Nobody in McDuffie County or perhaps Georgia knows more about the hammer dulcimer than Jim McGaw. The Dearing Elementary music teacher has been asked to play the rare instrument all over the country.
But being an expert in that narrow field wasn't enough for someone who enjoys teaching as much as Mr. McGaw. He recently received honorable mention for two songs that he wrote and entered into an the Billboard Magazine song world contest.
"I haven't put anything into the market for a long time," Mr. McGaw said. "What I wanted to do was find out if my songwriting was still good and whether or not my compositional efforts were on a par with what was out there cooking."
Mr. McGaw said entering the contest was part of validating his status as a music teacher. He feels it is important to be successful at what he teaches so that his students will know he is serious about his craft.
"This kind of validates that. It gives me the feeling that I can go in the market and compete," he said. "It's one of the standards I hold up for myself as a teacher as well because I am of the opinion that 'If you can't do it, teach' is a bum phrase. And I am firmly convinced that if you can do it, you need to teach."
The songwriting ability of Mr. McGaw is one of the things that DES Principal Linda Grisham thinks has made the student composition program at the school such a success.
"He allows (students) and encourages them to come in and think up words that they like in a song, and then he'll help them put it to a melody," Dr. Grisham said. "So he's very comfortable with composing. ... That's such a gift."
Dr. Grisham added that as a result of Mr. McGaw's teaching ability, DES students are well prepared for band and chorus classes when they reach Thomson Middle School.
Although Mr. McGaw entered five songs in several of the Billboard contest's five categories, both of the songs that received recognition were in the country music category. "Black Sequin" and "Appalachian Saturday Night" were the songs that received honorable mention.
Receiving awards in the contest means Mr. McGaw's tunes may be picked up by an artist for performance. He hasn't received any calls from artists or agents yet, but it has only been a couple of weeks since the contest results were announced.
"I would like to market these tunes, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about it," Mr. McGaw said because the main way to sell songs is to knock on doors in big recording towns like Nashville or Atlanta, something a school teacher can't easily do.
Mr. McGaw does plan to continue writing songs and entering them in similar contests. He feels sooner or later someone will recognize the potential in his songs.
Currently Mr. McGaw can be heard performing some of his own material at Amigos Restaurant on Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m.