MAC! I first became aware of Bob McQuillen shortly after I started contra dancing and attending the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA) in Massachusetts. That would have been in the late 1970’s. When I started teaching at Maine Fiddle Camp, I ran into Mac again since he taught piano there. Bob was from Peterborough, in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, and started playing for contra dances in 1947! As a young man Bob played in the Ralph Page orchestra for a bit, and more recently with “Old New England”, a trio with Jane Orzechowski on fiddle and Deanna Stiles on flute. Mac mentored literally generations of piano players on “contra dance piano”, and piano accordion as well. When Bob travelled to weekends and festivals in the northeast, he always drove his “specially outfitted” step van, pictured below. There was a bed in there, of course, but also a piano (of course there was!). At MFC, Bob parked the van right next to the Camp office, where he could take a nap, but be “ready to go”! I’m sure many of you remember.
Bob’s “day job” was as a “shop teacher” at Peterborough High School until he retired and became a full-time musician. Bob passed away in 2014 at the age of 90. He was playing for dances right until the end!
Bob was a fixture at the New England Folk Festival near Boston in April of each year. Here’s a video of Mac that you have to watch through to the end. It was recorded at NEFFA in 2011 (he was 88) and features the NEFFA Festival Orchestra let by Vince O’Donnell and notable fiddlers Amy Richardson Larkin, Jane Orzechowski, and Amy Cann. I think this session was entitled “A Salute to Bob McQuillen” and this is the tune for the last waltz of the festival, “Amelia”, composed by Bob for Deanna Stiles’ daughter Amelia. I think the final waltz at NEFFA had been danced to this tune for quite a while before Bob’s passing and certainly has been every NEFFA since! Here’s the video:
Tunes: It wasn’t just “Amelia”, though. Mac was a prolific tune writer and published 15 (YEP, FIFTEEN) little booklets called “note books” with his original contra dance tunes.
here’s what they looked like (#15!)
Here’s the link to all Bob’s published tunes. At approximately 90 tunes per book, it’s well over a thousand!! Bob McQuillen’s Tunes 2023 (mcquillentunes.com)
Mac passed away in 2014 so why am I bringing this up now?, well… Bob was born in July 1923, and his 100th birthday would be this summer. Before his passing Bob proclaimed that he wanted a party and dance on his 100th birthday, and the Monadnock Folklore Society, made up of musicians, dancers, callers, and dance organizers, is going to make that happen! Kwackfest 100 (“Kwack” was another of Bob’s nicknames) is scheduled for July 1 at the Peterborough Town House, in Peterborough, NH.
See the letter from Lisa Sieverts, describing the event, at the end of this article.
More about Bob: In 2001, David Millstone did a documentary video on Bob Mac entitled “Paid to Eat Ice Cream”. here’s a little blurb about the video: “An informative, visually beautiful, and deeply moving tribute to the musical career of Bob McQuillen documents the living tradition of contra dance in New Hampshire. Backed by an exquisite soundtrack, the film includes archival photographs and footage of contra dance in New Hampshire over the years and showcases the talents of the region’s dance callers and musicians.” and here’s the link to David’s web page: Home – David Millstone Dance
Finally, Bob was a “National Heritage Fellow” in 2002 and here’s a short bio and interview of him at that time.
see y’all next month! – bill (Oh yeah, don’t forget our Tuesday night Jam session on FaceBook! – find it in “Events”)
the Kwackfest letter: On Saturday, July 1, the Monadnock Folklore Society will present the KwackFest, a memorial event honoring Peterborough teacher and musician Bob McQuillen. There will be music, contra dancing, the sharing of stories, and more, centered in and around the Peterborough, NH, Town Hall. This is a free event and all are welcome. We are crowdfunding in order to raise the dollars needed to make this an unforgettable event. KwackFest 100 | Indiegogo
The money you donate will go towards paying performers, renting sound and video equipment, and providing a tent for outdoor events. It’s our goal to have key portions of the event videotaped so that the stories and performances can be saved and made part of the McQuillen papers at the University of New Hampshire Special Collections.
We’re also making the publication of Bob’s final tunebook part of this effort, and at the IndieGoGo site, you will have the opportunity to not only donate but also purchase a special Centennial edition of this tunebook, containing several hundred tunes that Bob wrote, bringing his total to almost 2,000 tunes. This until now unpublished tunebook contains a tune for each of the 234 towns in New Hampshire.
You are receiving this crowdfunding request early, before we go out to FaceBook and other social media. It would be great to see our event at a healthy funding level before we share it with the world.
A few hints about IndieGoGo: if you want to buy something as part of your donation, note that you can only buy one item at a time. Be sure to change the IndieGoGo tip amount to zero as they are already collecting a fee from every donation and sale. If you just want to give money, click on the Options button.
The Monadnock Folklore Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has presented contra dances and concerts of traditional music since 1982.
If you prefer to send a check by mail, make it out to the Monadnock Folklore Society and indicate “KwackFest” on the memo line. Send it to:
Monadnock Folklore Society
54 Brook Street
Keene, NH 03431
Monadnock Folklore Society
Remembering Bob “Mac” McQuillen
...and who was MAC for those who don't know!
The CONTINUING TRADITION Number 15