Guide to the Bob McQuillen Collection, 1930-2014
Collection number: MC 282
(23 boxes and 1 map case )
About Bob "Mac" McQuillen
Robert “Mac” Comer McQuillen (1923-2014) was distinguished New England contra and
square dance musician whose highly influential career spanned nearly 65 years and
all of North America and Western Europe. Born in 1923, McQuillen attended the Noble
and Greenough School in Dedham MA (’42) and then joined the marine corps during
World War II. Upon his return, he became a member of Boston/New Hampshire caller
Ralph Page’s New Hampshire Orchestra playing accordion. The group played for the New
England Folk Festival from the 1940s onwards, and made several recordings on the
Disc New York and Folk Dancer labels. It was during this time that McQuillen became
friends with Johnny Trombly, the Orchestra’s piano player, who became McQuillen’s
mentor in New England dance piano accompaniment.
McQuillen was a founding member of Dudley Laufman’s Canterbury Country Dance
Orchestra, which began in the early 1970s as an effort to revive traditional New
England contra dancing after its near extinction during the 1930s through 1960s. The
group was highly popular and influential for many years, and produced some of the
most iconic recordings of dance music to come out of the dance revival, including
Canterbury Country Dance Orcehstra (1972), Mistwold (1974), and several others. The
Canterbury Orchestra is still performing, and McQuillen appears on most of their
In 1978 McQuillen formed the trio New England Tradition along with banjo player Pete
Colby and fiddler April Limber. Though the group only produced one recording
(Farewell to the Hollow, 1988), they played for hundreds of dances under such
callers as Duke Miller, Dudley Laufman, Tod Whittimore, Tony Parkes, and many
others. Many dancers fondly remember the packed dances in the Francistown NH town
hall, with New England Tradition supplying the music and Tod Whittimore calling.
In 1972 McQuillen wrote his first tune, Scotty O’Neal. He went on to write over 1500
tunes commemorating individuals, events, places, and callers. They are published in
15 volumes entitled “Bob’s Notebooks” and numbered 1-15. (More will be published
posthumously.) Hundreds of individuals sent thank you notes for the tunes he wrote
them; McQuillen saved every one, and the tunes they wrote him in return.
After the 1988 deaths of Pete Colby and April Limber, McQuillen partnered with
flutist Deanna Stiles and fiddler Jane Orzechowski to form the group Old New
England. The group recorded four albums (ONE:1 – ONE:IV), and played hundreds of
dances across the United States. Notable performances included the 1999 Smithsonian
Folk Festival representing New Hampshire, at McQuillen’s 2002 National Heritage
Fellowship Award in Washington D.C., and his New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award
(also 2002). During this time McQuillen was also active in Seattle and along the
west coast performing with The Rhythm Rollers, which included McQuillen, Laurie
Andres, Cathie Whitesides, and W.B. Reid. They can be heard on the recording “Grand
Right and Left” (2008).
No biography of McQuillen would be complete without mention of his years spent
teaching shop at ConVal Highschool in Peterborough, NH. He retired in 1984, but not
before winning the fierce respect and admiration of hundreds of students, not the
least those the ‘difficult’ students whose lives he changed for the better. Many of
his beloved students he honored in music and most of them remained in contact with
him throughout his life.
Bob McQuillen was one of the greatest New England dance musicians who ever lived.
Alone and with others, he worked tirelessly for decades to ensure that the tradition
and historical knowledge would continue, and few have equaled his accomplishments –
all with a colorful joke and a twinkle in his eye! He will long be remembered as
someone who played a critical role in making the dance tradition what it is
McQuillen’s recordings (and many other similar albums) may be purchased from Great Meadow Music.
Selected Discography of McQuillen's Recordings
- Ralph Page Orchestra Recordings (titles, years unknown)
- "Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra" (1972)
- "The Canterbury Country Orchestra Meets the F and W String Band"
- "Mistwold" (Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, 1974)
- "Contra Dances: The Canterbury Orchestra" (1974)
- "Contra Dance Music New England Style" (with the band Applejack, 1980)
- "Farewell to the Hollow" (New England Tradition, 1988 reissued 2003)
- "Old New England" (Old New England, 1996)
- "Hand It Down" (with Laurie Andres and Cathie Whitesides, 1997)
- "ONE:II" (Old New England, 2002)
- "ONE:III" (Old New England, 2003)
- "ONE:IV" (Old New England, 2010)
- "Grand Right and Left" (The Rhythm Rollers, 2008)
About the Bob McQuillen Collection
This collection consists of materials relating to and generated by the musical career
of Robert Comer McQuillen (1923-2014). A significant portion of the collection
consists of the original composition notebooks (1972-2011) in both standard musical
notation and McQuillen’s system of solfeggio. These notebooks are accompanied by
several galley proofs and the inked copies McQuillen produced for the publisher in
preparation for the publication of Bob’s Notebooks 1-15. Many tunes are dedicated to
specific individuals; their thank you notes and tunes they wrote him in return are
included in Series 1.
