Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remembering a "musical titan" today. A family friend, Bob McQuillen, passed away yesterday afternoon. He was a strong pillar in the New England contra dance scene and was well-loved by so many. 

With family roots in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, traditional music and contra dancing has become an integral part of our family. Growing up plugged into the Swedish traditional dance scene and taking music lessons at the Boston Conservatory, my mom and her siblings expanded this family love of dance and music to include the contra scene at the New England Folk Festival. Auntie Jane got plugged in playing fiddle and it went on from there. One of the key players in this history was Bob McQuillen.

The first time I met Bob McQuillen, affectionately nicknamed "Macky Quacky", was at my Auntie Jane's house in rural New Hampshire during one of his routine visits there for dinner and tunes. 

NH Jam Session, Nov 2002
He, Auntie Jane and Deanna Stiles formed the amazing (no personal bias) band, "Old New England". Get some CDs while you're at it, well worth it.

O.N.E. performs at New England Folk Festival, April 2002
O.N.E. performs at Spring Breakdown in Columbia, MO 2010

 He was a legend in my eyes before even meeting him. I knew what an influence he had had on the McBride family and he had already written my brother a tune (Austin's Hornpipe). In fact, he wrote over 1,000 tunes. So fancy my sheer excitement when I discovered, on my music stand that first evening, another McQuillen original entitled: "Elissa's Hornpipe"! (Apparently mine isn't as famous as my brother's and hasn't made it onto the online Session tune book. That's okay, it can be found in Book 11 of Bob's tunes, along with multiple other tunes written for my cousins, aunts, uncles, dogs, and horses. All excellent tunes.) 

To start things off properly Bob immediately tried me out with an old stand-by: "You're an animal lover, right?". I nodded shyly, he raised an eyebrow and proceeded, "Can you tell me which side of a dog is the hairiest?".  As I failed to come up with a fittingly witty answer he shouted out, "The outside!!" and then went into one of his famous and infectious peals of laughter. And so I was properly initiated to Bob McQuillen.

Bob was famous for his "Boom-Chuck" style of back-up piano playing. Fabulous stuff. And he passed it on to my cousins and brothers, among others. 

Russell getting some pointers, 2003
Cabe gets a lesson from the master, March 2010
We enjoyed some good jam sessions around his piano truck at the various music festivals I was able to attend with my cousins. In fact if you look really close you'll see me at one of those jam sessions included in his documentary "Paid to Eat Ice Cream" ,which is an excellent little film and if you watch it you can hear his wonderful laughter.

New England Folk Festival April 2002

I consider it a complete honor to have had the few chances that I did to play with Bob. Thank you, Orzechowskis, for sharing him with us.

Fiddling around, NH Jam Session, Jan. 2004

It was probably no coincidence that I recently discovered the joy of playing a lot of his tunes again. I just started adding a few more back to our gig tune list for when Clay and I play out and they always make me feel so happy when I play them. I'll always remember his influence (in conjunction with my aunt's own wonderful influence) when our family gets together to jam and play at dances. I wonder how many countless people he has helped lead to the joy of traditional folk music?

Jam sessions before the Spring Breakdown dance, March 2010
I'll be playing tunes for Bob this week, and I'm sure I'll be joined by a vast multitude of fellow musicians in memoriam.


  1. What a beautiful tribute and great memories he loved sharing his music especially with children for he was a child at heart

  2. Hey Elissa, came across this in a search for Mac photos. Could I get permission to use photos for PR purposes for a Mac Scholarship dance in NH? And do you have a high res version of this one:

    1. Thanks for asking! A few of the photos were taken by other family members so let me check with them and get back with you. If you know which ones in particular you'd like, besides the one you already mentioned, you can let me know and I can send better copies of them via email (if you wouldn't mind sharing an email address)?

    2. They gave permission so I'd be happy to get you the original files for whatever pics you wanted.

  3. Thanks Elissa. The last one, the first one and the one with the female fiddler in the foreground please. It illustrates to a large extent the side of him that taught and shared and passed forward his knowledge and enthusiasm. Who is she? Do we need her permission too? You can email me at my name (PeterMartel; no spaces) at gmail. Or simply use my blogger profile.