Liturgical music

Music is a very distinctive part of Coptic worship. It was an oral tradition handed down by a succession of cantors (often blind), until E. Newlandsmith and R. Moftah collaborated to transcribe Coptic music during the decade 1926-36 (Robertson 1991). At present, music is vocal and follows a single melodic line. It is sung by men, though some responses may be sung by the congregation. Cymbals and triangle punctuate the music at certain points, and the sistrum has been used in the past. The service of the Mass, as typically sung, takes three hours, six or seven during Holy Week.

Coptic music preserves elements of pharaonic and Greco-Roman music with later influence from the synagogue and the Syrian Church. The style is one of slow repetitive chant in which vowels are prolonged in complicated patterns of notes and rhythm, with much vibrato. The priest and deacon chant their parts of the liturgy alone, while a cantor leads a choir of deacons and guides the responses of the congregation.

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