GENERAL ARTICLES

MUSIC By McIVER

He looks like a successful businessman but Allan Mclver is really a magician of melody. He’s one of radio’s ranking arrangers

ROY KERVIN December 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

MUSIC By McIVER

He looks like a successful businessman but Allan Mclver is really a magician of melody. He’s one of radio’s ranking arrangers

ROY KERVIN December 1 1943

MUSIC By McIVER

He looks like a successful businessman but Allan Mclver is really a magician of melody. He’s one of radio’s ranking arrangers

ROY KERVIN

WHEN patrons of a neighborhood theatre in Montreal’s North End listened to a young man play the piano back in 1926, they could not know that one day he would be one of Canada’s top-ranking musical arrangers and conductors. In fact, the young musician himself—he had helped put himself through school by playing the flute—could hardly have guessed he was headed for radio stardom.

But such is the story of Allan Mclver, the smalltown boy who made good in the big city because of his ability to score music.

Today he is one of the busiest men in the music business. He broadcasts regularly on some of the biggest Canadian radio shows; he makes recordings, scores musical backgrounds for plays, and works as musical arranger and conductor for three Montreal radio stations. Two nights a week he plays for the troops, and until union trouble hit the recording business he was recording chief for a large transcription firm in Montreal. Doing a radio show in New York on a Saturday night and another in Montreal on Sunday night is old stuff to Mclver. He has done it many times.

When you meet Allan Mclver chances are you’ll find him in his shirt sleeves for that’s how he likes to work—and he works hard and long and usually under pressure.

He’s a plump, cheery, friendly character who makes

■;/ It you feel at home when he reaches

out his hand and says, “Hello.” He is very neat. His hair is mostly silver-grey and his neat mustache is a dark brown. His glasses gleam. His tie is a rich maroon, his shirt white and his trousers a quiet, middle blue. There is an air of sparkling, healthy cleanliness about him. His voice is middleweight, with lots of chuckle in it.

He wears blue suspenders and a white belt—a cautious man.

Only in his eyes do you find something to make you suspect that Allan Mclver is a musician. Superficially, he looks like a solid, successful businessman—and, for that matter, he is. There’s nothing of the temperamental artist about Allan. There isn’t room in his crowded life for weird whims of temperament.

Born in Sherbrooke, Que., less than 40 years ago, he decided early in life to become a musician. Had his father, a chief engineer at nearby lime pits, not been killed when Allan was four, the young Mclver might not so easily have started off on a musical career for engineering had been the almost exclusive profession of the family.

He launched his bid for musical fame by doing professional work on the flute and violin while still attending school. In 1926 he and his mother and sister moved to Montreal. There the youthful Mclver began playing piano in a neighborhood movie and from that day to this he has been a pianist. It is his favorite instrument He has been married to the piano just two years longer than he’s been married to Mrs. Mclver.

Whether it was because Allan saw the shadow of

things to come or because he was attracted to a new venture, he left the theatre, just before the talkies turned the piano boys out of them, to try his hand at radio. He’s been at it ever since.

Soon after, what was then the CRC opened its first Montreal station; he became staff pianist there. Shortly after that he went to New York as accompanist for the Lyric Trio and remained there a year as staff pianist at WABC. It was during this time that he first tried his hand at arranging. On his return to Montreal he began both arranging and conducting. It was a gradual climb upward from then on, until today he rates with Toronto’s Percy Faith as a top-ranking specialist in scoring and conducting.

He is happiest scoring backgrounds for radio plays; prefers this to rescoring popular melodies. And the string section is his favorite. “I always point up the strings,” he says. There is little brass in a Mclver orchestra, and what there is of it is usually “muted.” His string section usually includes viol, bass viol and harp, as well as four or more fiddles.

On those rare occasions when he finds time to see a movie, he usually chooses it by noting the composer who scored the background music. “These Hollywood composers,” he says enthusiastically, “have found an entirely new voicing.”

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Musk by Mclver

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By this he means new instrumentation — new arrangements of instruments.

“I first became interested in that sort of thing,” he recalls, “when I was at WABC. I worked with Freddie Rich —he scored ‘Stage Door Canteen’—and Lud Gluskin and others. It’s fascinating work. Do you know that some movie scores are so well done that they have been played by symphonies?”

