The first question on my BBC Radio Interview yesterday, “What is Rock Gospel?” when discussing my new Rock Gospel Choir, the RobHaz Jazz Community Rock Gospel Choir. Do you know what, that’s a great question!
The fact is that so many people are ‘spiritual’ and find music uplifting. They find the opportunity to sing with others and make something even greater than the individual alone to be incredibly powerful. The ‘feel good factor’ and endorphins resulting from singing in harmony together has been widely scientifically researched. As for the research that shows that singing improves other skills in schools such as literacy and numeracy, let’s get the priorities right: Singing should be done because Singing in itself is fab and powerful (the extra non-musical benefits being exactly that, “extra”).
My BBC interview gives a brief overview:
What songs might constitute Rock Gospel?
Here’s a quick “rattle off” of ideas of relatively mainstream famous singers who have created spiritually inspired songs:
Kanye West – Jesus Walks
Labi Siffre – The higher you build your barriers/Something inside so Strong
From Sister Act – Joyful Joyful
Carrie Underwood – Jesus, Take The Wheel
Whitney Houston – I Go to the Rock
Nina Simone – Sinnerman
Mary Mary – Shackles (Praise You)
David Bowie – Word On A Wing
Back to God – Reba McIntyre
Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder) written after surviving a car crash, amazing guitar parts
Alanis Morrisette – Thank U
U2 – Gloria
Let it Be by the Beatles (there’s debate as to whether this is spiritually inspired, but it still creates that feel-good factor)
MCHammer – MC Hammer himself was a Baptist minister
George Michael: Jesus to a Child
Bette Midtler: From a Distance
Joan Osborne: What if God Was One of Us
Marvin Gaye: His Eye is on the Sparrow
Modern Spiritual Rock Gospel
Joss Stone – Walk with Me (an amazing current singer and fabulous backing vocals)
Beyonce – Ave Maria (but not the famous Ave Maria that you might know, other than the initial accompaniment)
Johnny Laing – Only a Man (slow) or Thankful (Lively, chorus backing)
Josh Groban – You Raise Me Up
Rock Gospel Technique & Rehearsal
I was chatting to my good friend Rev Bazil Meade MBE who co-founded and directs LCGC (the London Community Gospel Choir). He talks spiritually about carrying the weight of the slaves on his shoulders when leading the choir and connecting with the origin of Gospel.
Musically, Rock Gospel is all about consistent, unified technique:
Tuning – Harmony vocals rapidly improve your ability for finer tuning. Harmonies are often set when learning the song from the first movement. Interestingly, Gospel harmonies often move in parallel, which is in contrast to most traditional Classical Western Harmony which tends to favour contrary motion and independence in different lines. Gospel directors are also well known for moving the melody between different voice parts; trying it in the soprano, then in the alto and thus ‘shifting’ the harmonies.
Placement of singers – basic exercises moving about semitones whilst physically moving different singers around in the group to find their range and balance the tone
Vocal tone and Vowels – The pronunciation of specific vowels very much influences how authentic a vocal tone can sound. Different people from different backgrounds often have different accents and so unifying the sound can be crucial to create a successful ensemble sound.
Breathing exercises such as speaking together in sentences, as in reading with commas etc is an important discipline. The best Gospel choirs breathe as one. They end phrases exactly together.
Key – all singing teachers and vocal coaches know that “key” really matters. Sometimes songs don’t work well with a particular group of singers in a particular key. Gospel directors, more than any I know, experiment with singing in different keys to find the best sound for their ensemble.
Movement – Gospel choirs do not stand still! The music travels up through their feet and into their souls.
Ultimately – the sense of achievement, leaving on a high, is absolutely crucial to the success of any Gospel Choir.
Choral Directing, Vocal Coaching, Singing Lessons Online and Face-to-Face
Dr Robin Harrison PhD BMus(Hons)/GradRNCM FNCM ARCO LTCL DipLCM PGCE(QTS) MISM is a very experienced choral director, appointed to the International Guild of Adjudicators, Festivals and Workshop Presenters, trained by several leading vocal coaches and singing teachers in all styles. He is just launching the RobHaz Jazz Community Rock Gospel Choir on Friday 24th September 2021. He teaches and vocal coaches singers of all ages from beginners to professionals both online and in person (Yarm, Teesside).