Playing the sticks in the Silver City Days parade isn’t simply a pipe dream for eight-year old Nash Hurl.
He’s too wee a lad to carry a snare drum in the Trail Pipe Band today – but that isn’t keeping Nash from looking ahead a year or two by practicing with the sagest snare drummer in town – 86-year old Ron Milne.
Every Wednesday after school Nash makes his way to Ron’s home in Rosewood Village. The two find a space in the second floor library so the young man can learn how to keep a beat from the best.
Nash’s family has deep roots in Scottish music, his great-grandfather was a piper back in New Zealand, his uncle plays the pipes the Trail Pipe Band and his sister, the tenor drum.
“Everyone was doing something in the band,” says Nash. “I wanted to do something different, and I like how the sticks bounce.”
And, of course, he’s looking forward to his future as a ‘side drummer’ (refers to how the snare drum is carried) through the streets of Trail and beyond.
Ron Milne first picked up the snare drum back in 1961 following the death of his father William Milne. His father and mother, Margaret, were Scottish immigrants in Trail, and both brought with them their love of highland music.
“My dad felt bad that while his dad was alive he never learned to play the drums, something he knew his dad would of liked him to do,” explained Ron’s daughter Chris Piva, herself a piper and longtime teacher of Scottish Highland Dance.
“So at the age of 31, he went to the pipe band to learn the snare drum.”
Ron played without a uniform for a year or so, and once he had learned enough to be a side drummer’ for parades, he graduated to a tartan kilt and busby.
Many processions later both local and afar, Ron became drum sergeant of the Trail Pipe Band and taught many students over the years.
However, Nash is his first student since retiring from the band back in 1981.
And, interestingly, Ron has never learned how to read music. He teaches by sound and beat, literally writing “left” and “right” below each note.
“He (does) not know how to read music,” said Chris. “But he still managed to teach every person that came and wanted to learn,” she added.
“My dad is practicing all the time now and is excited to watch Nash continue to learn and grow. He can’t teach him how to read music, but he can still teach him the basic skills he needs to know to play in the pipe band.”
Ron still gets out to hear the Trail corps whenever he can, most recently the band played at the Local 480’s Christmas dinner for seniors.
Aside from keeping Scottish heritage alive for Trail generations, and lifelong camaraderie with band mates, Ron still recalls some incredible highlights from his drumming days.
He has met someone that few else have – the Queen of England.
Queen Elizabeth landed at the Castlegar airport in 1971, and as she was escorted to a waiting car, the English royal stopped in front of Drum Sergeant Ron Milne.
“She asked if we had been playing long,” Ron reminisced, mentioning Chris was also there as a piper and his son, Jim, was playing alongside on drum.
“I said, ‘Yes, we had been playing before you got here.’ Then all of a sudden she was whisked away in the car.”
Brief but memorable.
A big tattoo in the Cominco Arena in 1975, and Expo ‘96 in Spokane also bring back fond memories for Ron – as with meeting the Queen, both his son and daughter were part of the band during those experiences.
And the family’s rich Scottish culture has trickled down another generation. Ron’s three granddaughters all highland dance, three grandsons play pipes or drums in the Trail Pipe Band and one grandson plays pipes in Vancouver.
Which reminded Ron about another proud moment from 1997. He and wife Norma accompanied grandson Tyler, a Vancouver piper, to Glasglow Green in Scotland for the World Pipe Band Championship – and Tyler’s group placed second.
“I, myself, like to play everyday,” Ron shared. “I like to fool around on the snare, and now I have someone to do it with on Wednesdays.”
Photo of Ron Milne meeting the Queen is from a 1971 Trail Times edition.
The British monarch and her family landed in Castlegar as part of her royal visit (May 3 to May 12) for B.C.’s centennial year.