Requiems, Serenades…and A Coptic Musical Dream…

music coptic

Suzan was listening to Mozart’s Requiem on her way to the Church. She parked her car and went in to attend the service. After the service was over, she drove to the park nearby; the melodies she heard in the church were mixing up with the last part of the requiem still blasting in her car stereo. She parked her car and strolled into the park by the side of the lake… a few ducks were swimming merrily around while some children were playing noisily near some rides. She sat there on the grass taking in the beautiful display of nature in the spring… a melody started to crawl slowly into her mind, the Vienna woods of Strauss… as the haunting tune was filling her head, a nagging question which kept pestering her for a long time began to disrupt the harmony of the moment…Why…?

The church music she likes so much is so powerful and beautiful beyond compare. Yet, very few people enjoy them or even know about them. Tragically, some of the people familiar with them discount them all together and either scorn them or even corrupt them. Suddenly…It felt like a merciless screeching crack split her mind when she remembered what happened the previous Sunday. The Deacon leading the choir service had his own interpretation of the melodies of that service. He seemed to like hearing his own voice singing alone as few people were struggling to keep up with his crooked performance which was completely out of tune. Just remembering that day was painful enough to erase all harmony or beauty from her mind. It was incredibly excruciating to hear it. As one of the parishioners put it that day, “I felt something was very wrong but I couldn’t quite understand what it was?”

She stood up and tried to calm down. She went to her car and got her MP3 player. She put on her headphones and started listening to a recording of “Handel’s Messiah” The words from the Bible together with the enchanting music, were performed so majestically that it calmed her finally. Yet the persistent question still remained. Why…?

She walked away to the little waterfall and sat on a rock there. Why don’t we have such world class musical presentations, when we do have the music? Hymns like “Golgotha, Kiperto, or khen oshot…” and countless others can be put to full orchestral notes and performed at a high level of professionalism which would fill the whole world with ecstasy, fulfillment and joy like all the renowned master pieces of Bach or Beethoven. Yes, some valiant efforts were made to put these wonderful tunes into musical notes written for local Choral groups. But that is not what needs to be done. These works need to be written for the Orchestra… yes for the full Orchestra…

Suzan smiled as she closed her eyes, and allowed herself to be swept away in a sweet day dream. She saw herself tiptoeing into Carnegie Hall while the Orchestra is preparing to play “Ep-ouro” after a moment of silence, the Clarinet started the first notes at a low key, then the violin picked up the notes to be repeated again by the Clarinet and gradually the keyboard accompanies both …and then all the wind instruments join in to gradually give way to the violin again…finally the whole Orchestra begins to play the enthralling tune …gradually  the music progresses  elevating the spirit to highs human beings never experienced before, at the climax the Aria is brought into play to send the spirit all the way to a heavenly realm so powerful and beautiful that it heals all wounds and fills every heart and soul with peace and happiness.

Suzan was rudely awakened by a little tennis ball hitting her shoulder. She opened her eyes, saw where the ball fell, picked it up and smilingly threw it back to the children who were apologetically approaching her. She was happy just imagining what it would be like when the eternal church music can be performed right. She did not realize that the batteries in her MP3 player ran out and it stopped after a few minutes of putting it on. She began walking leisurely and thinking. Can you imagine the influence of music if it were to be done like that? It would introduce the whole world to the Coptic Church in a simple effortless way. This would be the best method of outreach. Discs made of such recordings and distributed to music critics around the world to enlist their feedback would trigger a debate and the discussions will lead to live performances and these will introduce so many people to such wonderful uplifting ethereal world much like “the Messiah and the requiem…etc.” The Kyrie-laison and Gloria in Mozart’s Coronation Mass are indeed unforgettable. Just you imagine the different tunes in the St. Gregory Mass of the Coptic church if they are put in the same Orchestral format… just imagining it can make you feel like you are in heaven already.

Suzan got into her car and drove home, talking to herself… Yes, there are people who are not much into music. Yet music affects every human being without exception. Whether they understand it or not, music had been proven to influence even animals. We couldn’t afford to bring in expensive Organs and other instruments in our Churches before, that is why we gradually ignored the significance of music in worship even though we repeat Psalm 150 at the end of almost every Mass. We reached a point where some critics were accusing our church of nonsensical practices of prolonging the prayers with “Aaaahs and eeeeehs and ooowooohs” without understanding. We allowed some others to distort the tunes to match their own interpretations. To preserve the heritage we have to keep the original words in the original language and distribute the “Librettos” to listeners and viewers much like the attendees of an Italian Opera, or Latin Mass who never learned Italian or Latin enjoy these performances in the original language while following the plot in the translated Libretto. However, in the new era of wide spread immigration and resurgence of our great efforts in proselytism, we have the great opportunity to create new tunes in new languages to add to our repertoire like our forefathers did when the Arabic language was forced on our people many generations ago. This way we keep our priceless heritage and enrich it with more creativity by each generation to come.  This is the biggest controversy at this juncture in our history. It erupts from the fact that we have to translate those original scripts into new languages in different nations with different dialects and customs. Between those who are used to use drums in all their religious practices and those who are accustomed to having an organ in every church, there is no “one system fits all” It is inconceivable that we no longer have the ability to adapt and be creative like the generations before us. So what needs to be done is to translate accurately, then adjust the tunes to fit the new language – whatever it may be – so that the new congregations can easily participate in worship and feel right at home because you cannot forcibly fit an old suit onto a new person just to preserve the suit…?? (Mathew 9:17) Those who insist on forcibly adjusting the new translations into the tunes as sung by the original language end up with a horrible concoction which is out of tune and out of time and severely hurtful to any listeners no matter what their musical background might be, not to mention that it makes it impossible for parishioners to participate in worship… fact is it turns the church service into a torturous experience instead of being an uplifting one.  On the other hand the lofty goal of preserving the wonderful musical heritage  of the church can still be done by encouraging all music lovers to learn the original tunes in the original language and arrange special concerts on different occasions to perform them in there glorious and exultant perfection as explained above.

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