Daniel Lynn, a singer and conductor, has taught voice and directed choirs for over thirty years, including 27 at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he is the longest serving choral director since the school was founded.
Dan was born and raised in Kearney, Nebraska, the second of three sons of William Ambrose and Maribeth Kitt Lynn, both of whom were music teachers at Kearney State Teacher's College, now the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His father, in his 35 years of choral leadership at the college, became a legend in the state of Nebraska, where he also established and was the first president of the Nebraska Choral Directors Association. His mother, a violinist and Eastman School of Music graduate, taught at all levels at KSTC and privately in the home.
As a consequence, music was an all-pervasive experience for the children from their earliest years, one that Dan reveled in. Although trumpet was his first love, he also sang and participated in both band and choir while attending Kearney High School.
Following graduation from KHS in 1968, he enrolled as a music major at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where he majored in both trumpet and voice, graduating in 1973. Although he aspired to play trumpet professionally, he was offered a full scholarship to study opera at the graduate level at Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut, now known as the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. The societal change from the Midwest was a revelation, and his experiences in Connecticut would change his life:
Going to Hartt was my introduction to a world quite different from that of life in Nebraska, where the lifestyle was homogeneous with an almost totally white Anglo-Saxon Protestant viewpoint. The mix of races, religion, creed, and sexual orientation was a real eye-opener.
I completed my classes at Hartt in 1975 and then got involved singing in some off-Broadway and potential Broadway productions in the region for a year, hoping to possibly have a career in that area of music. I became uncomfortable with the lifestyle I observed associated with musical show productions, however, and decided, "No, I want to teach."
After I received my degree in 1976, I got a job as director of vocal and choral activities at Kingswood-Oxford, an exclusive private school in West Hartford where I directed the choral program until 1980. Although at first I disliked teaching junior high level students, I grew to really enjoy working with that age group during my time there. During my last year I decided to pursue doctoral study and applied and was accepted at University of Colorado at Boulder.
While at Hartt I had lived in a rooming house for graduate students and became acquainted with Dan Bailey, another student who was an Adventist. He invited me to go with him to the Hartford SDA church, but I said, "no," because my parents had not had a good experience with Adventists. He kept inviting me and finally I said, "I will go with you once, but don't ask me again." That visit was a transformational experience, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I met some incredible people in that congregation that reflected the Christian message and philosophy and were genuinely sincere in their beliefs.
I had sung in a Jewish synagogue on Friday nights and at a Congregational Church on Sundays and been looking for something in my life, but did not feel I was being spiritually fed at either of these services. I kept going to the Adventist church and at the end of six months decided to take Bible studies. All of this happened during the time I was doing Broadway activity and had started teaching at Kingswood-Oxford. I was baptized in May 1978.
Lynn was offered a full scholarship to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he attended the local Adventist church. He enjoyed his graduate study and assistantships as well as the fellowship in the Boulder church, where he met Elizabeth (Beth) Marie Thacker, also a graduate student. Following their marriage in December 1981, and while they were still attending school, he was invited to teach at Southern Oregon College, now University, in Ashland, Oregon, beginning in December 1984.
Because Beth was working on a master's degree in exercise physiology at UC Boulder and Dan still had work to do to finish his ABD, they returned there at the end of the school year in 1985 even though he had enjoyed his work at SOC and they wanted to hire him on a permanent basis.
We learned shortly after our return to Colorado that we were expecting our first child, and I felt the need to find work to support my family. I applied for and was offered a position at Montana State University for that fall. I was very familiar with that area of the country since both of my parents were from Montana and I had often visited there.
I was the assistant choral director and taught classes and was really enjoying my work but because the state was having budgetary problems, they had to reduce the faculty at the end of my first year. Since I was the last to be hired, I received notice in April that my position was being cut. Before I had time to be concerned, however, in the very week I was given that news, I got a call from Union College letting me know they were interested in me. That weekend I flew to Lincoln for an interview, conducted some rehearsals, talked to some people, and was offered the position that Sunday night. The way the events in that week happened was truly providential.
We had had our first child that year in Montana and we were both excited about going to Lincoln. I had actually lived near UC while attending UNL, and Beth had family connections to Union that went back two generations. She had also attended UC for a year before transferring to Andrews University, where she had completed her undergraduate degree.
During his time at UC Lynn has upheld the college's highly regarded choral tradition in his work with both the Collegiate Chorale and the Unionaires, a select choral group established in 1954 by John Wesley Rhodes. More than 1,000 students have now sung in the Unionaires during the last 58 years and there have been six directors since its founding, with Lynn leading it for nearly half of that time. A year after arriving at UC, he completed a doctorate in vocal performance and pedagogy at UC Boulder.
In April 1997, a reunion of Unionaire members, conducted by three of the six directors, was the featured musical event during the UC Alumni Weekend. More than two hundred former members participated in what proved to be an inspiring weekend for the singers, conductors, and listeners.
At the end of the last concert on Saturday evening the combined group sang what has become the theme song for the Unionaires, Kathleen Thomerson's "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light." Immediately as the number ended, the audience responded with an instantaneous and prolonged standing ovation and repeated curtain calls.
During Lynn's tenure the group has toured coast to coast, to Florida, and extensively throughout the Midwest. The annual Christmas and year-end concerts in the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol building in Lincoln have provided particularly memorable moments for members of the choirs.
In 1995 he created the Octet, a small vocal group that specialized in challenging music and toured widely in the U.S. and to Canada, Alaska, and Russia. In 2007 he expanded the ensemble by adding an additional person on each part and renamed it The Twelve.
In addition to directing the choral program and giving voice lessons, Lynn, now a full professor, also has taught conducting, secondary music methods, and general and world music classes as well as an honors course in the arts. He served as chair of the Fine Arts Department from 2001 to 2005.
In April 2012, the Alumni Weekend's musical activity was a celebration reunion of choir members who had sung under Lynn for the past 27 years.
The reunion proved to be a marvelous experience, beyond my expectations. Members returned from every year that I have been at Union, and the time together was magical and rewarding. We visited, rehearsed, and performed the numbers that had been highlights of all the music we had performed during the years, including the singing of "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light," a number that brought tears to the eyes of many.
The audience responded with enthusiasm as we sang great choral classics, spirituals, some contemporary works, and others. Our singing of "The Awakening," about how music changes our life, by Joseph Martin got an incredible audience reaction.
It was great to share in the memories we had from over the years of working together and very rewarding to hear about what the students have done with their lives The whole experience was a very emotional one for all of us and is now a treasured, once-in-a-lifetime memory.
The Lynns have three children, Lauren Elizabeth, Seth Daniel, and Will John. While all play instruments and have good singing voices, they have not pursued music careers. Beth is very active in the cycling community in Lincoln and has been instrumental in developing the hiker/biker trails in that community.
Sources: Interview with Dan Lynn, August 2012; "Two New Teachers Join faculty, "Mid-America Outlook, September 1986, 13; Lauren Bongard Schwarz, "A Community Within a Community," Union College CORDmagazine, Spring 2012, 14,15; Dan Shultz, "Union College Celebrates a Legacy of Praise," IAMA Notes, Summer 1997, 1-4; personal knowledge.