The vocalists in the Guthrie Men’s Quartet stand side by side, wearing blue blazers and ties striped in blue and gold, the colors of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Chins up, shoulders straight, they’re ready to have their portrait made.
“One of you looks very GQ; one of you looks very studious; and one looks like his mother told him to stand up straight,” joked UC Foundation Professor Kevin Ford, director of choral activities in the UTC Department of Music.
“If I do this right I get a chocolate bar,” answered tenor Gabriel Hubbard as he bounced up and down on his toes like a little kid.
Laughter erupted from the Guthrie members and others in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall in the UTC Fine Arts Center.
“No one in the group is a wallflower,” Ford said, “but we don’t have any real over-the-top personalities, either. They do have fun, but when it is time to work, they work.”
The quartet—Hubbard, bassist Ryan Berry, tenor Owen Langford and baritone Will Lowery—first performed in fall semester 2022 after local businessman John Guthrie donated $150,000 to the Department of Performing Arts. The money was used to create the quartet.
“I’ve met them, and they’re four fine young men and that helps, in my opinion as well, because it needs to go to the students,” said Guthrie, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Chattanooga in 1960.
Each quartet member receives a $10,000 scholarship for every academic year they’re enrolled at UTC. When one member graduates, a new member is chosen to fill the spot, Ford said.
He explained that the scholarship is not an endowment, so when the $150,000 is gone, it’s gone. Unless more money is found, the quartet disbands, he said.
Lowery said that being part of the brand-new quartet exerted some pressure to live up to expectations, but he’s using it as motivation.
Hubbard said the Guthrie Quartet “was going to be a fantastic opportunity, especially for future jobs that they could look and see: You were in this quartet, and it’s a high honor.”
Berry said he’s confident in his singing ability and “didn’t feel any pressure when I found out I was selected for the quartet. In fact, I was over the moon.”
Serious about their goosebump-raising, four-part harmonies, the quartet members aren’t all wrapped up in themselves. Gearing up for a rehearsal in the concert hall, they laugh and joke with each other, hands in pockets, at ease.
When they launch into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” though, the goofing around stops. As their voices intertwine, their faces radiate with a love of singing.
“I feel that our differing personalities fade away when we start to sing. It’s no longer about who can be the best or the loudest but about creating a sound and telling a story,” Berry said. “It can feel like communicating in a second language.”
Each member of the quartet sang in school or church choirs, regional music groups or theater productions. Having only four members makes things a bit harder when there are 40 or more other voices that can cover any mistakes you make, Langford said, but you can’t hide when there are only three other vocalists.
“You have to work a lot more on harmonizing vowels, on getting everything together,” he said.
Despite the vocal exposure, working together for several months has helped.
“We can hear each other, so you don’t have to listen so carefully,” Hubbard said.
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Guthrie Men’s Quartet
- Major: Physics
- Graduated from Monroe High School in Monroe, Michigan
- Major: Vocal performance
- Graduated from Sale Creek High School in Hixson, Tennessee
- Major: Vocal performance
- Graduated from Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
- Major: Vocal performance and music therapy
- Graduated from Houston High School in Germantown, Tennessee
Photos by Angela Foster
From left: Will Lowery, Owen Langford, Ryan Berry and Gabriel Hubbard