By Stefanie Donahue
Before pianist Bob Milne takes the stage for a rousing performance, he avoids one thing: practice. Lauded as a “musical genius,” Milne says he prefers to play what comes to mind.
An acclaimed performer of ragtime/boogie-woogie piano tunes, Milne’s uncommon approach has landed him in front of presidents, generals and dignitaries in the U.S. and abroad. On Saturday, March 18, Milne will return to Blaine for an evening performance to benefit Friends of the Blaine Library, an advocacy group that supports local library services.
A resident of Michigan, 75-year-old Milne has been playing music as far back as he can remember. He grew up as a symphony musician and at age 20, was a member of the 80-piece Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In the mid-1960s, he began playing the piano and hasn’t looked back since – the minute his fingers graced the keys, he could play.
“For some reason I could just play piano,” he said. “I just couldn’t explain that.”
Unlike many musicians, Milne learns solely by listening. All he has to do is communicate the notes to his fingers before he can jump into a complex ragtime/boogie-woogie tune. He never enters a performance with prior practice or even a set list. Instead, he plays “whatever comes to mind.”
Inspired by the work of genre pioneers Scott Joplin and Pete Johnson, Milne describes his music as “powerful” and “rhythmic.”
His ability has made him the focus of a study led by Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann. Already, he’s proven that he can play up to four compositions in his head all at the same time.
Throughout his colorful career, Milne has received a number of accolades from audiences across the globe. In 2004, he was interviewed and declared a National Treasure by the Library of Congress. He also served as a music ambassador for the U.S. Department of State.
Success aside, Milne hasn’t let the praise get to his head. Instead, he cherishes it.
“To me, I’m just a guy named Bob who’s trying to do the best I can,” he said. “I’m very honored [for the support].”
Milne’s upcoming performance will be his second in Blaine; he performed just a year ago. The event takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 at the Blaine Performing Arts Center.
All proceeds go to the Friends of the Blaine Library. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com/event/2725008.