Series 2 relates to the performing groups of which McQuillen was a member: Ralph
Page’s New Hampshire Orchestra, the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, New England
Tradition, the Rhythm Rollers, and Old New England. Folders relate to the recordings
he made with each band, as well as more general material including set lists and
chord charts from gigs with Ralph Page, Duke Miller, Rod Linnell, Dudley Laufman and
others. A handwritten musical autobiography and photographs documenting his life and
career are included. The series concludes with papers relating to his National
Heritage Fellowship, NH Governor’s Arts Award, and other accolades.
Series 3-4 consist of letters, photographs, posters from festivals McQuillen attended
or at which he performed, scrapbooks commemorating his later birthdays, newspaper
clippings, festival nametags, and other related materials. Of particular note are
several teaching notes from McQuillen’s piano mentor Johnny Trombley of the Ralph
Page Orchestra. All of these materials document his performing career with various
callers and groups, his dedication to his students at ConVal Highschool in
Peterborough, his hundreds of correspondents, and his musical influence across the
United States and Europe. Festivals include the New England Folk Festival, Fox
Hollow Folk Festival, Ralph Page Legacy Weekend, and many local New Hampshire dances
such as Francistown, Peterborough, Fitzwilliam, Dublin, and Nelson. Many of these
dances and festivals featured Mac’s converted bakery truck with a piano and a bed in
the back and the license plate “MUZIK”.
The collection concludes with Series 5, which comprises of oversize birthday posters,
scrapbooks, awards, photographs, a retirement banner, daily calendars 1983-2011, and
tee shirts from the Folk Hollow Folk Festival, Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra,
first Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, and others. A relatively small number of
audio recordings have been cataloged with the repository’s main audio
This collection is open.
Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions
about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.
[Identification of item], [Folder], [Box], Bob McQuillen Collection, 1930-2014, MC 282, Milne
Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham,
Gift of the creator, 2012-2014
Audio materials are stored with the repository's main audio collection.
Oversize calendars and cards are stored with the repository's map collection.
Series Series 1: Music Notation, 1972-2011
Chronologically arranged. Original notebooks and inked copies of McQuillen’s
tunes, from the original 1972 composition of Scotty O’Neal through 2011.
These notebooks correspond to published books 1-15. Also included are
undated tunes, McQuillen’s solfeggio versions of his compositions, and a
folder of poems written about his tunes.
Twelve notebooks spanning eight years. Included is the original
composition page for Scotty O’Neal and a copy of the copyright
certificate for Book 1. This box roughly corresponds to published Book 1
and the beginning of Book 2. See also Box 17 for inked copies.
Ten original notebooks and several galley proofs/inked copies prepared
for publication, including the original notation for the waltzes
Farewell to the Hollow and Amelia. These notebooks roughly correspond to
published Books 2-7. See also box 17 for inked copies.
Thirteen original notebooks and several galley proofs/inked copies of
Books 8-10. These notebooks correspond to published Notebooks 8-10 and
the beginning of Notebook 11.
Twelve original notebooks and the inked copies of Books 12-14, as well as
a notebook of miscellaneous tunes dated 1995-1999. See also box 17 for
|Notebooks and Misc. Loose Notation, 1973-2011
Original notebooks for Book 15, as well as several galley proofs and
unnumbered notebooks. McQuillen used a system of single character
solfeggio to draft his initial versions of compositions; several folders
of these notebooks are included as well. One folder contains poems he
composed about his tunes and notebooks.
|Compositions, Royalties, Tune Dedication Letters, ca.
