Fortissimo is a military and musical spectacular created for the lawns of Parliament Hill featuring massed military bands, pipes and drums, guest performers and the soldiers of the Ceremonial Guard. It is a showcase event in the Nation's Capital that has drawn thousands of spectators since it began in 1997.


Fortissimo – July 2020.

The Origins of Fortissimo: Retreat and Tattoo

Fortissimo is based on two evening routines once carried out by soldiers every day.

The first occurred at sunset, when soldiers fired evening guns, withdrew into fortified camps and cities, locked the gates, and as the sun set and darkness approached, lowered the flag for the night. This was called the Retreat. Originally, the calls that ordered this routine were beaten on drums, and the routine is still commonly called "Beating the Retreat."

The second routine followed at or near dusk when the night watch was set. Rounds were made to check the sentries (with drum or bugle calls to indicate when the "First Post" and the "Last Post" sentries were in place). During this period, the drums beat a warning for all to return to barracks. Often the band played popular tunes, an evening hymn and finally the national anthem. This became known as “the Tattoo.”

The word “Tattoo” is said to have derived from the Dutch “die den tap toe,” which is translated as “turn off the taps.” It probably originated from campaigns in European countries in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is associated with the practice of a drummer being detailed to beat an order to the tavern and innkeepers to stop serving ale, and for the soldiers to stop drinking and parade for a final muster before returning to quarters.

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