CLOVER -- Since he launched Clover High School's choral program in 1994, director Jay Forrest has shaped it into a vocal force, popular with students and often mentioned among the state's top performers.
The Clover High Choraliers last month added another trophy to their case after they were, for the sixth time, named champions at the annual 4A High School Choral Festival in Columbia. The group out-performed 32 choirs, racking up 297 points out of a possible 300.
It's an added boost to the group's blooming popularity.
Some 300 students audition each year for about 100 spots, assistant director Derek Street said. This year, there are 110 Choraliers.
"It's the cool thing to do," senior singer T.C. McCarter said.
Choraliers meet each school day for 90 minutes and practice one evening a week for the entire school year. They get extra practices before big shows and competitions.
Performances are based on popular musicals, incorporating song, choreography and drama.
For major year-end productions, such as last spring's "Lil Abner," students try out for lead characters who act as the rest of the group sings behind them on stage.
"It's like a Broadway cast times 20," senior Sarah Drechsler said.
Buoyed by support beyond school money, Forrest has been able to craft bigger-budget productions.
The Choraliers' booster club, made up of parents who raise money for the program, expects to bring in nearly $100,000 this school year, club president Mel Ames said.
That pays for voice coaches, who work one-on-one with students. Boosters buy rights to perform musicals and hire musicians to play in the orchestra pit. They purchase props for shows and help pay for trips.
But the program's driving force, said students and teachers, is Forrest.
"I really credit Jay," assistant choral teacher Meredith Cornwell said. "I mean, he's got football players in here."
"He's amazing," junior Caroline Hall said.
"He can be hard at times," senior soprano Chalon Jefferies said. "But he's also a jokester," she said. "He does an impersonation of his old college professor. It's really funny."
Last week, Choraliers practiced for their April 30 performance of "Jeckyll and Hyde." Forrest, who usually leads practice from a piano, was out on Thursday. So students, standing below the choral room's paintings of posters from past performances such as "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera," sang along with a CD.
They practiced choreography and several songs. As they finished a song, one girl exclaimed: "Nailed it!"
Choral groups from across York County took four of the top five spots at this year's state 4A High School Choral Festival held last month in Columbia.
Thirty-three choirs from 21 schools performed before a panel of choral directors from out of state who judged the competition.
Each choir performed three selections. The highest possible score was 300.
Here's how local singers placed:
1st: Clover High Choraliers directed by Jay Forrest -- Score: 297
2nd: Northwestern High Troubadours directed by Gene Bumgardner -- Score: 296
4th: Rock Hill High Concert Choir directed by Mary Ann Helton -- Score: 291
Tied for 5th: South Pointe High Stallion Corral Concert Choir directed by Beverly Laney and York Comprehensive High Concert Choir directed by Phil Suggs -- Score: 290