Band) dazzled the children of Purvis Primary School with symphonic highlights from Disney’s Frozen.

From October 18 to 25, 2015, the GGFG Band, together with the Pipes and Drums of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own) (CH of O), joined approximately 400 military musicians and entertainers to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Royal Bermuda Regiment.

It was also an opportunity to celebrate the awarding of the title “Royal” by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on September 1, 2015. From Wednesday until Saturday, the bands put their musical virtuosity on display individually and as part of a massed band to stage the 2015 edition of the Bermuda Tattoo at the Royal Naval Dockyard.

Despite what many people believe, Bermuda is remote from both North America and from the Caribbean Islands, forming a slightly triangular shape with them both. Its air and waters are kept warm by energy from the Gulf Stream which maintains what we Canadians would call a year-round summer.

The overall aesthetic of the island is as functional as it is beautiful:  the pastel pinks, greens and yellows used to paint the houses are unaffected by the regular mid-Atlantic storms; and, the bright white limestone roofs of the houses collect and filter rainwater into enormous cisterns hidden underneath the houses as there is little natural fresh water on the island. Strategically sunken shipwrecks off the coast of the island provided hidden security for the island during the Golden Age of Piracy. These shipwrecks are now prized as snorkelling and diving sites.

The GGFG and CH of O bands were invited because of their historical tie to the Bermuda community. As contributing regiments to the 38th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (38 Bn CEF), the two units performed garrison duty on the tactically important island after the departure of the British Army in 1914 at the onset of the Great War.

The island was considered to be a key refueling station midway between Britain and its interests in the West, and 38 Bn CEF was assigned the crucial task of providing a military presence against any potential aggressors. Although 38 Bn CEF would soon leave Bermuda for the front lines of Europe, they still managed to forge a deep and lasting connection to the community during their stay on the 53-square kilometre island. To put Bermuda’s size in perspective, it is more than 100 times smaller than Prince Edward Island with nearly one half of the population!

In the present, theThe GGFG Band took advantage of a pause in tattoo rehearsals to re-establish their connection to the community by performing some concert music at Purvis Primary School, the alma mater of tattoo Musical Director Major Dwight Robinson.

I am especially pleased that the GGFG was again able to perform at the Purvis Primary School […] where my interest in music was first piqued,” he said.

During a portion of the concert, three groups of children representing each of the school’s three “houses” were treated to a marching lesson delivered by GGFG Drum Major, Colour Sergeant Stéphane Marleau. After several minutes of perfecting the quick march, the halt and the salute, the lesson culminated in a friendly marching competition among the three houses accompanied by Kenneth J. Alford’s "Colonel Bogey March", which was judged by teachers. Much to the delight of Maj Robinson, it was Gordon House – the house to which he belonged as a student – that won the marching competition.

Some of the children were also invited to perform with the band as drummers-in-training, providing colourful percussion on wood blocks, tambourine, triangle and cowbell during a medley of well-known tunes by Stevie Wonder. At the end of the concert, which featured symphonic highlights from Disney’s Frozen, there was a smile on the face of every child and teacher in the auditorium and the band was congratulated with a corridor of high-fives on their way back to the Royal Naval Dockyard for the tattoo dress rehearsal.

The tattoo attracted spectators from the community, from visiting cruise ships in harbour and from Her Royal Highness Birgitte, the Duchess of Gloucester and Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, who was the guest of honour at Saturday evening’s performance.

Not even the sporadic gales of rain and wind prevented audiences from coming out to be entertained by the cast of international military entertainers.

The GGFG and CH of O bands presented an extraordinary program of music and marching, which opened with an arrangement of Strauss’ "Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a piece featured in the opening to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also featured as well as arrangements of traditional tunes for bagpipes and military band such as “Calliope House”, “John MacDonald’s Exercise” and the 38 Bn CEF regimental march, “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again.”

It is interesting to consider the effect that the GGFG and CH of O combined band performance had on the tattoo audience. Its combination of coordinated drill; musical settings which incorporated celtic instruments, vocalists and bagpipes into the standard marching band; and synchronized video with narration, entertained not only the audience but fellow participants. A U.S. Marine Corps musician complimented the GGFG and CH of O contingent saying that “not only was it a cool musical and visual production,” but that he also learned some history during the performance.

Major (Retired) Stephen Caton, Executive Director of the Bermuda Tattoo Committee, remarked that, “Spectators were delighted by the rare archival footage aired as part of the combined bands’ performance set, showing the 38th marching in Bermuda a century ago, along the same streets that many would have travelled themselves to attend the Tattoo.

The modern tattoo bears little resemblance to the historical ceremony of the 17th and 18th centuries. Once a martial ceremony with music that signalled innkeepers that it was time to send troops back to their beds for the night, the modern tattoo is a festival of musical virtuosity showcasing military bands in local, national or international settings. The most well-known of these military tattoos is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which attracts military and civilian performers from nearly 30 countries and over 200,000 spectators in Edinburgh, Scotland every August. In Canada, the largest event of its kind is the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.

Just as the 18th century tattoo ceremony signaled that it was time for soldiers billeted in the town to return to their quarters for the evening, the final performance of the Last Post signaled to the GGFG and CH of O bands that it was time to go home to Canada.

During the course of a week, the bands had performed for thousands of locals and tourists and fostered camaraderie and friendship with military bands and performers from the United States and the broader Commonwealth. As Maj Robinson noted with satisfaction, “To arrange to have a quality organization such as the GGFG Band perform in Bermuda was my pleasure. Their visit may have a similar or greater effect on another Maestro-in-the-making.” 

By Sergeant Rob McKinnon, Army Public Affairs

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