His posture is stooped, his legs are bowed, his gait just a bit unsteady. His body is thin -- scrawny,
really. His big hands are well-worn, his face bears witness to his eight and a half decades on planet Earth. But he's full
of joy and energy; he fairly vibrates with excitement, especially when he's playing the piano. If you ever want to argue for
the healing properties of music, Bob McQuillen can be your Exhibit "A."
to say how things might have turned out if he hadn't gone to that dance in 1946. "Somebody said, 'Go to a dance,' so
I went to Francestown with friends, and that's when I got into the dance scene and the music and all."
spent three years in the Pacific Theater, and had no idea what to do with the rest of his life. He wouldn't figure that out
for another decade or so. But he found an anchor, a purpose, in the close-knit world of New England contra dance. He learned
the music straight from the master, Ralph Page; then he lived long enough, played often enough, and wrote enough tunes, to
earn a spot alongside Page in the pantheon of contra dance.
Not that he'd ever admit
it himself. The notion is met with a hearty laugh. "Well, what in hell did I do, you know?" he says. "All I
do is I'm an old-fashioned New England contra dance piano player."
he done? He's written more than 1200 dance tunes, published in a series called Bob's Note Books. The National Endowment for
the Arts gave him a National Heritage Fellowship for his contributions to traditional culture. He's been given a Governor's
Arts Award, and represented New Hampshire at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.