Two folders of solfeggio notebooks, loose scraps containing chord
notations, and original compositions, including “The Canterbury Suite”,
a group of tunes composed for members of the Canterbury Country Dance
Orchestra. The original manuscript for “April’s Compleat Compendium”
which indexes the first 10 volumes of the Notebooks is included. A
folder of thank you notes for tune dedications reflects the many
hundreds of individuals for whom McQuillen wrote tunes, and a second
folder holds the many tunes his friends wrote for him in return. Royalty
letters and contracts document the hundreds of uses of McQuillen’s tunes
in recordings and film.
Series Series 2: Performing Groups, Early Life, and Awards, 1945-2014
This series contains papers related to the various musical groups McQuillen
played with and traditional arts awards he received as a result of his
tireless efforts to preserve traditional music for future generations.
Arrangement is roughly chronological.
|Performing Groups and Recordings, 1945-2014
McQuillen first joined the Ralph Page Orchestra after his return from the
service during WWII. Later he went on to join the Canterbury Country
Dance Orchestra with Dudley Laufman and others, New England Tradition
with Pete Colby and April Limber, Old New England with Deanna Stiles and
Jane Orzachowski, and the Rhythm Rollers with Laurie Andres, Cathie
Whitesides, and W.B. Reid. Folders for each of these groups and their
recordings are included. There is one additional folder relating to a
recording with Yankee Ingenuity which McQuillen participated in without
being a member of the band.
|Tune Lists, Autobiographical Materials, 1930-2014
Many of the set lists used while playing for callers such as Ralph Page,
Duke Miller, Rod Linnell, Dudley Laufman, and others are contained here.
Also included is a handwritten musical autobiography, photographs and
letters from McQuillen’s childhood onwards, a partial copy of his
memorial page on Facebook (“Remembering MAC”), and Dudley Laufman poetry
(some of which include references to McQuillen). See also Box 17 for
further historical dance materials.
|Award Materials, 1979-2010
McQuillen’s many awards included a New Hampshire Arts Council Award
(1997), the new Hampshire Governer’s Arts Award (2002), a National
Heritage Fellowship (2002), a Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS)
Lifetime Achievement Award (2010), and various New Hampshire Traditional
Arts Apprenticeship papers. Included are all the materials related to
these and other awards, as well as a folder of congratulations cards
following the National Heritage Fellowship.
Series Series 3: Correspondence and Photos, 1948-2014
Materials in this series reflect McQuillen’s sheer breadth of involvement
across two continents and five decades of music. Letters from many of the
eminent callers of New England such as Ralph Page and Ted Sannella are mixed
with thank you notes from students for the many instruments he quietly
bought them over the years. Photographs document his initial years as an
accordion player with the Ralph Page Orchestra, his years as a member of New
England Tradition and Old New England, and the many annual festivals he
attended. Later photographs portray the huge birthday dances thrown for him
by friends and his unceasing efforts to teach younger generations his
Letters and cards were a large part of McQuillen’s life, and he received
and wrote hundreds of letters each year to musicians, past ConVal
students, and many others. Correspondence is separated by decade,
beginning in 1970. One separate folder contains the many cards and
letters of sympathy received after the 1988 deaths of April Limber and
|Unsorted Correspondence, ca. 1960-2014
The cards in this box were sent to McQuillen by his many musical friends;
they include birthday cards, Christmas cards, St. Patrick’s Day Cards
and many others. They are included because of the many quips and stories
contained therein, a lasting tribute to McQuillen’s prodigious sense of
Photos in this box document McQuillen’s early years playing with the
Ralph Page Orchestra, New England Tradition, Old New England, and his
1978 trip to Cape Breton. Also included are birthday dances in the early
2000s, and festivals such as Lady of the Lake, Ralph Page Dance Legacy
Weekend, a Johnny Trombley Scholarship Dance, and others. Of particular
significance is a signed photo from Ralph Page dated just before Page
died, thanking McQuillen for his music and dedication to the
Promotional photographs for New England Tradition, Old New England, and
McQuillen himself form a large part of this box. There are also photos
from various birthday celebrations, festivals including Lady of the
Lake, Maine Fiddle Camp and possibly Fox Hollow Folk Festival, photos of
McQuillen playing for Ralph Page, and photos of the ‘MacShak’
(McQuillen’s Peterborough NH home).