Of course, when Mclver goes to a movie he doesn’t always just close his eyes and listen. He has taken time to look over a few screen stars and Ingrid Bergman is his favorite. His choice of actors is prejudiced. “When you’ve worked with people and liked it,” he says, “it sort of makes up your mind.” He’s worked with Raymond Massey, Herbert Marshall and Claude Rains on Victory Loan shows. He counts Raymond Massey as his favorite, with the others close behind.

Allan did both the scoring and conducting for the broadcasts in which these stars appeared, fitting musical backgrounds to the sketches they brought with them to Canada.

Like many music men Allan spends a lot of time listening to other orchestras and to other men’s scores, over his radio. He often does this while working on a script. Of the popular composers he chooses Gershwin and Vernon Duke. Of the classical, Tchaikovsky and Debussy.

“There’s another chap, too,” he adds, “Aaron Copeland. He’s doing some grand things in a new, modern classical style.”

Mclver’s favorite orchestras are Kostelanetz’ and Whiteman’s.

He is not a swing fan and when you ask him what he thinks of the musical tastes of his 14-year-old son, Allan, Jr., who plays a trumpet and is an admirer of Harry James, Allan grins broadly and chuckles: “I don’t think. I just

suffer.”

Busy Life

It’s a busy life he leads. But Mclver is used to a busy life. “It has been busier,” he says. “When I was in New York I commuted between there and Montreal every week end for a whole season. I had a broadcast in New York on Saturday night. Then I ran for the Montreal train. In Montreal, Sunday morning, I wrote my arrangements for a Sunday evening show. In the afternoon we rehearsed. In the evening the show went on the air. Then I had to run for the New York train and be back there in the morning to prepare Monday shows.”

He is used to working that way. What time he gets up depends on the amount of work to be done. He may start work at 10 or he may start at six, any day of the week. His hours of retiring vary and for the same reasons.

“He never refuses a job,” says Mrs. Mclver. “Whenever anyone wants him, he agrees.”

Outside of listening to the musical score of a movie now and then, or of a radio play, Mclver has little time for relaxation. Occasionally there is an evening when work is not too pressing and Allan and his boys and, usually, their wives sit around after a broadcast and chat. At such times you would never guess that Mclver is “the boss.” He does little of the talking and lots of the listening. He looks like a friendly businessman who happened to be in this musical company by accident.

There is the occasional evening, too, when he and Mrs. Mclver, in their quiet suburban home, enjoy a snack together. “He’s always hungry,” says Mrs. M., “especially for spaghetti with hot sauce.” Coffee is his favorite beverage, served—whenever possible— with a stack of doughnuts to dunk.

In the comparatively quiet summer months Mclver sneaks away for a day or two at a time to visit with his family and Brownie, their spaniel, in the country. There he enjoys his only sport—swimming.

Embarrassing Moment

Thinking about highlights of his radio career, Allan grins to himself. “The funniest thing that ever happened to me,” he says, “occurred about 10 years ago at CRCM when that station was just starting operation.

“A speaker was scheduled to go on from 7.15 to 7.30 but he didn’t turn up. So we had a quick rehearsal—I had the studio orchestra at that time— and we got ready to go on as a replacing program. Well, 7.15 came around and we went into action. I was leading and taking myself very seriously for leading was new to me then.

“Suddenly I realized what the announcer was saying. He had my name wrong! He had the name of the orchestra wrong! He had the names of the numbers wrong! I was struggling manfully to keep going when the sound man dropped a bass drum right behind me. I twisted around and glared. I waggled my eyebrows. I screamed, silently, for him to be quiet—we were on the air! Then he dropped a couple of metal chairs with a terrible clatter and the engineer walked across the room and took our mike away !

“The original speaker had turned up after all. We had been playing only for the amusement of the studio crew.”

Taking lines with Jack Benny during a broadcast from Toronto last winter was the biggest “boot” Allan says he ever got. (The word “boot” replaces “kick” in the Mclver vocabulary.)

Allan joined the Benny show when it played Montreal and he worked with the troupe throughout its Canadian tour, scoring and conducting the music for all the camp benefits and service shows played by the American comedian on this side of the border.

Allan doesn’t think the war has changed music much, intrinsically. Materially, of course, it has. “It’s hard to find musicians now,” he says. “I’ve lost most of mine.” The receptions given musical shows in service camps demonstrate, he thinks, just how important music is to our way of life.

He chooses “Carry On,” the title song of the “Canada Carries On” radio series, on which he worked, as the best straight Canadian war song written so far.

He volunteered for service in this war but was turned down—a fact he regrets very much. But he’s finding consolation by doing extensive work among the troops in training.

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