Our original goal was to have the tunes Bob published in his lifetime – 1,554 – played somewhere, by someone in 2023, the year Bob would have turned 100. We reached that original goal on November 10.
A last book of 236 tunes, including tunes dedicated to most New Hampshire towns, was released on July 1, 2023, bringing the total number of Bob tunes to 1,790. By December 17 all 1,790 tunes had been played!
In all throughout the year, 750 individuals (more or less) in 145 places made 2,575 tune submissions to the project. Factoring in tunes played more than once and anecdotal reporting, it comes to over 3,000 of Bob McQuillen's tunes played in 2023.
People played tunes in dance halls, living rooms, basements, kitchens, churches, assisted living homes, at festivals, in Grange halls and schools, in a car during lunch break, at a community Burger Night, an English dance, at NEFFA, at camp, and on Music Street in New Orleans.
They played alone, in twos and threes and fives, tens, and more - up to 30 (and more!) at a time. Larry’s Waltz was hummed in Empuries, Girona, Catalonia - there wasn’t a piano to be found! Over the Isles — a duo of Jörg Bühler, keyboard and Philipp Hunn, accordion, played several tunes backing up caller Katja Hunn in Dietlikon, Switzerland.
Numerous submissions have been from dance bands, including Calliope, Sugar River Band, Racket Factory, Blind Squirrel, Norwich MegaBand, Russell Branch Folk Band, Entwyned, Riff Raff, Northern Aire, Bob's Your Uncle, Roaring Jelly. Members of Spælimenninir, New England Dancing Masters, and Coriolis. DSM, Eloise & Co., SuperTrad, Mad Robin, Reelplay, Katie's Contradiction, Annie's Waltzin' Fiddle, The Stingrays, Last Chance Saloon House Band, Triple Time, Trois Amis, Uncle Dave, Bare Necessities, The Sparklers, Sherlock's Meow and Over the Isles (Switzerland) participated.
Open bands and mega bands with up to 30 players played Bob's tunes this year: Upper Potomac Fiddle Retreat Contra Dance Band, Princeton Country Dancers Pick-up Band, SPUDS, The Pittsfield Open Band, The Western Massachusetts Fiddle Orchestra, Portland Contra Dance Community Open Band, Fiddlers Tour of the Capitol District (NY), The Upper Valley Music Center Open Band, Les Fabulous Girls du Ouest Coast, The Capitol District Megaband, The Guiding Star Grange Back Row Band, Shoreline Fiddle Club.
Bob tunes are being played in sessions all over: Saratoga Springs and Greenwich, NY, Lebanon, NH, Marlboro and Brattleboro VT, North Adams, MA, California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Hawaii and Nebraska. Online sessions on Zoom have reached from Hawaii to Massachusetts and up to Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Tunes were played at fiddle and dance camps and festivals throughout the year.
People familiar with Bob's tunes reached out to friends and family in the states that had not submitted tunes. We know that Bob's tunes are played all over, but we also know that once a tune had been checked off, the motivation to report dropped. Many people play Amelia, The Chickadee's Polka, The Dancing Bear, and other Bob tunes without a clue that he composed them. But little by little almost all the states checked in, and by late December, only Mississippi had not reported a tune. One fiddler in Louisiana had never heard of Bob, but she wanted Louisiana to be green, and she made it so, then kept on playing more and more tunes. And then she drove 111 miles to Mississippi on the last day of the year, played a few tunes there and turned Mississippi green! A piano player in New Orleans submitted a sweet video of herself playing The Dancing Bear just the way Bob wrote it, chords and all.
Several of Bob's tunes have gained wide popularity. There are no real surprises on the "Bob's Top 30 Tunes" List. It's a vaguely scientific attempt to confirm what we know - that while a few tunes are well-known, and played all over the world, many of Bob's wonderful tunes are not.
Not all the tunes have been recorded, but those that are available on YouTube are listed here with links. There are dozens of recordings of Amelia - so we chose the first ever recording, by New England Tradition with Bob playing back-up on the piano with his dear friends April Limber and Pete Colby, on their recording Farewell to the Hollow.
Amelia Recorded with Alouette's Waltz by New England Tradition
Sarah's Jig recorded by Applejack with Bob McQuillen
Pete's March Recorded by the Rhythm Rollers with 4th of July
The Dancing Bear Recorded by Rodney Miller on Airplang
The Chickadee's Polka Recorded by Audrey Knuth and Max Newman
April's March Recorded by New England Tradition with April's March and Deanna's March
Larry's Waltz Recorded on New England Chestnuts by Rod and Randy Miller, with Nerissa
Scotty O'Neil Recorded by Old New England with Jane's March and The Isle of Mull
Olde Tyme Quadrille Recorded by Hand It Down with JB Milne
The Boys of Antrim Recorded by Amarillis with Green Willow and Jacob Hall's Jig
Ralph Page Recorded by Applejack with Bob McQuillen
Multnomah March Recorded for the Portland Collection
Tony's Quadrille Recorded by Hand It Down with Priscilla's Jig
Woodland Dream Sarah Bauhan and Friends on Elmwood Station
Nerissa Recorded by La Bastringe, a Danish band in the 1980s, with Eskimo Waltz
Chips from the Block Recorded by Applejack with Bob McQuillen
Jay and Molly's Waltz Played by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason on their Quiet Room Facebook video in March 2023. The waltz starts at about 27.00, but the whole video is wonderful.
At first it seemed like a simple project: people would play a tune, log it in, we'd check off the tunes, and the list of tunes-not-played would shrink.
Then it seemed like it would be interesting to keep track of the individuals who participated; what instruments they played; where they were; what tunes got played the most. What great tunes have been overlooked?
Then the idea developed to create an iPad app to make all Bob’s tunes readily available. The app contains scans of all 1554 of the tunes in books 1-15 and the Waltz Book. Available in the Apple App Store.
It's been suggested that it would perhaps be better to transcribe the tunes into music notation software to produce a clean copy of each tune. But, after so much time spent with Bob's tunes, written in his own hand, with his dedications, underlines, exclamation points, and doodles, we felt that a cleaned-up and readable version — so much easier to read — would be missing Bob’s spirit and personality. So the iPad app contains’ Bob’s original scores, doodles and all.
My Mother's Waltz, as originally published in Bob's Note Book 5, and processed through Finale notation software.
In December 2023 we wrapped up the project by posting a daily “Hidden Gem” – a great Bob tune, not widely known, that was rediscovered during the year. We also invited back-up players to submit their “Chord Speculations” – their favorite chords for favorite Bob tunes.
A well-hidden gem, published only in Bob's Big Book of Watlzes.
Chord speculations by Deborah Maynard.
Click the picture to see a larger version of Laurie's Waltz.