McQuillen, Bob "Mac", Collection, 1930-2023

Collection number: MC 282
Size: (23 boxes and 1 map case ) (6.33 cu.ft.)

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 recordings.

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 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 today.

McQuillen’s recordings (and many other similar albums) may be purchased from Great Meadow Music or the CDSS store.

    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" (1972-3)
  • "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, materials from Bob's 100th birthday party celebration in 2023, 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 collection.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], [Folder], [Box], Bob McQuillen Collection, 1930-2023, MC 282, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Gift of the creator, 2012-2014

Separated Material

Audio materials are stored with the repository's main audio collection.

Oversize calendars and cards are stored with the repository's map collection.

Collection Contents

Series 1: Music Notation, 1972-2011

(6 boxes)

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.

Box 1
Notebooks, 1972-1980

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.

Box 2
Notebooks, 1980-1990

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.

Box 3
Notebooks, 1991-1998

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.

Box 4
Notebooks, 1995-2009

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 inked copies.

Box 5
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.

Box 6
Compositions, Royalties, Tune Dedication Letters, ca. 1972-2014

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 2: Performing Groups, Early Life, and Awards, 1945-2014

(3 boxes)

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.

Box 7
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.

Box 8
Tune Lists, Autobiographical Materials, 1930-2023

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.

Box 9
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 3: Correspondence and Photos, 1948-2014

(4 boxes)

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 craft.

Box 10
Correspondence, 1948-2014

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 Pete Colby.

Box 11
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 humor.

Box 12
Photos, 1930-2007

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 tradition.

Box 13
Photos, 1950-2007

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 4: Festivals, Birthday Scrapbooks, and Miscellaneous, 1930-2023

(6 boxes)

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 17.

Box 14
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.

Box 15
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 Page.

Box 16
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 quartets.

Box 17
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

Box 18
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.

Box 19
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 5: Oversize Materials, 1930-2023

(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 (2002). Materials (memoribilia, USB drives with digital recordings) of McQuillen's 100th birthday party held in Peterborough in 2023.

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.

Finding Aid Image TEMP
  • Photo of Bob McQuillen