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Oh, boy ...

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

One of the many ways researching and writing Pluck has changed me is that it has given me a new appreciation for first-hand diving into history rather than just reading about it. If you had told me ten years ago that one of my most unexpected and delightful interests would become the history of folk music in general and modern (post-Fariña) dulcimer playing and music in particular, I would have laughed. Ten years ago I didn't even know what a dulcimer was.

Thanks to the work on edition 1 and the ongoing work on edition 2, I've been lucky to have the most interesting discussions with and experienced the kindest generosity from (former) complete strangers. And some of them have sent me historic treasures related to David's journey along with those of his fellow dulcimer boomers. Much of what people share is invaluable from the research perspective: cassette recordings, handwritten tab, promotional materials and photographs to name just a few. I consider all of it treasure for future scholars of folk music, especially for the dulcimer's role in folk music. All of it will end up in the Schnaufer Archive at Vanderbilt once I'm finished.

I've been away from the blog for weeks because a new friend tempted me so much I've dropped almost everything else for the last two weeks: she lent me one of the most wondrous of historic artifacts that I will share more of here a little down the road. It's a series of recordings of David's teaching at a week-long workshop in the early nineties, and I'm about a fourth of the way along as I transcribe her recordings for her and for the Archives. They. Are. Astonishing. On so many levels.

The first thing that struck me was David's rich, multi-pathed approach to teaching within which he gives the impression of moving as effortlessly as he did when he performed. Many people knew that long before I ever heard of David Schnaufer, but that has been a revelation to me personally. Despite my never having experienced his teaching first hand, one of my areas of expertise in my former life was research and applying research on teaching and learning theory. So, I know great teaching when I see it, or, in this case, when I hear it.

For Pluck, I had to infer a lot about his teaching from his former students I interviewed and from listening to some brief recordings of one on one lessons. I relied a lot (with gratitude) on Dave Haas and Stephen Seifert to explain more in depth about his teaching style. It was all of great interest, but it's a whole new experience to actually hear him teach hours at a time as he moves seamless from one song and many concepts to others. I have spent so much time listening, writing, trying out what he asks these students to do that I have been amiss with keeping up with the blog. So, now I'm back, and will pop in more regularly again because it's all worth sharing.

I'll leave you with this first gem from his opening discussion with his students; emphasized sections are mine, and emphasized because of their power to inspire me. I hope they inspire you, too

David and the Cactus Brothers together for a recording session at Jack's Tracks, a studio owned by Jack Clement, in Music Row, Nashville.
1991. David at Jack's Tracks Recording Studio, Nashville, TN

When I started playing the dulcimer I had a hard time tuning it. I had never tuned anything before and I was too shy to ask anybody, so I would hitchhike 800 miles to have my brother tune it. And, uh, I’m not that shy anymore because I finally learned that musicians like to answer questions and help whenever they can. Music is not something to be real shy about. The reasons for playing music… when I started playing, I wanted to play for myself. I’m sure a lot of us started out wanting to play for ourself. But there comes a point where music’s a lot bigger than that. It’s something you share with people. And people want to hear you play. So what I want to do this week is get all of us sounding good. We’re gonna learn some techniques and some tunes and things, but I’d really like to work with everybody getting a good sound. I know a lot of dulcimer players that can play a lot of tunes, but they don’t sound good. I’d rather hear one tune that sounds good than a lot of tunes that don’t. That’s one of the valuable things that I have to offer; I can make people sound good.

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