O happy day! Your essential guide to booking a joyful, exciting, exuberant and praiseworthy gospel singer or gospel choir for your wedding, party, corporate event, product launch, awards ceremony or flashmob!
What is a gospel singer?
Gospel singers are best known for singing worships songs in church, but in more recent years, the exuberant sounds and rich harmonies have been heard on pop recordings and as backing vocals for major artists on tour. Gospel music can be joyful, soulful or romantic, so gospel singers and gospel choirs tend to include a wide variety of music in their repertoire, from classical and jazz to soul, rock and contemporary pop.
Gospel music has its roots in the spirituals and work songs sung by 18th century slaves in the US, enabling them to join in religious worship at a time when few could read or write. Most songs were sung ‘a cappella’ (unaccompanied), or with basic rhythm, so over time, distinctive harmonies developed to embellish the sound. By the early 20th century, gospel was going mainstream, with the first gospel recordings made in the 1920s, and gospel songs then taken up by high profile performers such as Elvis, creating the fascination and enjoyment of gospel that continues today.
Today's gospel choirs usually perform with a piano or keyboard and sometimes a drummer, and can be led by a choirmaster. They sing an infectious mix of music including traditional gospel, plus jazz, blues, soul, classical and Latin sung in the gospel style. For most functions, including weddings, corporate events, flashmobs, product launches, award ceremonies and parties, the best choice is a gospel choir rather than a soloist, as both the visual and sound experience of a choir delivers a real impact.
What to look for in quality gospel singers and gospel choirs?
A quality gospel choir has three key elements; a great sound, a coordinated look, and an infectious sense of enjoyment!
So, when judging the quality of a gospel choir, first of all, listen to their demo tracks, and consider:
• Do you prefer the cleaner arrangements with harmonies, or the more flamboyant vocalizations?
• Does the accompaniment (piano or band) add to the overall sound?
• Does one voice/performer dominate, or does the choir share the lead vocal around, for more variety?
This last point is probably not as important if your choir is only singing a few number during your wedding service, but if you then book them to entertain at your reception or party afterwards (a great idea for guests to enjoy more), consider how they will sound in a 30-minute set or longer.
Now, look at their promotional photos :
• Do they perform in matching outfits?
• Do they look traditional or trendy?
• Do they vary their look to fit the performance type? (Hopefully, yes!).
Finally, do they look and sound as if they are enjoying themselves? While every song doesn't have to be upbeat, the general feel should be one of energy and excitement bubbling under. Gospel music should dance, not amble!
Check their performing credentials
Many of the top UK gospel choirs draw their membership from professional singers who have worked with some of the biggest names in rock, pop, soul and jazz. Singers from the most popular choirs on Alive Network's books have sung with such legends as Brian May, Jamie Cullum, Chaka Khan, Mica Paris, Denise Williams, Alexander O’Neal, Gabrielle and many more.
Also, look at their past client list. You'll soon see which choirs have experience at a national or international level, or have worked for top brands and venues. (Our gospel choirs have sung for the likes of Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Tropicana & Moet et Chandon.) Again, that doesn't mean those who haven't had that experience are not suitable for your wedding or party (everyone has to start somewhere!), but the more established choirs will have the experience to perform at the highest level and on the biggest of stages.
What formats do gospel choirs offer?
Most gospel choirs will perform as a minimum group of four singers with optional keyboard/piano, which gives a classic harmony structure, and can increase the choir size up to an average of 16 members with optional full band for more power, more harmony and more roof-raising impact!
Most gospel choirs love to sing at weddings, and any wedding ceremony (either religious or civil) offers terrific opportunities for your gospel choir to sing. Your choir can entertain your guests as they take their seats, and serenade you down the aisle. They can lead the hymns (if any), and sing you out as newlyweds, or civil partners with a joyous anthem. Perhaps the most popular moment for your gospel choir to sing is during the signing of the register, when they can delight your guests while you do the paperwork!
However, do bear in mind that you are not allowed any religious music or references to God in a civil wedding ceremony, so you will need to ask your choir to tailor their performance accordingly. At present, you can have any music you wish in a civil partnership ceremony, and with the agreement of your minister, almost any (inoffensive) music you wish in a church service. For song examples, look at the repertoire lists of gospel choirs listed here on Alive Network; they will divide their music into religious and non-religious.
For other types of events, you can pretty much ask for the format you require! Each choir will have an ideal set length, and a limit of how they can sing in a given time period, so if you have specific requirements, call the Alive Network team to discuss.
What equipment will my gospel choir require?
Some choirs prefer to sing without amplification, others use microphones, so always ask. It's not a judge of quality either way, but it will affect the way your choir will look (and move) if they are holding or standing in front of microphones.
