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About Quentin Maclean

Quentin Maclean was one of the most beloved church and theater organists of the mid-20th century, pursuing a dual career as a performer and recording artist that encompassed both popular and classical music, in addition to being a composer and teacher. Born Quentin Stuart Morvaren Maclean in London in 1896, he was the son of the son of composer/conductor Alexander Morvaren ("Alick") Maclean (1872-1936), whose work included oratorios and operas (including one entitled Quentin Durward), as well as many years as a popular conductor. He studied in England and also on the continent, including time in Leipzig with Karl Straube and Max Reger, and was interned as an enemy alien with the outbreak of the First World War. Upon his repatriation and the end of the war, he served as an assistant organist at Westminster Cathedral under his former teacher, Sir Richard Terry. His introduction to popular audiences came when he embarked on a tour of British theaters with journalist/media star Lowell Thomas at the start of the '20s, during which he provided the musical accompaniment to Thomas' lecture and film presentation With Allenby in Palestine (recounting events most familiar to modern audiences from the movie Lawrence of Arabia).

Maclean soon found himself in demand as a popular musician, and spent the years 1921-1939 playing the organ at various British movie palaces. From 1925 onward, he was also a fixture on the BBC, where his performances included a huge volume of light-classical pieces as well as the British premieres of both Paul Hindemith's and his own organ concertos. Long after the advent of talking pictures, which eliminated most live music from theaters, Maclean remained a star in the field, so popular was his playing; in those days, the biggest theaters provided organists to play as part of the entertainment between films, and he was among the best of them, playing to hundreds or even thousands of people at a time, and made numerous 78 rpm recordings in the '20s and '30s, for EMI's Columbia label, among other major imprints, among them a version of "Rhapsody in Blue" adapted for his instrument, and pop standards such as "Body and Soul," "With a Song in My Heart," "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes," "Watching My Dreams Go By," "Miner's Dream of Home," "Just a Wee Deoch and Doris," and medleys such as "Parade of the Tin Soldiers"/"The Mosquitos Parade"/"My Love Parade." Maclean was not only one of the most celebrated organists of his day, but one of his protégés was Sidney Torch, who went on to major careers as an organist, conductor, and composer in his own right. After a long residency at the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, which featured what was then one of the largest theater organs in England, Maclean designed the Wurlitzer Cinema Pipe Organ -- the largest instrument of its kind -- for the new Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn, the biggest movie palace in England. Maclean relocated to Canada in 1939, where he continued to play in movie theaters during the '40s, right to the end of the decade, even as he held academic and church posts, and broadcast extensively on the CBC, where he became very popular for his contribution to children's programming. He recorded light classical pieces at the organ, and also left behind a large body of compositions in all idioms. ~ Bruce Eder

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