Coptic music represents both the waning and continuation of ancient Egyptian musical tradition, in the sacred and the secular areas alike. To this day, two percussion instruments are used in liturgical Coptic music: triangle and cymbals, supporting, but never dominating the chants. For centuries, Coptic music was handed down only through oral tradition, and in addition to the melody, guiding factors for performance, such as sound colour, ornamentation and tempi were included in the teachings. Word accentuation provides the metric structure of the melodies, determining rhythm and musical accents. The various texts – Biblical texts can be distinguished from prayers and hymns – may be performed in various ways, whether by soloists or the choir, as responsorial chants or antiphonal singing. In its concert, the Coptic-Orthodox Choir for Sacred Music will present selected spiritual Coptic-Orthodox melodies and hymns in Coptic and Arabic.
The liturgical chants of the Coptic-Orthodox Church go back to St. Yaréd, who lived and worked in Aksum in the 6th century. After the Kingdom of Aksum fell in the 12th century, the kings of the Zagwe dynasty fled to a region southeast of Aksum, where the city of Lalibela (formerly Roha) was built as the “New Jerusalem” of the North African Christian people, offering refuge to the Coptic Christians in Ethiopia. Today, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox are the largest Christian family of churches in the Oriental region, with almost 40 million faithful. The North African vocalists are accompanied by Alèmu Aga, who plays the bèguèna, the oldest Ethiopian musical instrument, which, legend has it, is derived from the “harp” played by King David 3,000 years ago. To this day, the bèguèna is heard as part of religious festivities, but never inside church, which is reserved for the chants of St. Yaréd.