top of page

The "Tradition Continues" ...

Image courtesy of Mary Lawrence Breinig.

... was a phrase associated with David that appeared on many of his Blair recital programs. I received an email from a Indiana dulcimer player named Tom Harleman this week that I want to share because he is a perfect example of how David and dulcimer teachers inspire the rest of us to carry forth tradition. (If you're new to the dulcimer world, Tom mentions making an instrument called a "Tennessee Music Box" below; it is a unique kind of dulcimer that almost disappeared from history until David Schnaufer and some of his friends re-discovered it. You can read about that part of the story in Pluck, or search "Tennessee Music Box" online.)

Tom writes: The night before the Aug. 25, 2018 Dulcimer Celebration sponsored by the Central Indiana Folk Music and Mountain Dulcimer Society ( I grabbed some wood from the garage and quickly built a Tennessee Music Box (dulcimer). An old pine 2x4, some 1x3 pine boards, some luan subflooring, and a staple gun. Using saws, planes, drills, eye bolts (tuners) and glue I finished the dulcimer. But the staple gun frets needed tuned. I played it briefly at the Dulcimer Celebration. This week I tuned the frets and swapped the fiddle tuners for authentic hook eyelets for tuners. To simulate a turkey quill I used a long thin scrap from a plastic bucket banjo project.

Now, are you ready? Watch Tom play "Rock the Cradle Joe" on his creation!

And, remember the blog post a while back on "The Barlow Knife"? Tom plays it here.

Tom's letter made a huge impression on me: his making a working Tennessee Music Box in one night, his smooth playing, and even the cheery voice of the music box. It made me reflect on people like the Dulcimer Boomers upon whose shoulders new generations of teachers stand to carry forth the traditions to teach the rest of us, especially those who are learning to play an instrument for the first time, and learning about the enormous dulcimer music canon for the first time.

When we moved to Kentucky and I first joined a dulcimer club, I had never heard of most of the music the members played. What a great way to make one's way into the discovery of America's music heritage: to learn to play and sing the music our ancestors preserved for us. I suspect that the only thing better than learning to play their legacy music is to play it on an instrument one builds like Tom did. He was inspired by David Schnaufer, and I have no doubt his experience will inspire someone else down the road who sees his video. So let's make a pledge never to take our dulcimer teachers for granted; to tell them how grateful we are for their hard work, patience and willingness to be our conduits to past and future music. To thank them often for inspiring us to exceed our own expectations for ourselves.

And that's how The "Tradition Continues".

If you would like to send Tom a note to compliment his playing or ask him a question, contact him at

And please leave a comment underneath his YouTube videos; it will help more people find them.

30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page