“Look!” I pointed for Tim. “Behind the pirate ship– sousaphones!” There they were: white round rims bouncing above deck.
It was Friday night and we were full of anticipation for Taptoe Delft—a biennial concert in the tradition of military tattoos.
By way of a confessional, I used to be really into marching band. We’re talking about high school. My initial course of college study was music education, and my goal was to direct a band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dreams change, but… that would still be pretty awesome.
Now, why call a band festival a tattoo? I didn’t have a clue, though I knew that one of the most famous tattoos is the three-week festival each August in Edinburgh, Scotland. My first thought was that the Dutch taptoe must be an alteration of tattoo— but it’s actually the other way around. Taptoe arose from the tradition of a drum corps calling the soldiers back from the bars; it literally meant: turn off the taps! [Really, the dictionary notes on this one are fun. See the bottom of the post.] One of our friends here isn’t a fan of the tattoo, arguing that it glorifies a tradition of war. I suppose it does, but growing up my generation in America, marching bands meant parades on July 4 and football fields on brisk autumn nights.
We were treated to a performance that lasted for over three hours and ranged from the musically spectacular… to the truly hokey and bizarre. Our evening began with an opening act: the fun, nontraditional marching band Feestkapel De Blaasbalgen, who played party tunes while their emcee ran around the stadium holding up signs for the crowd to first clap, then sway, and then on to motions including kissing, jumping, and a polonaise. As the sun set, the full corps of assembled bands filed onto the square to kick off the main event.
The market lends itself to dramatic entrances, and several of the bands made theirs by marching out the wide-open doors of the Nieuwe Kerk (one, strikingly, playing “Fame”). While we enjoyed the whole show, there was a broad spectrum of ability and polish among the bands who performed.
Interspersed were moments of strange amateur theatre. I had higher hopes for the off-stage pirate ship than its actual role: to be dragged on to great effect while an overture from Pirates of the Caribbean was played over a loudspeaker… when there were at least seven live bands present… and then after a man in costume shouted something about being Jack Sparrow, and some extras in costume led the crowd in a few sea shanties, the whole thing was just dragged off again. (Leaving some of us asking: to what end?)
The bands were all Dutch but one, and (in my opinion) the best of the home crews was easily the Chr. Drum en Showfanfare DVS, from Katwijk. But slightly after 10 PM, the doors of the church opened for this year’s guest band: the Royal Danish Navy Band, out of Copenhagen. They were small, only twenty people compared to groups with 100+.
They. were. stunning.
A single word kept popping into my mind: precise. Every member of this group was impeccably precise, in music, in movement, in demeanor (sometimes serious and sometimes very humorous). I had the utmost respect for them twelve minutes later.
I would have much preferred ten more minutes of the Danes than the actual finale of the event, during which everyone marched neatly back for a stationary and awkward version of “You Raise Me Up,” complete with a lounge-style vocalist and knee-bobbing back-up girls. Every time the chorus came around, the vocalist sang: “I am down, when I am on your shoulders…” What? Well… at least there were fireworks.
There are some notable disadvantages to having an apartment on the market, most of them associated with noise. But I suppose the noise must translate occasionally to a free concert.
Tickets ran €17,50 (ours) to €33,50, but there were plenty of free seats Saturday during the Taptoe Street Parade, which went all through Delft in the afternoon. It included the bands from the concert, as well as more local and student bands.
It was a hot afternoon and knowing how hot those uniforms get, I didn’t envy these guys. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
And now, the OED on tattoo:
Etymology: In 17th cent. tap-too, < Dutch taptoe in same sense; < tap the tap (of a cask), + toe = doe toe ‘shut’. So Swedish tapto, Spanish (1706) tatu. Compare German zapfenstreich, Low German tappenslag, Danish tappenstreg, with the first element the same, and second element meaning ‘stroke, beat’.
1. A signal made, by beat of drum or bugle call, in the evening, for soldiers to repair to their quarters in garrison or tents in camp.
Example: 1644 Col. Hutchinson’s Orders in T. C. Hine Nottingham, etc. (1876) App. §8 If anyone shall bee found tiplinge or drinkinge in any Taverne, Inne, or Alehouse after the houre of nyne of the clock at night, when the Tap-too beates, hee shall pay 2s.
2. A military entertainment consisting of an elaboration of the tattoo by extra music and performance of exercises by troops, generally at night and by torch or other artificial light.
And lastly: eighteen seconds of the Danish marching band, accompanied by many bicycles.