Bob Milne has stunned scientists and wowed audiences around the world, but the man who was named a “National Treasure” in 2004 at the Library of Congress says he still loves trips to the country to play for his friends at the West End Theatre in Blackwater.
Milne is among the best ragtime pianists in the world and serves as an active musical ambassador for the United States Dept. of State. Scientists have studied his brain, because he is capable of the near impossible feat of simultaneously tracking four symphonies in his mind. He also enjoys the rare ability of playing in multiple time signatures at once, which you may catch him slipping into his weekend West End performances, which are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 301 Doddridge Ave. in Blackwater.
The world-class musician remains humble about his abilities, saying everyone has special skills, and he is just fortunate to have a talent that other people enjoy. The former Rochester Philharmonic French horn player said he doesn’t like the politics of working in major symphonies. Instead, he loves to travel from his Lapeer, Michigan home in an RV with his wife, Linda, to play ragtime in small theaters, churches and historical societies.
He could hardly believe this will be his 21st trip to Blackwater, one of his favorite little communities.
“Blackwater is such a neat town,” he said. “They’ve got such good people in it, and it’s a small town so everybody knows everybody. It all just worked out fantastically.”
He was initially invited to visit Blackwater by West Inn Director Mark Danner two decades ago at the Scott Joplin Jazz Festival. Since then, they’ve formed their own traditions and played lots of little jokes over the years, from lassoing him on stage to naming Milne the marshal of Blackwater, complete with a badge.
“Bob is so personable, you wouldn’t know that he’s so good,” Danner said. “It’s like listening to three people play piano at the same time. He’s a true performer and entertainer, telling stories while he plays, but it’s nice to know him as a down to earth, humble guy.”
Milne has performed in several other Mid-Missouri communities, like Moberly, where he played “The Missouri Waltz” for an audience that included people who didn’t know the state song was written in their hometown.
Tickets for the weekend West End Theatre concerts will be available at the door. The Blackwater Community Club also will serve a smoked pork chop meal by reservation 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Depot Community Center. For reservations or info on either the meal or concerts, contact Danner at (660) 888-2300.
Milne was featured in an episode of a RadioLab podcast in 2011 entitled “A 4-Track Mind,” which features the studies performed on Milne’s mind and highlights his unique abilities. The episode is available at wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/148670-4-track-mind.