What is a "Tattoo"?
What does the word "Tattoo" mean?
- A signal sounded on a drum or bugle to summon soldiers or sailors to their quarters at night. Originating from the Dutch "doe den tap toe" (pronounced "doo den tap too"), literally translated means "close or turn off the tap".
- A display of military exercises offered as evening entertainment.
- A continuous, even drumming or rapping.
Where does the word "Tattoo" come from?
In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries field musicians were vital to military commanders to relay orders during the battle. The bands (made up of fifes, drums and bugles) kept the company or regiment in proper cadence while marching. The Taptoo was firmly entrenched as one aspect of the repertoire known in the 18th century military as the "duty" that comprised the fife, bugle and drum calls used to regulate camp and garrison activities. As early as 1688 drummers (the general terms for fifers, drummers and buglers) were expected to "beat all manner of beats, as a Call, a Troupe [sic], a March, a Retreit [sic], a Tato [sic], and a Revally [sic]". The word "Tattoo" comes from the last order and closing time shouts in Dutch, or horn signals, meaning "Doe den tap toe", or just "tap toe" ("toe" is pronounced "too"). In the 17th century the word "Tap-too" was encountered by the English Army when fighting in the Low Countries, or Netherlands, during the 100 years war. The phrase: "doe den tap toe" literally translated means: "put the tap to", or "close or turn off the tap". It also was used by the Dutch for "shut up" or "stop, cease". In a play of 1639 from Emden comes the line "Doch hier de tap van toe" meaning "but here we shut up" or "say no more". In the evening, the Taptoo consisted of the military band parading through a garrison town to alert the taverns that it was curfew for the soldiers, the beer taps should be cut off, and the soldiers should return to their barracks.
The English adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by beat of drum to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire at a reasonable hour. The 17th century predates the practice of constructing purpose-built military housing. Soldiers were billeted where lodgings could be obtained. Col. Hutchinson issued the following order in 1644 to mitigate the late night carousing that would occur because of the lack of supervising of their superiors:
"If anyone shall bee found tipplinge or drinkinge in any Taverne, Inne, or Alehouse, after the houre of bybe of the clock at night, when the tap-too beates, hee shall pay 2s 6d."
By the 18th century, barracks were constructed. The "Taptoo" or "Tattoo" was loosing its original meaning and was becoming simply a signal for lights out. In 1777 Thomas Simes in his Military Course for the Government and Conduct of Battalion write:
"The Taptoo beats at ten o'clock every night in summer and nine in winter; the soldiers must then repair to their quarters or barracks when the non-commissioned Officers of each squad call over their roles and every man must remain there till reveille next morning."
The 18th century saw the rise of the Military Band of Music. The Military Band tended to be a professional group, hired and paid for by the Officers. Their main purpose was to entertain on Parades, in the Officers' Mess or "pro bono publico" (very useful in strengthening ties to the local community). In a letter dated 1742 Horace Walpole, wrote, "You know, one loves a tattoo and review". Later a Scottich composer, James Oswald published a collection entitled "40 Marches, Tattoos and Night Pieces for two German flutes, violins or guitars as performed by the Prussian and Hessian Armies." These show that the term Tattoo could describe either the last duty call of the day or an evening of entertainment.
Is this related to "Taps" in any way?
You decide for yourself. There are many great stories about the development of the 24-note melancholy bugle call known as "Taps" in the American Military Tradition. "Taps" is thought to be a revision of a French bugle signal, called "Tattoo", that notified soldiers to cease an evening of drinking and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The last five measures of the tattoo resemble taps. Check out the French Tattoo bugle call here.
What is the Heartland International Tattoo?
2011 marks the Sixth Annual Midwest Heartland International Tattoo Music & Dance Festival which will be presented at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights, IL. The Heartland Tattoo is an exhibition of military and civilian marching bands, bagpipe bands, brass bands, highland dancers and more. Performers from many different countries create an unforgettable experience of raw musical and choreographed energy.
For questions and more information, please send an email to: email@example.com
Michael Th. Embrey,
Heartland International Tattoo
PO Box 463
Dekalb, IL 60115
ph: (815) 756-1263
fax: (815) 787-3100