Kevin McKay, who for the past year has been playing Taps from his Everett deck every evening, marks the pandemic year by playing Taps on his horn from the Grand Avenue Park pedestrian bridge on Monday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kevin McKay, who for the past year has been playing Taps from his Everett deck every evening, marks the pandemic year by playing Taps on his horn from the Grand Avenue Park pedestrian bridge on Monday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

365 nights of ‘Taps’: A bugler’s mournful tribute will continue

Kevin McKay, who’s in a rock band, marked the pandemic year by blowing his horn at Grand Avenue Park.

With the nearly night sky at his back, Everett’s Kevin McKay raised a plastic cup for a toast — “So here’s to hope” — then brought the horn to his lips. And like he’s done every evening for a year, this practiced bugler played Taps.

“This is night number 365,” he said just before his 8 p.m. performance Monday. “I think I’m getting a little bit better, but I’m still not a very good horn player.”

When McKay was featured in this column last April 5, he vowed to keep up his nightly Taps for “however long I stay home,” never imagining that confinement during the pandemic would last more than a few weeks. “Here we are a year later,” he said Monday.

His home’s deck in the Harborview-Seahurst-Glenhaven neighborhood has been his customary venue. For the one-year anniversary, he chose a spectacular setting, the entryway to the illuminated pedestrian bridge at Everett’s Grand Avenue Park. Friends came to hear the distinctive 24 notes of Taps, but especially to mark McKay’s milestone.

“We all need to have a toast for you, the stalwart horn player,” said Jo Ann Sunderlage, who came from Lynnwood for the occasion.

McKay, 59, worked from home and was furloughed for a time. He’s now back at work as director of marketing and programs at Senior Aerospace AMT in Arlington. Still, the evening Taps will continue.

“No, I’m not done,” said McKay, who now plans to stop “the day the band gets to play again live.”

McKay plays classic rock in the Triple Shot Band, which he said is booked to play at Aquafest in July — if the Lake Stevens festival is a go. Triple Shot Band guitar player Drew Schneider and his wife, Dawn Mains, were on hand Monday to hear their friend play his 1926 single-valve Ludwig bugle.

That vintage horn, McKay said, was an exceptional $30 find at the Stilly Thrift Store in Arlington, which supports the Stillaguamish Senior Center.

In a moment of reflection befitting the solemnity of Taps, McKay spoke Monday of “a lot of stuff we’ve gone through, seeing people we know coming down with this disease.” One of his neighbors, an 80-year-old man, died from COVID-19, McKay said. As of Tuesday, the virus had claimed 555 lives in Snohomish County.

Since the Civil War, Taps has been the U.S. military’s bugle call for funerals, and the slow melody is an end-of-day signal for service members.

Through this year, McKay has become a student of bugle calls. He learned to play each one historically required to earn the Boy Scouts of America’s Bugling Merit Badge. In fact, McKay said Monday that he received by mail “an honorary merit badge,” with the sender signing the name “Oswald Krogfuzz.”

McKay said he didn’t get a single noise complaint after playing Taps night after night. Rather, there were sometimes whistles or cheers coming from neighbors. “I learned how much this meant to so many people,” he said. And because he posted his Taps videos on Facebook, comments came from far and wide. “Friends in Sweden saw this,” he said. “It’s becoming this habit, people sending messages.”

He has played at the same time every night, 8 p.m. “When I started in the spring, it was getting lighter,” he said. “In the summer, I was playing in daylight. Then it was pretty dark.”

A whole pandemic year later, it’s getting light again. McKay’s hope comes not just from the light of spring.

“Now we’ve got this vaccine coming on, people are starting to get it,” he said. “It’s starting to be this real feeling of hope.”

Taps is a mournful tribute, fitting for those lost to the virus. Yet McKay, who knows Taps so well, hears much more in those 24 notes.

“It’s an ending song, but also a beginning, a sigh of relief,” he said. “You can go on — to the next day, the next battle.”

Julie Muhlstein:

Watch him play Taps

Kevin McKay has posted his nightly bugle performances of Taps on Facebook:

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