While the rest of Charleston was left to simmer in its hotter-than-a-pepper-sprout August temps, the lads and lassies of The Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes were busy trading their bikinis for brollies as they set off to perform at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland's mighty cool capital city.
Every year, Edinburgh hosts a month-long festival which celebrates every form of art imaginable, with something for everyone at any time of day or night, from Beethoven for Breakfast at 8 a.m. to Late and Live Comedy from 1-5 a.m. It's like Spoleto on speed, on a grander scale and with more Spaniards in attendance. The highlight is the military tattoo.
Entertainers take to the streets on giant, flaming unicycles. Tourists dine in the sky on gourmet food cooked and served atop a 100 foot-tall crane overlooking the city and its many hills. And the most glamorous burlesque acts take over the nightclubs shaking more than their tail feathers. But the highlight of some of the most alluring events in the world is the nightly celebration where each year, about 217,000 people come from over the hill and yonder to see the spectacle of military bands from all over the globe perform in the stunning grounds of the Edinburgh Castle.
This year, in its Diamond anniversary, the Tattoo welcomed Charleston's very own as the United States' sole representative. How's that for high expectations?
"It's a lot to live up to, let's put it that way," beamed Danielle Vincent, a junior education major and bagpiper extraordinaire. "But it's been a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity. I think we've represented America pretty well."
Junior Nathan Figlewski, a trombone player, agreed. "You walk around town and people can tell where you're from because of the accent and they always ask why you're here. It's been very cool to represent the United States in that way — walking over that drawbridge and being able to play for thousands of people every single night."
The Citadel's 100 cadet musicians were among 1,000 military and civilian performers in the international extravaganza, which also included the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, New Zealand highland dancers, and the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces Contingent. Mingling with other cultures was something that proved to be quite the highlight for the traveling musicians. Their music became their language.
"There was a time before rehearsals when we were behind the drawbridge with the Jordanians, and they couldn't speak a word of English, but through music they would be like, 'Play that again,' or, 'See if you can do this, see if you can do that,'" Christine Knight, an alto sax senior from Orlando, explained. "It showed me the magic of music ... that we can communicate through music. That was an amazing experience.
"Their music is not what you expect," she added. "It's not as structured, like classical music for example, but fluid and fun, and very cool to hear another culture's style of music. It opens my ears towards different kinds of music and broadens my horizons."
Spending free time away from the castle grounds, they had lunch with one "very witty" Princess Anne. But when they weren't shaking hands with royalty or coaxing crowds to sing-a-long to "Hey Baby," these cadets got a few breaks to marvel at the local flavor. They traipsed up many hills to admire the historic scenery. Some sampled a Scottish lager called Tennent's while checking out the folk music offerings in local pubs. And junior trumpet player Will Moore could be seen rubbing elbows with Star Wars theme-playing bagpipers.
"I think the best thing about the music scene here is that you see so many people playing different styles of music on the streets," Knight added. "You have a few in Charleston, but here there's different drummers, bagpipes, people on the guitar, singing, choirs — so many people who are really, really gifted and know how to use it."
And just as they saw the beauty of the streets and caught on to the benefits of walking everywhere (you get to see stuff and burn calories acquired from greasy chip consumption), the festivities' end drew near. Whether that's a good thing is up in the air.
Danielle Vincent says the bagpipes made her feel right at home and that she regreted having to leave. But as for Christine Knight, "This may be my ancestry, but I prefer warmer weather," she said.
Auld Lang Syne, my friends. You done good.
Freelance writer and fashionista Kelly Rae Smith is a Carolina lady living and working in Edinburgh, Scotland. She enjoys foggy weather, long walks, and cheeky pints of ale. She loves the Beach Boys and Britney Spears equally.