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Remembering Mac

Nothing to do but play on

I first met Bob McQuillen through his music. A musical partner put some of Bob’s tunes on the music stand, saying these were written by a local guy. We played them and they were good, no, better than good. We still play those songs. “Who is this Bob McQuillen?,” I asked. A piano player from the contra dance scene. This was an understatement. Bob’s compositions compare favorably to songs by Turlough O’Carolan, the great Irish composer.

I first met him face to face in 2012 when the Monadnock Summer Lyceum decided to devote a lecture slot to honoring McQuillen and the contra dance tradition. I was the committee member with the job of contacting him to make arrangements. He hung up on me three times before he accepted that I wasn’t trying to sell him something. He presented as a very crotchety old man intensely protective of his privacy, and he couldn’t hear very well. Once he understood what I was about, things went better. He was one of the warmest, most engaging people I have had the pleasure to meet. I met him at his unique house and we made the arrangements. The Lyceum event was wonderful, both musical and memorable. Bob was honored for his role in the New England contra dance scene, his performance, his mentoring and his composition. People cried, Bob cried. Since then I’ve seen Mr. Mac around town many times and he has always had a smile and a kind word.

Bob had a way of looking at you fully, giving 100 percent of his attention, then saying something enigmatic that usually, by the time you got around to understanding it, after it had come back to you a few times, it pretty much changed your life. What had seemed to be random ranting at first, became profound, uplifting and motivating.

I have known many people who were touched thus by Bob McQuillen. Everyone who knew him loved him dearly. He clearly made the world a better place. I don’t know what we will do without him. Play on, I suppose. 1, 2, 3...

Eric Blackmer lives in Peterborough.

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