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Caledonian Corps: USA Tour 2017


19 May 2017

Caledonian Corps: USA Tour 2017

Caledonian Corps: USA Tour 2017

During the recent term break the Caledonian Pipe Band travelled to the USA for the third time in the last five years. The primary focus of the tour was our participation at the Virginia International Tattoo, held annually in Norfolk, Virginia. This military tattoo is the largest in North America and 2nd only in size to the Edinburgh Tattoo. The pipe band enjoyed the responsibility of not only representing our school but also Australia as we joined forces with professional musicians from the UK, Canada and New Zealand to form the massed pipes and drums.

The city of Norfolk, hosts the largest Navy base in the world and contains the only permanent NATO headquarters outside of Europe. As you can imagine the Tattoo is welcomed by the local community who appreciate the pageantry and precision associated military traditions displayed by each of the groups. The focus of the Tattoo this year was the commemoration of 100 years since the USA joined the Great War. Only few years after Australia did! In the nine months preceding the Tattoo, the band were engaged in intensive extended practice sessions, many of which took place during the summer holidays, on public holidays and even some weekends. These sessions were necessary so that each and every member of the corps could achieve the high standard of discipline and musicianship required to perform with the band at this event. The result of this hard work was the respect earned by the other groups at the Tattoo, something that is not easy to achieve. Tattoo Drum Major McCucheon of the Scots Guards commented that he was “very pleased with our group and that we as a College should be extremely proud of the student’s performances”. For some of our students this was their first visit to the Tattoo, for others their second.

Chloe Morris in Year 10 has now performed both as a member of the Pipe corps (2015) and within the Drum corps (2017). Samuel Sirenko and Ulyssia Rothwell were members of the pipe band in 2015 but had not yet reached the required standard for the 2015 Tattoo tour. To their credit, they worked hard in practice and earned their place this year. Both students embodied the resilience and discipline that this level of performance calls for. Trent Pulford, Clodagh Goggin and Jeremy Stahl passed an audition process to perform the massed band drum salute on stage. This achievement is even more impressive given that only 10 positions were allocated for side drummers. Our Tenor drummers; Tess Bolnar, Cassie Williams and Savannah Stevenson should also be commended for their excellent work in producing the choreography for all of the tenor drummers within the massed bands. The Tattoo schedule was certainly no walk in the park.

Most mornings involved a 6am alarm call, breakfast to be completed by 7am and ready to leave our accommodation for 7:30 am. The band would typically play two shows and not return to our accommodation until after 10:30pm. Most of us were very tired by the end of the tour.

Leonie Burgess was given the honour by the Tattoo organisation of taking the salute for one of the Tattoo shows. Leonie was the guest of honour for that performance and enjoyed the rare experience of seeing the full show from the best seat in the venue. The band also had the privilege of performing at two elementary schools in the Norfolk / Virginia Beach area. This was a great opportunity for the band to play in front of friendly and engaged audiences and provided an opportunity to settle nerves prior to the Tattoo performances. On reflection, Ben Uhrig and Oscar Bartos commented that even though we played in front of 10 000 people every night, it was not as stressful as they had anticipated. “When you are playing you don’t really notice the size of the audience because you have to concentrate so much on the drill and the music and making sure that you are in the right spot at the right time”. Ben Craven commented, “I felt honoured to be invited and to play in front of a large crowd. I also felt over the moon by the fact that I was respected by other people, who are some of the best in the world at drumming”.  For Hugh Whittle, the Tattoo provided a great opportunity to meet people from other countries and increase his growing “swag” collection. This included a US Marines Dress Uniform Jacket, an RAF Cap form the Queens Colour Squadron and countless badges, pins and other mementoes. As part of the tour, the group also spent five days visiting the monuments, museums and National Mall of Washington DC. With Donald Trump now in the White House we expected a large security force to be visible, but this simply wasn’t the case.

The White House was behind a few extra fences, but that was about it. It was however Spring break in most US states, making the Capital (or Capitol) a busy place. The highlights of our time in Washington included visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where we saw the Wright Brothers aeroplane, various rockets and the Lunar Module LM2. In the Museum of Natural History, we saw the Hope diamond, Dinosaur remains and Easter Island statues. The National Gallery of Art was an impressive building hosting a remarkable collection which was a privilege to view. Finally, the Museum of the American Indian offered an interesting insight into the indigenous people of both North and South America. The Inca exhibition was extremely interesting, in fact we almost lost Mr Massie in there! The US Holocaust memorial museum was probably the most memorable and thought provoking of the places that we visited. Students commented that the visit had helped them to better understand and appreciate the true extent of the Holocaust and the level of oppression experienced throughout Europe at this time. It is certainly somewhere that you will not forget visiting. At the International Spy Museum, the group was engaged in an espionage exercise where we split into two groups in order to stop a nuclear bomb from being traded. Thankfully both groups succeeded and the world remained safe! This was followed by a tour of the museum, where old CIA, MI6, MOSSAD and KGB trinkets were on display for the public to view and get a better understanding of the life of a secret agent. Walking was high on list of activities while on tour, in fact our Drumming tutor, Greg Bassani, estimated that we walked around 70km during our five day visit to Washington. Arlington Military Cemetery involved a lot of walking, over several hills, but it was a remarkable place to visit. We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a fascinating ceremony to watch. Visited the House of General Lee on top of the Hill. He had a pretty good view of the city from his house! Most also went to see the JFK memorial.

Thankfully our weather was very kind and walking was largely well received by the group. Our touring group was truly a group that embodied the community spirit of Scotch College, reaching 70 people at one point! It contained parents, siblings of band members and even two grandparents. The band contained 22 current students, ranging from Year 7 all the way through to Year 12. We also had Ashleigh Pulford and Alexander Grover join the band as Old Collegians. Our staff team of Ewen Graham, Malcolm Massie, Greg Bassani OAM, Leonie Burgess OAM and Jonno McIntyre were supported by Dr John Craven, who was always on hand to assist with any medical issue, no matter how trivial. It is also worth noting that our enthusiastic parent support group not only watched the shows and visited the landmarks, but also provided amazing logistical support to the staff team.

The Caledonian Corps are always happy to receive new members. Any students who are interested in either learning to Highland Dance or play the bagpipes or drums should contact Mr Graham by email at

If you are not sure but would like to see and hear more of what we do, come along to our Caledonian Ceilidh on Saturday 24th June. Tickets will be available next week on the College website. Adults $15 and Students $5.

Ewen Graham

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