When David Schnaufer came to Nashville in 1985, it was with the talent and commitment to move the sweet sound of the Appalachian dulcimer into the music mainstream. His strong respect for the instrument's musical and cultural heritage and his unshakable belief in its range and possibilities have allowed him to do just that.
"As a solo artist, a bandleader, and a featured studio player on some of Nashville's most memorable recent recordings, David's pulled off a near miracle. He's made a close-to-forgotten acoustic instrument relevant, and he's done it in a hi-tech age obsessed with drum machines and the latest synthesized equipment." (Michael McCall)
Throughout his career, Schnaufer researched the history and culture of the Appalachian dulcimer collecting instruments, oral histories, and music. In the late 1980s, he began researching and performing with a unique Tennessee dulcimer which was called a "music box" by its creators over 100 years ago. He co-authored an article for the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin detailing the history of this special instrument.
In one year, Schnaufer was responsible for the inclusion of the Tennessee music box on a folk recording (his own Tennessee Music Box), a pop recording (Cyndi Lauper's Sisters of Avalon) and a classical recording (Nashville Chamber Orchestra's Conversations in Silence).
He brought the Tennessee music box into the classical arena with Blackberry Winter, a concerto for the Tennessee music box, mountain dulcimer and orchestra which he wrote with Conni Elisor, Nashville composer and arranger. Delcimore, Schnaufer's 1998 CD, features this beautiful piece of music played by the Columbus, Georgia symphony.
Finding his instrument
Schnaufer grew up in La Marque, Texas and experimented with mouth harp and harmonica as a child. "Everyone has an instrument," said Schnaufer. "It's just a matter of finding it." Schnaufer found his musical voice the first time he strummed a dulcimer in a music store in Austin, Texas. Three days later he left college and went in search of the dulcimer players and old-time musicians from whom he would learn. Leaving his native Texas, he spent time in Colorado and West Virginia before bringing his talent and drive to Nashville.
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.