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Some Very Special Instruments at a Very Special Party (Part 1)

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music recently held its 75th Anniversary Party, and I felt fortunate to be invited. It was a most lovely setting with great food and live music by Blair faculty and students. On this lovely spring day I had a sense of why David felt so good to be part of this wonderful institution. For those of you new to his story, David was invited to become the first professor of dulcimer in the world by then-dean Mark Wait in the early nineties to help Wait realize his vision of providing a place where folk musicians would intersect with classical musicians at Blair. David joined violinist/fiddler Mark O'Connor and, shortly thereafter, welcomed mandolinist Butch Baldassari to the newly minted folk music department.

Blair included an exhibit of some of David's special instruments that are now part of the David Schnaufer Collection at the Tennessee State Museum. His good friend Zada (in blue, below) was there to talk about David's rare dulcimers and Tennessee Music Boxes, so I finally got to meet her in person; we had talked and corresponded during the research for Pluck.

Blair set up two tables for visitors, one about David and Pluck, and one manned by Zada to showcase some of his more rare instruments.

Photos below from top left to right: 1) Zada arrived just in time to see the boxes she helped pack in 2006 arrive. 2-3) Blair staff unpack and display the first rare instrument, #2006.143.18 4. This early 20th C. Tennessee music box with lyre-shaped sound holes from Lawrence County, Tennessee sits next to the 1911 Big Tyler Mountain, WV hour-glass dulcimer. The latter was built by Denis McCown as a gift to convince his sweetheart to marry him. She declined, but kept the dulcimer anyway! This Big Tyler dulcimer has 17 frets, three teardrop-shaped feet and four star-shaped sound holes. 5) Closeup of the Lawrence County music box. 6-8) Hand-painted music box from the late 19th Century believed to have been made by T.R. Goodman in Lawrence, County, Tennessee (2006.143.28.1) Notice its bow, the stapled frets on top of the fretboard, the eyescrews anchoring the strings, the rough-hewn sound holes and the beautiful stenciling. David regularly played this music box from the 1990s onward. The painting of David is by his artist friend, Joni Bishop.

I intended to video Zada playing the Big Tyler Mountain dulcimer, but was too distracted by another instrument that I had waited a long time to see in person. I will share its story next.

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