Kevin McKay is a polished performer, a guitarist and singer in two local rock bands. Now, the coronavirus stay-home order has him playing a different tune. His nightly audience listens to what one military historian described as “24 notes that tap deep emotions.”
With a used baritone bugle, the 58-year-old McKay goes out on his deck at 8 p.m. each evening to play Taps. His audience includes people near his home in Everett’s Harborview-Seahurst-Glenhaven neighborhood and more than 950 Facebook friends.
Around the world, noise-making at night has become a way to show support for medical workers, first responders and those suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Singing, banging on pots, and playing instruments is also helping people shatter their sense of isolation through loud expressions of common humanity.
McKay said he’ll keep playing Taps “however long I stay at home.”
During these days of confinement, he has joined the work-from-home crowd. McKay connects remotely with his employer, Senior Aerospace AMT, where he’s a marketing director at the company’s Arlington site. His vow to keep playing Taps was extended by Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Thursday that the stay-home order will continue at least through May 4.
Self-taught on his secondhand instrument, McKay often begins his brief concerts with other traditional bugle calls, and sometimes longer songs. “Amazing Grace” and a theme from the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie are now part of his repertoire.
He’ll sometimes shout out a final sentiment to unseen listeners after blowing the final note of Taps. “Night everybody, see you tomorrow,” he said on March 27.
Facebook followers have watched his nightly videos since he posted, on March 23: “What’s the best way to connect while we are home alone for the next two weeks? I’m going to play Taps every night from my deck at 8:00.” Encouraging those connections, he also said “Taking bugle call requests” — to which someone replied “Theme from F Troop.”
“How wonderful to uplift a neighborhood,” said Jo Ann Sunderlage.
While not a neighbor of McKay’s, Sunderlage is a fan. The Lynnwood woman has often heard his classic rock group, the Triple Shot Band, playing at venues around the region, and she’s a Facebook follower. McKay also plays with an Eric Clapton tribute band, the Bell Bottom Blues.
As the grim toll of COVID-19 rises, there’s no escaping the reminder that Taps is the U.S. military’s bugle call for funerals, as well as a lights-out signal at the end of the day for servicemen and women.
Those roles date back to the Civil War, according to historian Jari Villanueva in “24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions,” an article written for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Describing the slow melody as haunting and eloquent, the piece says that until the Civil War an infantry call for “Extinguish Lights” was borrowed from the French.
In July 1862, Villanueva wrote, Maj. Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield was helped by a Union Army bugler to revise the last several measures of an earlier call, “Tattoo.” That became the elegiac tune for Taps.
“I am not a real bugler, I never played a brass instrument,” McKay said outside his house Thursday, just before his evening musical rite. He was first a drummer before turning to guitar and singing in bands. He said he found the horn on the OfferUp website, paid $60 for it, replaced the mouthpiece, and found lessons on how to play bugle calls online.
Raised in Edmonds, he attended Edmonds High School, Central Washington University and the University of Washington. He and his wife, Rose, have a 22-year-old daughter, Madison.
McKay wasn’t in the military himself, but said his father served in the Navy. His uncle, Whidbey Island’s Richard Francisco, was a Marine Corps veteran who flew combat missions in World War II and the Korean War. Francisco also founded the Forgotten Children’s Fund, a volunteer organization that runs the M-Bar-C Ranch on Whidbey as a therapeutic getaway for kids.
“We all need a superhero to save us, so here’s a little superhero music to start us off,” McKay said on a recent evening before playing the movie theme song and then Taps.
Sunderlage, 69, has heard and danced to McKay’s Triple Shot Band at the now-closed Cliffhanger Sports Bar in Lynnwood and other local night spots. “They play the whole gamut, ’70s to the ’90s. When you hear them, they love what they do,” she said.
This is different. The times and the tone have changed. Still, she tunes in to listen.
“The thing about music, it resonates in the soul,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.