Aug 7, 2008

In Memory of David Schnaufer...


Several years ago I was taking a music class at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia. One day at lunch in the cafeteria, my friend Keith Young, a well known mountain dulcimer builder, introduced me to David Schnaufer, a brilliant dulcimer player. At one point, David had lived with Keith and his wife Mary in their home in Falls Church, VA.

I learned later that David was THE significant dulcimer player in Nashville. To quote his Web site, "Schnaufer won the first National Mountain Dulcimer Competition in 1976 as well as winning seven additional local, state and regional contests. He was a member of N.A.R.A.S. (Nashville Chapter), and was the first dulcimer player to ever accumulate enough major label master sessions to qualify for membership.

Schnaufer's Nashville projects included award-winning videos of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Fisher's Hornpipe" and special musical projects with Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash. His session credits included work with The Judds, Kathy Mattea, Holly Dunn, Dan Seals, and Hank Williams, Jr. He toured as opening act with the Everly Brothers and appeared on Mark O'Connor's "New Nashville Cats."

Schnaufer's solo recordings included collaborations with several of the world's most respected pickers including Chet Atkins, Mark O'Connor, Mark Knopfler, and Albert Lee. He also developed learning materials including "Swing Nine Yards of Calico," a book and tape set, and "Learning Mountain Dulcimer," an instructional video.

A dulcimer program at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music began in 1995 under Schnaufer's guidance as Adjunct Associate Professor of Dulcimer. This program grew to include over 50 community and university students. A Master Class in the summer of 1996 brought 14 students representing 9 states to Blair for dulcimer study. Schnaufer also taught numerous workshops throughout the United States including Appalachian State University, Boone, NC; Kentucky Music Week, Louisville, KY; Augusta Heritage Center, Davis & Elkins College, WV; and the Denver Folklore Center."

He was a very influential musician. I saw him in concert a couple of times and was amazed at the music he could produce from such a humble instrument.

In July 2005, Mary Ann and I celebrated our first anniversary by spending a weekend in Nashville. I learned that David was going to be presenting a dulcimer workshop on Sunday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and suggested to Mary Ann that we attend. While she was in the CMHOF Gift Shop, I sneaked into the venue where David was setting up and asked if he would play his rendition of "Southwind" as an anniversary gift to Mary Ann. We sat in the front row, and halfway through David's performance he turned to Mary Ann and announced to the audience that he was dedicating his next song as an anniversary gift to both of us. We both cried at the beautiful rendition of this haunting melody.

Sadly, David died a few months later. It was a huge loss to those of us who treasure traditional and old time music. I invite you to enjoy this video:

YouTube Video of David Playing "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"

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