How do you get your congregation to sing sequences?

Is the only way to get congregations who aren’t full of people with a liturgy fetish to sing and not just listen to a sequence like the Golden Sequence at Pentecost (Veni Sancte Spiritus) - in English translation or not - to ditch the original melody and set it to a hymn tune?

I love it when parishes sing these sequences and other similar songs, but I honestly have a hard time hearing anyone in the congregation actually sing them - even among the few people in any congregation who actually sing anything at all :).

Are these melodies just relics to be performed and listened to like museum pieces? Or can we get the community beyond liturgy nerds like me to view them like Christmas carols that we wait all year to sing? If the latter, how?

Comments

  • Being a bit ignorant I had to look up this sequence as I'd never heard it before. It seems to me a little like singing the Te Deum - if it's not something you're using week in, week out people aren't going to join in quickly. Your options are to teach it directly prior to the formal start of the service, making sure to provide everyone with a melody copy of the music, preferably with the words in line with the music (if you can't find it get on Musescore and do it yourself, it doesn't take long). If you have a suitably skilled singing conductor who can indicate pitch consistently by hand gesture so much the better. If you have a particularly digitally engaged congregation you could send them a link to a good recording a week or two in advance and encourage them to give it a listen. Another option is to buttonhole strong singers who aren't normally part of your choir (if you have them) and encourage/armtwist/bully them into coming early that Sunday to practice and then deploy them strategically around the church to give a lead and keep people near them on track. Often one strong voice is enough to lift a whole group.

    Any time you want people to participate in ways they haven't before it's going to be necessary to break the "flow" of worship a little to teach and encourage.
  • TheOrganistTheOrganist Shipmate
    If you really mean the sequence I'd suggest the best way to get congregational participation would be to have a cantor sing the first verse and then ask the congregation to join in from verse 2. If possible get a small group prepared before it comes up, but don't expect miracles the first time around.
  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Dead Horses Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    Plainsong is easy to sing if you're a singer and have learned how to do it. It's fiendishly hard to do well if you're not trained or experienced and if you're meeting a specific chant for the first time. I long ago stopped trying to get my relatively musical but untrained congregation to sing plainsong they'd never seen before. It wasn't worth the effort -- there is no inherent merit in singing plainsong (or any other specific style of music).
    Otherwise, what The Organist said.
  • OblatusOblatus Shipmate
    Excellent leadership from our organist and choir is how we do it. Very much looking forward to Lauda Sion on Corpus Christi. Veni Sancte Spiritus was marvelous on Pentecost, sung by the choir to Arvo Pärt's ethereal Berliner Messe setting (they sang the whole setting of the Mass except the Credo). We do have more than our share of parishioners who know the liturgy and music.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    We don't have a choir, we have a guitar-based band for which I play piano (RC, you see.) The only English language tune I am aware of is that dreadful plodding Webbe one which has nothing of the Spirit about it. So we have generally left it out. But this year a reader read it really well.
    The advantage is that the "red" is obeyed, but it does mean that the people get two big wodges of text read at them in succession.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    edited June 13
    I could well be completely wrong in this, but I rather think that Webbe originally wrote his tune for the Latin text. If so, that would mean that the Latin text is either in the same metre as the various English versions, or at least has the same number of syllables per line. If so, and you really want to try this, you ought to be able to sing your English words to the same plainsong melodies melismata included as exist for the Latin.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Getting people to sing hymns is hard enough! People are shy about singing generally unless alcohol is involved (well, alcohol is involved here but not in intoxicating quantities!) and sometimes there being a good choir can make people default to listening rather than singing - this is not a criticism of choirs at all, just that many congregants lack confidence in their singing and sometimes it is expressed in this way.

    I am with John Holding and TheOrganist here - plainsong is easy to pick up once taught, but is not going to be instinctive and especially not to younger people with little musical education. If you don't already do this, perhaps introduce a plainsong psalm into morning or evening prayer if those are well attended, or an evening service? Anything to make it something congregants regularly sing. Personally as someone who is unable to read music (I have dyscalculia and dyspraxia, but dyslexia can also affect the ability to read music) but can sing by ear, I really need to hear someone else sing at least some of it before I can join in.
  • Lauda Sion, the sequence for Corpus Christi, has the advantage of having a very singable translation (" Laud, O Sion, thy salvation"). That's rather less true for the other sequences.


    I personally find Gregorian chant, in neumes, easier to read than music in modern staff notation. But I'll make a pig's ear out of either.


