Ralph McLane was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town about 15 miles north of Boston, on December 19, 1906. He studied with Gaston Hamelin as a scholarship student at the New England Conservatory during Hamelin’s tenure as principal clarinet with the Boston Symphony. When Hamelin returned to Paris in 1930, McLane followed him and continued his study for two more years. While in Paris, he also studied with Georges Enesco. Hamelin considered McLane to be his best student.
Upon his return to the United States, McLane took lessons from Daniel Bonade, who helped him secure employment in New York with the CBS Symphony where he eventually became principal clarinet. Subsequently, he played principal clarinet in the Wallenstein Sinfonietta at radio station ROW. McLane performed chamber music concerts with the Budapest, Busch, Curtis, Kolisch, Perole, Stradivarius, and Stuyvesant Quartets.
In 1943 McLane joined the Philadelphia Orchestra and played principal clarinet there until 1951. In 1947 he began teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music. During his tenure in Philadelphia, he performed the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the orchestra five times. In November 28, 1950, McLane gave the first New York concert performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. This was his last performance. He died of cancer on February 19, 1951.