My Family Knew the Real Music Man

My Family Knew the Real Music Man

In a recent post, I described my encounters with Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. I was surprised to learn that a friend’s connections with that wonderful show put mine to shame. 

Allan Dean has had a distinguished musical career of his own. For years one of New York’s busiest trumpet players, he is Professor Emeritus at the Yale School of Music and a founding member of Summit Brass, Calliope: A Renaissance Band, and the New York Cornet and Sacbut Ensemble. He can be heard playing both modern trumpet and early brass on over 80 recordings for most major labels including RCA, Columbia, Nonesuch, Summit, and others. 

But before all that, he grew up in Mason City, Iowa, Meredith Willsons hometown and the real-life version of River City, the fictional town where Professor Harold Hill met Marian the librarian and convinced the townspeople to form a band. I’ll let Allan tell the story from there:

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Your Music Man post hit home, as I grew up in River City—Mason City, Iowa. My parents knew Meredith well, and my mother, a wonderful pianist, played for him (as a flautist) in high school.

My dad, a farmer and politician, the editor of the local newspaper, a justice of the peace, and a dentist, sang in a barbershop quartet called the Rusty Hinges that was together for 50 years. Meredith said he patterned River City’s barbershop quartet, the Buffalo Bills, after the Rusty Hinges. 

Here’s a photo of Meredith with the Rusty Hinges, taken when the movie premiered. My dad is second from the left, with Meredith in the middle.

My dad thought music was a great hobby. As I got on the plane to NYC at age 20, he said, “Good luck in the music business, son, but myself, I like to eat!”

When my parents visited me in New York, Meredith got us tickets to see the original Music Man on Broadway. Over the years I’ve played hundreds of shows, usually subbing, but Music Man was my first show and has stuck with me of course as my favorite musical.

I never met Meredith, but my folks always said good things about him. Everybody in Mason City loved him, because even when he became well known, he always talked about Iowa and how wonderful it was. 

There is a Music Man museum in Mason City that had fallen on hard times, but it’s been totally revived with the new production of the show. They have big plans for the place now. You’d love it if you ever find yourself in Mason City.


Blog: Profiles