The a cappella chorus, composed of 36 singers and two directors, includes students from all three local high schools and Lee University, as well as some Lee alumni. Other members come from Knoxville, Birmingham, Ala., Dalton, Ga., and Atlanta, according to John Thomas, an officer in the local chapter of Barbershop Harmony Society, Sound of Tennessee. All members are 30 or younger.
The chorus was formed especially for this competition from the younger members of Sound of Tennessee. Thomas said the group has been practicing every Tuesday evening for three hours since October.
“This is just the beginning for this group,” chorus director Chad Guyton said.
Next year, Guyton hopes to compete with a youth choir twice as large.
Guyton said the chorus will be judged in three categories: music, singing and presentation by three judges for a possible 100 points per song per category. The competition has awards for several categories and an overall winner. In the next couple of years, Guyton hopes the group can be an overall winner. Scream Machine will be competing against 18 other youth choruses from around the world.
The chorus will perform a three-song set including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Driving Me Crazy” and their version of “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy. Chorus member Austin Harris, a senior at Gordon Central High School in Calhoun, Ga., said there were three possible songs the group had chosen for their third selection. They decided to do “Billionaire” because the arrangement was already the fastest. Even then, the chorus only received the arrangement a week before its last performance, according to chorus member Zach Morrison, a junior at Bradley Central High School.
To go to Las Vegas, the youth chorus received funding from the Harmony Foundation and other members of the Sound of Tennessee. Students are also paying a fee to compete.
The oldest of six brothers, Guyton is well-known in barbershop harmony circles, and was one of the original members of the Voices of Lee. Five of his brothers are in the chorus including Jordan Guyton, a junior at Cleveland High School.
“My brothers are pretty much the only reason I got into music as much as I did,” Jordan said.
When he was younger he wanted to be like his brothers, and was introduced to barbershop singing at a young age.
Many in the group are excited for the opportunity not only to sing, but to visit Las Vegas. For those like Jordan who have been a part of the adult chorus, this will not be the first competition.
Chad Guyton is also the reason chorus member Shaun Sneed became interested in singing barbershop. Sneed, a senior at Lee University, started singing barbershop when he was a freshman in high school. Since then, he has competed in a number of barbershop competitions.
The group is focusing on competing, singing well and having fun. Jordan Guyton and Harris are also looking forward to meeting other people who enjoy barbershop.
Being a part of a chorus like Scream Machine means spending numerous hours with the same group of people. Because of this “the brotherhood that the chorus builds” is what Morrison said was his favorite part. Sneed agreed.
“Its a very non-elitist type of music,” Sneed said.
The students who form the chorus all heard about it in different ways.
Harris heard about the chorus from Sound of Tennessee member Alex Sturgill. Harris said he was really glad to hear about the chorus because the one he competed with last year is not competing this year. There are seven students from Georgia in the Scream Machine. Six are from the high school and one is in middle school.
Lucas Davis, a junior at Walker Valley High School, was invited to join the chorus, along with all the other young men in the Walker Valley chorus when members of the Sound of Tennessee came to his school. Las Vegas will be Davis’ first time participating in a chorus competition. For Davis, the hardest part of being in the chorus was learning the music.
Morrison was already a member of Sound of Tennessee when the youth choir was formed. Morrison grew up singing in church and later became interested in learning more difficult styles. Morrison has competed in show choir but this will be his first barbershop competition. He said for this event he has to be more focused on singing and hitting notes. Morrison thinks the judging for this chorus may be stricter than when he was in show choir.