    Plainsong is undeniably hard for most congregations, even those with otherwise strong traditions of congregational singing. But good plainsong singing comes up in odd places -- I've heard a congregation of mostly elderly, mostly working class, people in rural East Anglia sing an entire plainsong service of vespers (psalms, antiphons, hymns, and canticles) with far more confidence than an otherwise more "musically sophisticated" urban middle-class congregation.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited June 14
    Actually, difficulty with singing plainsong is about lack of familiarity and it need not be huge familiarity. I can pick out a simple one having heard it once. That said my Dad had his congregation chanting the psalms when I was under 12 and I was in worship when they did and then at University the chapel service on a Sunday also involved a psalm being chanted and I was a regular attendee and determined to not leave it to the choir. So it is over twenty-five years since I last did it regularly but it is still there as I can join in on the occasions when my current congregation do it. I am not musical.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    @Jengie Jon when you say 'chanting' do you mean the way the CofE chanted psalms between about 1860 and 1980 and still does in a few places or do you mean plainsong? Having grown up with the former, I can still do it. It's difficult, though, and was often excruciating. Plainsong, though is something quite different, less familiar even to us oldies and IMHO much more difficult. I get the impression it's been rare for anyone really to try to get people to sing it congregationally.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate
    edited June 14
    I've Anglican chanted psalms at Evensong in a tiny country church without an organist, regularly, and plainsong at Compline, led by a very good amateur singer following neumes notation, both congregationally. They are very different animals.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Plainsong I am familiar with via religious orders who use it, but I know that this is going to be a fairly unusual experience. It's still my favourite form of church music, but your average congregant would need some more introduction and practice.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited June 14
    I suspect I mean plainsong but not 100% sure. First was a URC in Wakefield and the second was St Andrew's University. Neither of which were Anglican so Anglican practice is not much good. My guess is plainsong because my father at the time was connected1 with Mirfield and they use plainsong. Oh, and my current church uses it and they also use plainsong but may not exclusively use plainsong.

    1 As in went on retreat there and even taught there
  • OblatusOblatus Shipmate
    I suppose sequences are difficult for most congregations because each is sung only once a year, the tunes are not familiar, and in the plainsong settings at least, the tune changes every two verses. I find this wonderful in Lauda Sion, as the tune soars ever higher (before coming back down and starting the ascent again), but even though I'm familiar with it and read music well, the musical changes trip me up sometimes.
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    I just don't try any longer. I find reading a sequence as part of private prayer very helpful; one can ponder and go at one's own pace. I've only sung the squences while a parishioner at big AC parishes, with solid choir leading and a light touch at the organ. The parish I currently serve has at most 12 in the congregation, all of them weak singers. The organist plays the melody and rather fakes the rest. So we do tried and true appropriate hymns so Lay Assistant and I do not have to do a stunning duet.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped my up the jaxie with a wet crotchet. But I would acknowledge that getting an undrunk antipodean congregation to sing anything, as Pomona hinted, is near impossible unless you're well supplied with alcohol (or if John Bell is present, working with them, but that's another matter).
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Zappa wrote: »
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped my up the jaxie with a wet crotchet.

    Ah! At the risk of not getting it quite right I'd say a sequence is piece of pious poetry, in fairly strict meter, expanding on the feast at hand, usually 4 lines per verse telling us and God what a treat it is to have such a feast explained in musical poetry. There are usually many, perhaps many many, verses. It is usually sung between the Epistle and the Gospel of the Eucharist, but can be sung at other times, perhaps during the offertory if that takes long. It wouldn't really fit in or make much sense if sung on any other day.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    BabyWombat wrote: »
    Zappa wrote: »
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped me up the jaxie with a wet crotchet.

    Ah! At the risk of not getting it quite right I'd say a sequence is piece of pious poetry, in fairly strict meter, expanding on the feast at hand, usually 4 lines per verse telling us and God what a treat it is to have such a feast explained in musical poetry. There are usually many, perhaps many many, verses. It is usually sung between the Epistle and the Gospel of the Eucharist, but can be sung at other times, perhaps during the offertory if that takes long. It wouldn't really fit in or make much sense if sung on any other day.

    I'm so glad I've ignored/avoided them for a life time. :relieved:
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Zappa wrote: »
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped my up the jaxie with a wet crotchet. But I would acknowledge that getting an undrunk antipodean congregation to sing anything, as Pomona hinted, is near impossible unless you're well supplied with alcohol (or if John Bell is present, working with them, but that's another matter).

    Its a hymn from the Middle Ages sung between the reading on major festivals. Most people hit them at Pentecost and Easter. Originally in elegant Latin with beautifully graceful tunes they have been translated into clunky Englsh with equally clunky tunes.
    This RC musician thinks they are best avoided unless sung in Latin to the original melodies by a highly proficient choir. But others think its fine just to struggle through them in order to obey a rubric no matter what the result sounds like.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    My experience with plainsong and small congregations is that unless it a really familiar, it is a recipe for disaster. My lot will tackle the following:

    Before the ending of the day
    Sing my tongue the glorious battle
    Now my tongue, the mystery telling
    Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire (provided I don't but them off)

    Not a chance with any of the sequences except for the Golden Sequence to the Webbe tune, but they sing it as though they vaguely remember it from last year rather than with any real conviction even if Mrs PDR has sent out "hymn kareoke.'