Most gospel choirs will bring their own PA equipment if required, and for large-scale events such as festivals, will probably request to plug through into the main PA provided. If you have a larger choir on a stage, they may require an additional tiered staging section so that all members can be seen, or they may be able to bring one of their own.
Most gospel choirs will also provide their own keyboard/digital piano, but if you already have a concert quality piano at your venue, they may prefer to use that. If so, do make sure it is properly looked after, and tuned in situ on the day of performance; pianos that are moved after tuning will lose tuning and sound absolutely horrible! Also check if there is a proper piano stool with the piano, and if not, provide an upright/dining chair with no arms (not a plastic chair, they slope the wrong way!)
If your gospel choir are performing outside, you should provide some sort of covering for the choir such as a gazebo or open sided mini marquee, to keep off rain and/or strong sunshine, and to protect both pianist and PA equipment. Remember, digital pianos and PA systems will require access to a clean 13 amp power source - no juice, no joy!
How much space will my gospel choir require?
Gospel choirs are at their best when they have room to move around a little to the music, and are in full view of your guests. However, not every church has that kind of space available for a full size choir, so you might like to consider a smaller choir size for smaller spaces. Most gospel choirs are happy to sing from traditional church choir stalls, but the visual impact will be lost a little. However, the contrast between the formal setting and the joyful sound is something special, so don't dismiss the chance to book a gospel choir just because you've booked an historic venue or church!
Since gospel choirs can adjust their membership, the minimum space required is usually for four singers and a pianist. Don't hem your choir in, though; the more room they have, the better the performance will be. Also, consider the volume of sound they will produce; a gospel choir in full voice is quite loud, so don't sit people at a dinner too close to the choir's performance area, for example.
What performance length will a gospel choir offer?
In a church or civil wedding service, the number of items your gospel choir can sing will usually be dictated by the length of your service. So, why not ask your choir to come to your reception venue and do a star turn during the drinks reception of around 20 minutes, or in between courses of the meal of 20 minutes, or a single slot in the middle of around 30-40 minutes.
For other events, each choir will have their usual set length, and a limit of how long they sing for, so if you have a certain 'slot' in mind, call the Alive Network team to discuss.
Most gospel choirs are very flexible and accommodating, as happy to sing in a shopping centre as touring worldwide with famous artists! They are particularly effective as 'surprise' items, whether as part of a flash mob, or a joyous icebreaker at the start of a conference. For something a little different at Christmas, why not book a gospel choir to sing carols to your guests, shoppers or visitors? A gospel choir is not just for live performances either; many of our choirs are available for hire for recording sessions, film sound tracks, TV work, jingles and radio commercials.
What does a gospel choir for hire cost?
Gospel choirs vary in price according to how many people are in the choir, usually with a minimum of 5 musicians (4 singers and a pianist). This is the baseline fee you'll see quoted on their main Gospel Choirs listing.
Most choirs then have prices for options such as a 7 piece, 9 piece or 13 piece choir, including reductions in their main fee for less than their usual set-up of singers. So, although baseline fees range from £675 to almost £1400, it’s worth checking how many choir members are included in this price.
Some choirs will also learn songs on request for a reasonable charge, and if given sufficient notice.
What are the differences between gospel choirs?
Most choirs offer a wide repertoire of music, but the church-based choirs may specialise in one of the various branches of gospel music: urban contemporary, progressive, gospel blues, Celtic gospel (from Ireland) or British gospel (sometimes called UK gospel) which has a more street vibe and blends both African and Caribbean influences.
Is there anything else I should know?
Singing is thirsty work, so always provide water or soft drinks for your choir after their performance (or tea and coffee if they prefer). If they are booked for the evening or a lunchtime wedding and afternoon performance, always offer the choir a meal, as they won't want to wait until your guests eat sometime in the late afternoon.
Also offer them a secure, lockable changing room if they wish for one, although some may not require this if they wear choir robes in church over normal day clothes.
If the choir are providing their own digital piano and /or PA system, they may need to produce their PAT test certificate (electrical safety check) before your venue will allow them to plug it in; always check with your venue first.
How to book a gospel choir?
Simply browse for Gospel Choirs here at Alive Network, and enjoy the demo tracks, performance videos and photos of some of the UK's top gospel choirs. Once you have found your ideal gospel choir, request an instant online quote, do an instant availability check on your chosen date, or just go ahead and click to book your choice!
One of the Alive Network team will contact you to double-check details such as venue, format required and the timings of your event. Once your booking is confirmed, you just pay a small deposit and we'll email you a receipt and your contract. Once your contract is signed and returned, you will be put in contact with the choir's manager a couple of weeks before the event to discuss final arrangements.