Series Series 4: Festivals, Birthday Scrapbooks, and Miscellaneous, 1930-2014
This series consists of materials related to the festivals and dance series
which McQuillen played or attended over the decades, and includes the
nametags he kept from each. Included also is a box of sheet music written by
others which he kept, and several scrapbooks from McQuillen’s birthday
celebrations. Of particular note are the historical dance manuscripts in Box
|Festivals Attended, 1974-2014
Programs, address lists, posters, tickets, and other materials from
festivals which McQuillen attended but (for the most part) did not hold
a faculty position. Festivals include the Augusta (GA) Folk Festival,
Fox Hollow Folk Festival, New England Folk Festival (NEFFA), Muskeg
Music, National Folk Festival, Catskills Irish Arts Week, the North East
Squeeze In, and many others. Local dance series posters from New
Hampshire and beyond form an important part of this box as well.
|Festivals At Which McQuillen Performed, 1950-2014
Festival and dance series materials from events where McQuillen performed
as part of a guest band or on festival staff. These include the New
England Folk Festival (1950 onwards), Great Bay Folk Festival, Northwest
Folklife Festival, Ralph Page Legacy Weekends, Fox Hollow Folk Festival,
Lady of the Lake, Augusta (GA) Folk Festival, Interlake Folk Festival,
Saratoga Dance Flurry, and many others. Dances from New Hampshire
include Francestown, Milford, Concord, Fitzwilliam, Peterborough,
Deerfield, while those further afield include the Brattleboro (VT) Dawn
Dances, Kittery (ME), and Cambridge (MA) YWCA dances with Ralph
|Sheet Music Composed by Others, 1940-2014
Extensive loose pages of sheet music, some with McQuillen’s written
comments, gathered from friends and folk festivals. Much of it reflects
his later life interest in traditional Irish music. Several choral
pieces are included from his time spent singing in choirs and barbershop
|Miscellaneous Legal Size Materials, 1940-2014
This box contains an assortment of legal sized materials too large for
other boxes, including: Inked copies of Bob’s Notebooks Nos. 1, 3, 12,
and 13, as well as indexes and dedication statement drafts. Teaching
materials from McQuillen’s mentor Johnny Trombley of the Ralph Page
Orchestra, and historical New England dance materials from 1955 and
before. Oversize dance posters and notes from Old New England. A copy of
an 1823 anonymous American dance tunes manuscript. Several volumes of
The Dublin Opinion, a Dublin NH paper which McQuillen edited during
1948-49. Newspaper clippings about New Hampshire musicians, and
photocopied newspaper clippings about McQuillen himself spanning the
entirety of his musical career. Letters and contracts from the 1980s
|Birthday Scrapbooks and Get Well Cards, 1981-2007
Birthday scrapbooks incorporating tunes, messages, photographs, and
messages from McQuillen’s many friends and admirers, as well as several
get well soon cards from festivals he could not attend. Scrapbooks are
for the years 1981, 2001, 2003, and 2007. A guest book for the 2001
Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend McQuillen Retrospective is included as
well. See also the oversized boxes for 1980 and 1998 scrapbooks.
|Festival Name Tags, 1945-2014
McQuillen saved the name tag from nearly every festival he ever attended,
stored in a series of wooden cigar boxes. They are sorted into four
envelopes within this box.
Series Series 5: Oversize Materials, 1930-2011
(6 Oversize Boxes)
Oversize materials including birthday posters, scrapbooks, awards, yearly
calendars, retirement poster, and historical tee shirts.
|Oversize Box 1|
|Birthday Materials, Notebook, Awards, 1983-2002
Birthday posters, a scrapbook, the printer’s proof for Notebook 4, and
the National Heritage Fellowship and NH Governor’s Arts Awards
|Oversize Box 2|
|Scrapbook and Awards, 1998-2003
1998 Birthday scrapbook, an award plaque, and a large photo of McQuillen
and Dudley Laufman at the 2003 RPDLW festival.
|Oversize Box 3|
|Tee Shirts, 1970-1990
Teeshirts from the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, first Ralph Page
Dance Legacy Weekend, Fox Hollow Folk Festival, and others.
|Oversize Box 4|
|ConVal Retirement Poster, 1984
A 1984 poster from his retirement as a teacher at ConVal Highschool in
Peterborough, signed by several hundred students. This poster is located
in a rolled tube.
|Oversize Box 5|
|Cards, Posters, and Calendars, 1983-2011
Oversized get well cards from groups of dancers at festivals and dances,
as well as McQuillen’s daily calendar for the years 1983-2011. The
calendars detail festivals attended, friends visited with, dances
played, birthdays, and much, much else. These materials are located in
the repository's map cases.