Boston's Middlesex County Volunteers spent a month performing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland.

“The Sky’s the Limit,” the theme of the 2018 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, marks the centennial of the Royal Air Force, as well as celebrates the advancement of flight. The Middlesex County Volunteers first appeared in the Tattoo in 2007, and as the corps returned in 2018, “The Sky’s the Limit,’ was truly the mantra. MCV’s show linked the relationship with the French by the conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783, to the invention of the hot air balloon by the French in that same year. The show combined a mix of traditional fife and drum tunes, contemporary Scottish piping tunes, and of course a French tune, into an exciting show that (with a little help from powdered wigs and pyrotechnics) captivated 220,000 people over 24 shows.

Junior Involvement

Of the 66 people performing with MCV in Scotland, 13 attended Junior Fife and Drum Camp!

Beyond marking the anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the show celebrated all the youth and future generations. This was demonstrated not only in the remarkably young cast (many groups were high school aged or younger), but through the laughter and joy that was seen in many of the acts. Laughter and joy are certainly not the first things people associate with MCV, and the demographic of the corps is slightly above high school; nonetheless the future of fife and drum was well represented through the ranks. Of the 66 people involved in the trip to Scotland, 13 attended Junior Fife and Drum Camp, with many more having marched in a junior corps before aging out. The impact and energy of the younger generation was widespread, from sporadic jam sessions on the walls of the Castle, to the relationships made with performers all around the world embracing the young spirit.

The celebration of youth did not take away the demand for perfection, however. The demand from the sound department was so high that each individual had to be no more than twelve inches off their mark. Perfection is no easy goal. Between the difficulty of the music and marching, the expectation of discomfort in a new environment, and the toll a month of performing can take on the body, preparation for the trip started two years prior when MCV accepted the invitation to perform in the Tattoo. In that two-year period the team had to be assembled, book written, arranged, and learned, vacation time requested, flights booked, buttons sewn, and a much, much more. All of this work culminated in just four days of rehearsal with the full cast, followed by a month of shows.

Once the shows started, things relaxed substantially. Mornings and afternoons were free for sightseeing and exploration, anxiety levels were down across the boards, and of course cast parties at the cast bar after the show were always well attended. By the end of the run, each day felt like another day at work, but with a whole lot of Groundhog Day thrown in. Despite the repetitive nature of a show day, backstage culture was vibrant. Each group was given a soundproof pod as a dressing room, which allowed people to wander from pod to pod to find their friends and exchange gifts. A soup station for part of the cast was directly outside of the MCV pod, which became a popular hangout spot. There was no view better than that from the drumline’s warmup spot, and it was commonplace for performers from different groups to gather there to enjoy the sunset each night.

MCV has done many Tattoos over the last decade or so, but each and every Tattoo is a life changing experience. The feeling of camaraderie and friendship, and of course talent and skill that is shared between international casts is unparalleled. The opportunity is humbling, and every we were extremely honored to be able to represent not just the United States, but the fife and drum community on a tremendous scale. As we make the rough transition back into our everyday lives, our hearts yearn for Scotland, but our heads turn to the next time we can play Drums and Guns at a jam session with our fife and drum family again.



Contributor: Nick Johnson, Snare Drummer, MCV