Misty-Eyed Over Marching Bands

Misty-Eyed Over Marching Bands

I never thought I would write these words, but I miss marching in parades. As a teenager I spent much of my spare time practicing and playing trumpet with the Burlington Teen Tour Band.

I marched in the California Rose bowl Parade, I performed on the beaches of Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day and I entertained Hamilton Tiger Cat fans during the Grey Cup half time show.  The BTTB, as it is known, performed at 100 events every year and still does. When I was almost no longer a teen, I joined up with the Naval Band of the Naval Reserve, much to the consternation of the BTTB director. He was ex-air force so I guess that explains his “why’d you go and do a stupid thing like that?” comment.

For nine years I continued playing and marching with the Naval Reserves in Toronto, Halifax, Hamilton, Borden and Québec City. I met my wife to be, MJ, while performing at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, the largest annual indoor tattoo featuring over 2000 performers from around the world.  But after many years of standing at attention, pie-in-the-sky career aspirations, impending offspring and fallen arches, stepping in time no longer held the allure it once did.

Fast forward to yesterday. MJ and I were leaning against the fence surrounding Jonathan Sewell’s former dwelling, just inside the St. Louis gates in downtown Quebec City. We were waiting for the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands’ Parade. Our eldest son, a musician and a cadet, was to be carrying the flag in front of the Royal Air Force Band from Belgium. Three hours before the parade was scheduled to start people were already staking their claims on the best stretches of sidewalk, and with good reason, the parade was very entertaining.

Canadian parades, in my experience, tend to be a little sombre, especially November Christmas parades in small Southern Ontario towns. When you march down the streets of Washington D.C. or Baltimore on the 4th of July, the crowds cheer so loudly you can hardly hear yourself playing. Yesterday, I’m happy to say, had more in common with rowdy American cousins because parade goers had no choice but show their appreciation. Romeo Dallaire was there shaking hands with as many people as he could. Those who weren’t already standing got up out of their lawn chairs to applaud and stayed standing and clapping for the Canadian soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.

The marching bands arrived one after the other, so close that often we could hear two at the same time. Each band was impressive in its own right, they were as follows:

Guest Foreign Military Bands

  1. The Royal Air Force Band, Belgium
  2. The New York City Police Department Band, The United States
  3. The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, The United Kingdom
  4.  The Russian Alexandrov Red Army Choir and  Ensemble, Russia
  5. The Top Secret Drum Corps, Switzerland

Guest Canadian Military Bands

  1. La Musique du Royal 22e Régiment, Québec
  2. The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipes and Drums, Québec
  3. La Musique des cadets de la Région de l’Est, Richelain
  4. La Musique de l’Artillerie royale canadienne, Edmonton
  5. The 17 Wing Pipes and Drums, Winnipeg
  6. The 400 Squadron Pipes and Drums, Borden
  7. The National Band of the Naval Reserve, Toronto
  8. The 8 Wing Pipes and Drums, Trenton
  9. The 3 Area Support Group Pipes and Drums, Gagetown
  10. The 78th Highlanders (Ross-Shire Buffs) Pipes and Drums, Halifax
  11. Celtic Sole, Nova Scotia

When MJ and I decided it was time to “get hitched” we eloped to Edinburgh, Scotland.  That evening we attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which we thought quite apropos because of where we first met.  The word tattoo is an alteration of the Dutch words tap toe which itself was a word linked to the noise made by mallets shutting the beer barrels. In the 17th century, the British Army was fighting in Belgium and the Netherlands. Drummers were sent out in the evening to let the innkeepers know that it was time to stop serving beer and for the soldiers to return to their barracks. The process was known as doe den tap toe (Dutch for “turn off the tap”). Nowadays, a tattoo is a spectacular show complete with military bands and displays.

In 1967, Quebec City held its first tattoo as part of the 100th anniversary of Canadian confederation. That tradition continues today as part of the Québec City International Festival of Military Bands. We attended the show last night in the air conditioned deprived Colisée. Even though my shirt was sticking to my seat (I know, yuck), the Quebec City Military Tattoo, with its 800 musicians and participants, was quite impressive. There were tributes to both General Romeo Dallaire and the events of September 11.  Both received standing ovations, as did the Canadian soldiers and Switzerland’s Top Secret Drum Corps with their flaming drumsticks routine. Once again, the various marching bands did not fail to impress. The audience did not hesitate to clap and sing along to songs that have been converted to military marches. Songs such as:  “ Auprès de ma blonde”, “ La Madelon”, “Cadet Roussel”, “Quand Marianne s’en va au moulin” and “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. The Red Army Choir and the Russian Alexandrov Troupe, is known as one of the most famous and prestigious military ensembles in the world, and for good reason. But every band really did their best to make the evening memorable.

So what’s a former marching musician to do? Whip out my old parade boots and strut around the house? Dust off my trumpet and wake up the neighbour’s newborn? Every time I hear Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days I think, I sure hope that when I get older I don’t sit around thinking about it, but I will probably will. Luckily, I have next year’s International Festival of Military Bands to look forward to.

Photos by Jason Enlow

Categories: Events

About Author

Jason Enlow

Jason Enlow is a Special Education Technician at an English elementary school. He was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Jason studied Radio and Television at Ryerson University in Toronto. His previous employers include CityTV, CBC, The Weather Network, and Global Television. He’s worked as a DJ, camera operator, musician, teacher, translator and video game content designer. Jason moved to Quebec City in 1997 where he still lives today with his wife and three sons.