Remembering David ...
On August 23rd, 2006, the dulcimer world lost one of its most incredible talents when David L. Schnaufer "slipped his earthly bonds" after a mercifully brief battle with cancer. Though he was only 53 years old, his contribution to the dulcimer world is incalculable. He was at the forefront of the "revival" of the mountain dulcimer, and rekindled interest and widespread respect for the instrument by demonstrating that it could be used to perform everything from "Bach to Rock". His passion and dedication to the instrument were infectious, and he leaves behind legions of grateful dulcimer players who mourn his loss, and celebrate his life.
It's difficult to try and put into words just what David and his music, and more importantly, his friendship, have meant to me personally. David is the reason I play the mountain dulcimer, pure and simple. I heard his album "Dulcimer Deluxe" in the mid-1980's, and immediately had a new-found respect for this simple little 3-stringed box, and what it was capable of, in the right hands. I started "following him around" from festival to festival , taking as many workshops from him as possible. The first one was at the Great Black Swamp Dulcimer Festival in Lima, Ohio. As impressive as his music was, the thing that really got my attention was his teaching method. All of his classes were always "filled to overflowing", but the thing I noticed was that no matter how many students were in the class, and no matter what level they were at, somehow he was always able to "touch" each one individually, and give them something that was just exactly what they needed at that point.
He had a deep and genuine respect for music, whatever genre, and for those who made it, at whatever level, and for those who listened to it and appreciated it, at whatever venue. At that same festival in Lima, during his set on the mainstage concert, in front of perhaps 400-500 people, in the middle of some speed-of-light fiddle tune, he suddenly stopped and told the audience that he had just made a mistake. Though he knew that most were not even aware of the mistake, it was important to him that everyone hear the tune the way it was supposed to sound. With everyone's indulgence, he wanted to back up, "get a running start", and try it again. And when he got to that point the second time and "nailed it", a huge ear-to-ear grin came over his face - and the audience burst into spontaneous applause. His great talent was matched only by his humility. It drew us in, and inspired us.
The impact David had on the music world world in general, and the dulcimer world in particular, cannot be overstated. But those contributions, as amazing as they are, are dwarfed by the impact he had on the lives of all those with whom he came in contact. His was a kind and gentle spirit, with a certain grace that made all of us better human beings just by having the privilege of knowing him. Anyone who met David even once for five minutes came away feeling as though he was one of their best friends. And in truth, he was!
I have a vision of what some of those heavenly jam sessions must be like today. I'm sure David has gotten together with Hank Williams (Sr), Chet Atkins, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Bob Wills - and also Thelonius Monk, Mississippi John Hurt, and Jerry Garcia. And of course Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. He got to meet and play music with some of these folks in this world, but even those that he did not, I can just see him going up to them, sticking out his hand, and saying "Howdy, I'm David, and I play the mountain dulcimer. Wanna pick some?" He's still paving the way for the rest of us for when we get there.