    They do better with Anglican chant but we always use the same chants to the same canticles, so I change the canticles around rather than the tunes to introduce variety at MP. At EP the will give the plainsong settings of the Mag and Nunc in the 1940 Hymnal a go, but the results can be mixed.
  • TheOrganistTheOrganist Shipmate
    I run a plainsong workshop every few years - not sure if they come for the music or the cake but they come so I can schedule most plainsong hymns.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    Alan29 wrote: »
    Zappa wrote: »
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped my up the jaxie with a wet crotchet. But I would acknowledge that getting an undrunk antipodean congregation to sing anything, as Pomona hinted, is near impossible unless you're well supplied with alcohol (or if John Bell is present, working with them, but that's another matter).

    Its a hymn from the Middle Ages sung between the reading on major festivals. Most people hit them at Pentecost and Easter. Originally in elegant Latin with beautifully graceful tunes they have been translated into clunky Englsh with equally clunky tunes.
    This RC musician thinks they are best avoided unless sung in Latin to the original melodies by a highly proficient choir. But others think its fine just to struggle through them in order to obey a rubric no matter what the result sounds like.

    Somehow you're just not turning me on ... 🤔
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Zappa wrote: »
    Alan29 wrote: »
    Zappa wrote: »
    I'd have to say, being a mere lowly antipodean, that I wouldn't know what a sequence was if it slapped my up the jaxie with a wet crotchet. But I would acknowledge that getting an undrunk antipodean congregation to sing anything, as Pomona hinted, is near impossible unless you're well supplied with alcohol (or if John Bell is present, working with them, but that's another matter).

    Its a hymn from the Middle Ages sung between the reading on major festivals. Most people hit them at Pentecost and Easter. Originally in elegant Latin with beautifully graceful tunes they have been translated into clunky Englsh with equally clunky tunes.
    This RC musician thinks they are best avoided unless sung in Latin to the original melodies by a highly proficient choir. But others think its fine just to struggle through them in order to obey a rubric no matter what the result sounds like.

    Somehow you're just not turning me on ... 🤔

    I have the same reaction.
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    edited July 11
    Oblatus wrote: »
    I suppose sequences are difficult for most congregations because each is sung only once a year, the tunes are not familiar, and in the plainsong settings at least, the tune changes every two verses. I find this wonderful in Lauda Sion, as the tune soars ever higher (before coming back down and starting the ascent again), but even though I'm familiar with it and read music well, the musical changes trip me up sometimes.

    This.

    My experience, as someone in a church whose tradition is services sung in their entirety and to Gregorian plainchant, is that there are certain things that a congregation can very easily join in with: anything sung to the psalm tones, psalms with their antiphons, and unvarying parts of the Mass and Office, even if the chant is somewhat elaborate (familiarity really does make these things seem incredibly simple).

    For chants that sit in the higher level of complexity or that are only sung once or twice a year, you really need a cantor. If you are blessed to have a choir, then great, but one or two people who can chant the pieces capably will suffice.

    I think that expecting a congregation to sing the sequences is really asking too much, unless you have a congregation made up of musicians.
  • stonespringstonespring Shipmate
    In my ideal world, the congregation could sing a very accurate but not stilted translation of sequences, minor propers (mwah hah hah), and the like to an easy to sing but also musically beautiful melody AND a cantor or choir could sing the traditional melody, no matter how long this makes the service. But this is not likely to ever become common.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Oblatus wrote: »
    I suppose sequences are difficult for most congregations because each is sung only once a year, the tunes are not familiar...
    A nice simple tune can make all the difference. Come the Lamentations in Eastern Orthodoxy on Holy Friday every tone-deaf member* can handle three simple melodies# repeated over and over again to different texts. It is quite amazing that the most silent, weekly liturgically speaking, find their voice on this occasion and belt out with gusto the hymns.


    * of which I am one

    # at least in the Greek/Antiochian churches; I think the Slavs have 3 separate ones too...
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    edited July 17
    When using ancient hymns the words 'Rouen Church Melody' have often been my deliverance. Most congregations can roar out Iste Confessor to Rouen, and my lot seem to do equally well with Father, we praise thee, now the night is over to Christe sanctorum whereas the proper plainsongs render them mute. The Rouen melodies are a bit on the hearty side for some folks, but in a small parish I would rather have tunes that can be sung when half-cut than exquisite things that need a choir.
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