ST. GEORGE — It seemed like a busy week for the man known as a piano teacher to so many in St. George.
During the summer, Lynn Dean gave about 75 piano lessons to students ranging from the very young to the not-so-young. But it wasn’t even one of his busier weeks, as during the school months, Dean might be teaching 99 students and conducting music classes at Dixie State University.
But that was Dean’s last week. He died July 23 of COVID-19, leaving a legacy of bourgeoning pianists in Southern Utah.
“He was a master teacher. One time I asked him, ‘Why do you have 99 students?’” said Patrice Hunt, a former student of Dean’s who he inspired to become a music teacher herself. “His answer was, ‘I love teaching.’ And he was very good at it.”
Dean had spent 52 of his 79 years teaching piano lessons to more that 1,000 people – first in Hobbs, New Mexico, before moving to St. George in 1996. Since 1969, he also served as a professor of music at New Mexico Junior College and at Dixie State since 1997. Somewhere in there, he and his wife Dianne raised seven children.
There are hundreds of people in St. George who can say that it was Dean who taught them to play.
When Hunt went to the Tuacahn Center for the Arts to get a memorial signature stone placed in the courtyard for Dean, the attendant said, “Dr. Dean died? I learned from him, and my kids learned from him.”
Hunt said Dean didn’t initially jump at coming to St. George. He had a legacy already in New Mexico, but his wife – the former Dianne Schmutz – grew up in St. George and they began their marriage at the St. George Temple in 1966.
But he ended up having a legacy in St. George as well, his former students and colleagues said. To them, Dean was far from the stereotype of the demanding piano teacher.
It was more likely, they say, that he would crack you up with a joke and made just about every student feel like they were developing into a Beethoven or Mozart.
“He was always upbeat and passionate,” said Nancy Allred, the director of piano studies at Dixie State. “If you were ever not having a great day, he would just brighten up your day. That’s a gift.”
A trailblazer at Dixie State
Allred said Dean was the “center of piano music” in St. George for nearly three decades, but he didn’t let it get to his head when she needed help finding teaching roles.
“One year, I would say, ‘Can you teach piano literature?’” Allred said. “He would move heaven and earth to teach the classes he could. He could teach anything.”
And Allred said his passion for teaching “rubbed off on his students.”
It did for Hunt.
She went to Dean 15 years ago asking if he would help her resurrect a piece she had been working on. That began a friendship that led Hunt into teaching herself – and there are many former students of Dean’s who are now either teachers themselves or still performing nationwide.
“It’s because of him that I became a nationally certified teacher,” said Hunt, who is the second vice president of the Utah Music Teachers Association. “I swore I would never teach. He was the perfect mentor.”
The art of ‘Lynn-isms’
Beyond the piano, Dean was also a maestro of dad jokes. So much so that his students and colleagues had a name for it: Lynn-isms.
“He would always have jokes,” Hunt said. “He would say, ‘What would you get when you throw a grand piano down a mine shaft? A flat minor.’”
Hunt was nicknamed “Twinkie Breath” by Dean, who would always meet with Hunt with his customary greeting, “Hello Kemosabe.” And there were other Lynn-isms.
“You’d complain if they hung you with a new rope.”
“I hope your legs fall off.”
And one of his favorites when a student was hesitant with the keys, “No stoppink.”
“I tell my students that now. They say I spell it wrong but its to reinforce to never lose the rhythm,” Hunt said.
At the end of Dean’s funeral Monday, Hunt went up to the guest book and wrote her farewell.
Ed. note 8/7/2021: Updated number of children to seven
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