Museum Affairs: Harmony and GRITS | Community


Harmony and GRITS dulcimer will perform at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum during the City of Athens Bicentennial Celebration on Friday, March 18. The band will play from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. bringing the sweet harmony of the Appalachians to the museum. and gospel music.

The band was first known as “Johnny and the Sweet Notes” because the word dulcimer means “sweet song” and the band seemed centered around Johnny McGrew. McGrew and his wife Becky are founding members. He passed away recently. He was a well-known woodworker. He made some of the band’s dulcimers and also helped the musicians tune their instruments.

Johnny made dulcimers from maple, poplar, walnut, and cherry because these woods give “distinct, pleasing tones,” Audrey Davis explained.

Audrey is also a founding member. She has created an album that begins in 2008 when the group formed and follows several years of their travels in the region. She guided me through each page which contained photographs, programs and news articles featuring the band. They first met at the home of founding member Merna Jaquish, who has since died. Later they found a hangout with Mars Hill Presbyterian Church until they moved to our museum a few years ago.

She explained that when they play together, they have a lot of fun doing it. She explained that the book helps her remember former members and good times. Some members play other instruments like the violin or the dobro, a type of guitar. Some of the members already knew how to play when they joined, while others learned the art by playing.

As the group became known, the public invited them to play in different venues. Earlene Lawson, another founding member who has since passed away, decided they needed to have matching vests, so she made several in different sizes that were reversible and gave them away. Another signature item they have adopted is a wooden dulcimer pin on their lapels. They always end their shows with the Tennessee State song “Rocky Top”. Recently, the band decided to open their programs with the Carter family song, “Wildwood Flower”, a song that Johnny played all the time.

They had traveled extensively in the area doing what Audrey called “gigs”, when around August 2009 the band decided they needed a catchier name. They chose Harmony and GRITS, whose acronym stands for – Girls/people raised in the south.

Audrey explained that the dulcimer is easy to play. It is a fretted string instrument having about three or four strings. If there are four strings, one is doubled for the melody; the next is the “A” string, then there is a bass string. It is tuned to “D” “A” “D”. The instrument is usually oblong with different shapes depending on how it was made. It rests on the player’s lap while being played. Playing is easy strumming using a pick or plucking with the fingers of the right hand and pressing with the fingers of the left hand on the corresponding frets of the chosen note. The dulcimer originated in Appalachia where people played songs by ear. There are different styles like the dulcimer-banjo that Becky McGrew plays. At the end of its oblong shape is a circular shape with intersecting strings that resembles a banjo.

The band meets every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at the museum’s content to relax and enjoy their instruments with cheerful camaraderie. They look forward to meeting new people who want to join them. They don’t usually do the ‘gigs’ like they used to because of schedules, so anytime they can play an event is a real treat and definitely shouldn’t be missed. There are currently 11 members.

The Bicentenary is from 1pm to 7pm with the History of Athens art exhibition and the Harmony and GRITS dulcimers on the main level.

The upper level will host artisan demonstrations by eight different talented individuals. The lower level will have Jim Brooks with music from Appalachia. There will be readings, speeches, poster unveiling and more!

The event will end with a reception by Ambiance from 6 to 7 p.m. The public is invited to this event free of charge.

The event is in partnership with the City of Athens, Athens Region Center for the Arts and EG Fisher Library.

Sponsors are the Hugh M. Willson Family Foundation, Susan Buttram, Paul Willson, Bob Roseberry, Greg Moses and the Tennessee Arts Commission.


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