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Typing out a tune — the hard way

From left, BTO mem-bers Jay O’Grady, Alex Hol-man, Chris Keene, Bren-dan Emmett Quigley, and Giordana Mecagni.
From left, BTO mem-bers Jay O’Grady, Alex Hol-man, Chris Keene, Bren-dan Emmett Quigley, and Giordana Mecagni.(Nicole Tammaro)

Brendan Emmett Quigley of Brookline is a professional puzzle maker whose crosswords have appeared in major markets including The New York Times, as well as gained mention on episodes of “The Colbert Report,” “Jeopardy!” and “NBC Sunday Night Football.”

The author of numerous books, Quigley has also played the rhythm guitar and Moog synthesizer in bands dating back to 1997. However, his current gig as a member of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO) is more hand-banging than head-banging.

“It’s like ‘STOMP’ meets ‘The Office,’” Quigley says of BTO, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. “Our shows have a lot of humor and we have a lot of fun performing, but we take them very seriously, too.”

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Quigley, who has been with BTO for six years, readily admits it is not his most accomplished band, nor do the other six members plan to quit their respective day jobs as a computer programmer, AIDS researcher, librarian, mortgage broker, turntable builder, and make-up counter manager. However, the combination of workplace-themed humor delivered in business attire between rhythmic typewriter pounding entertains audiences at libraries, museums, private parties, and the odd club gig.

“It’s a challenge to come up with new sounds on a machine that’s pretty inflexible,” he said, “but you’d be surprised how much personality can be coaxed out of it.”

According to Quigley, BTO has compiled a repertoire of approximately 20 songs through weekly rehearsals – although a song is never performed the same way twice. The musicians’ hands take a beating, as do the manual typewriters that band members are always seeking.

Quigley said BTO enjoys playing to audiences of all ages, with kids delighted to see something new while older adults reminisce about writing college papers on similar models. During performances, he takes special pleasure in watching expressions change from amusement to respectful amazement.

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“We want to give audiences a memorable, novel experience,” said Quigley, laughing at the memory of how slowly he used to type on his grandparents’ manual typewriter from fear of making a mistake. “Most of all, we love it when they say they had no idea you can do that with a typewriter.”


For more information, visit bostontypewriterorchestra.com.