Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bob McQuillen 1923-2014

Bob McQuillen, a prolific composer of dance tunes, fine piano and piano accordion player for contra dances, and a really nice guy, has died. At least a few of his more than 1300 compositions are on The Session, including Amelia’s Waltz.

After winning a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award in 2002, he sat in on Patty Furlong’s basic B/C button accordion class at the age of 80 in 2003 at the Catskills Irish Arts Week

From the Keene Sentinel:

A legendary Peterborough musician and contra dance caller died Tuesday at the age of 90.
Bob McQuillen, known as "Mac" or "Mr. Mac," was not only acclaimed for his musicianship but also for his decades of teaching industrial arts at Peterborough High School and Conval Regional High School, and the bonds he built with his students.

McQuillen suffered a stroke on Sunday and died Tuesday afternoon at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

The piano and accordion player composed more than 1,000 songs in his career, but didn't become enraptured with music until enlisting in the Marines in 1943 during World War II.

He made friends with a guitar player and began a love affair with "hillbilly music."

"I was in with a lot of southern boys, and, boy, did I like their music," he told The Sentinel in 1981.
After he left the Marines in 1946, he became a regular at Ralph Page's Saturday night square dances in Peterborough. After sitting in with Page one night, McQuillen was offered a job with the orchestra.

His return to the Marines in 1951 proved fortuitous. It was then that he taught marksmanship at Quantico Marine Base, and discovered that he liked being a teacher. After a year in Korea and in service back in the states, he started attended Keene State College (then Keene Teachers College), and graduated in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in education.

He wrote his first dance tune in 1973, inspired by a student who had just died in a motorcycle accident in Keene. He called it "Scotty O'Neil."

"The tune just took shape in my head," he said in 1981. "Nothing like that had ever happened before."
In 2002, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award for traditional and folk arts in the U.S.

McQuillen died 29 years to the day after his wife, Priscilla, passed away.

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