Dulcimer virtuoso David Schnaufer dead at 53; Taught at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music since 1995

NASHVILLE, Tenn.–David Schnaufer, a musician who revived the use of the dulcimer in country music and taught the instrument to many students, died Wednesday of cancer at a local hospice. He was 53.

Schnaufer recorded with The Judds, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Kathy Mattea, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins and many others on dulcimer, a gentle stringed instrument used in Appalachia since the 1800s, derived from zithers brought into North America by German immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Anybody can make beautiful music in five minutes of playing the dulcimer,” Schnaufer often said. “It’s the simplest of all the stringed instruments, but can be as complex as anything else.

Schnaufer had been an adjunct associate professor of dulcimer at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music since 1995.

“David was one of the first teachers in the Blair School’s folk music program, along with Mark O’Connor and Butch Baldassari,” said Mark Wait, dean of Blair School of Music. He was a wonderful artist and teacher, one whose influence will be felt for many, many years.

Schnaufer was born in Hearne, Texas, and grew up in La Marque, Texas. As a child, he experimented with mouth harp and harmonica. As a young man, he came across a display of dulcimers in Austin, Texas, and bought one for $40.

Schnaufer soon began winning dulcimer contests and moved to Nashville in the 1980s.

He progressed from playing in restaurants for tips to backing The Judds and other country music acts. He recorded and released solo dulcimer records and collaborations with other artists. For several years he was a member of the country-rock band The Cactus Brothers.

Wait recruited Schnaufer to the Blair staff after hearing him perform at a dinner party. Singer Cyndi Lauper was among his students.

“David was an amazing musician–that hardly needs to be said,” Wait said. “But those of us fortunate to know him as a friend know that he was also an extraordinary and wonderfully generous human being. He treated everybody he worked with–students, colleagues, children, adults–with gentleness and respect.

“He was one of the nicest people I will ever know.”

Schnaufer is survived by one brother, the Rev. Eric Schnaufer of Greenville, S.C.; a nephew, Nicholas Schnaufer; one great-nephew, Garrett Schnaufer; an aunt and two cousins.

Services will be held Saturday, Aug. 26, at 10 a.m. at Dyer Observatory, 1000 Oman Drive, located one-half mile north of the Old Hickory Boulevard intersection with Granny White Pike.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the David Schnaufer Fund at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University or to Alive Hospice.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-2706

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