Article The Musical Notation of the Responses of the Church of Saint Mark

Translated from the Arabic by Magda Wadie Atalla. Edited by Carolyn M. Ramzy.

First Volume

Kāmil Ibrāhīm Ghubriyāl
Officer in the Egyptian Army and Assistant Superintendent in the Sudanese government

Part One

Price: Ten Piasters
(All copy rights reserved)
First day of the month of Tout, year 1633[1] -- September of 1916
Reviewed by Helmy Youssef
Printed by The National Egyptian Publishing House, Cairo

Words from the Author of the Book

There is no doubt that religion is the foundation of morals and the corner of all individual and social virtues. Our Coptic nation is distinct from olden times in keeping its ancient religious customs and traditional church rites, as it is this that instills the religious sentiment in the hearts of its individuals and congregation. All of those who have encountered it, from those who have experienced its affairs, to writers from the west or the east, [and to those from] early centuries to the last, can attest to it.

Unfortunately, we noticed that this honorable religious sentiment has weakened in the last era, to the point that it has almost disappeared from the heart due to shameful habits that became widely known as part of a trendy and modern-day living. And what had made this situation worse was people abandoned worship places, where religious ceremonies were held. People have stopped going to communal gatherings, which through the spiritual practices there, calmed their spirits, [instead] replacing them by nightclubs and inappropriate gatherings. This was the poor condition of our society that many of our social commentators tried to mend by encouraging [people] to listen to the word of God and to use it as an example in their everyday life. [They were also] warning the children of this doomed nation from throwing themselves and their Copticity to ruin or suffocating this heavenly dignity that our honorable ancestors left us.

As this situation had reached such a demented state, we must set it right by strengthening the people and supporting loyal and zealous reformers. If not going to the house of God were limited to a few individuals, than this would have been an easier enterprise. But we are noticing that this disease has started to infiltrate the bones of society without us noticing or addressing it. We must remove the tumor before it overtakes [us] and becomes difficult to cure.

And while I am in favor of correctly raising a family with its foundation based on religious rules and virtues, I have [also] considered enlightening the children of my nation of the one cure. And by this I mean guiding the Coptic family about the roles of love songs and any inappropriate tunes on musical instruments, especially the piano which has increased among our upper and middle classes. However, I realize that to point to the disease would be of no benefit if it were not followed by a prescription for the cure.

Our fathers and grandfathers did not know anything besides spiritual songs and the holy praise hymns for entertainment. Unfortunately, however, [I] observed that conditions have changed and our majority leans toward attending nightclubs to enjoy listening to singers, and when throwing wedding parties, having belly dancers that tend to be dangerous to virtues and morals. When I observed these trends in our families, I have decided to act accordingly in a way that might be the cure for this disease. I wrote a music book containing all church songs and melodies orchestrated for musical instruments, specifically the piano. I do not exaggerate when I say that the effect of these melodies surpass their unaccompanied counterparts. When my vacation approached its end and only a few weeks remained, I limited myself to orchestrating the first volume that contained deacons and congregational [liturgical] responses in the liturgy of Saint Basil. It is my intention, if I find good reception and encouragement, to publish subsequent volumes that contain all that is sung in the church during weddings or funerals. In other words, if someone is mourning, he will not be deprived from what soothes his present condition. Also, those getting married, during their wedding parties, will replace love songs with spiritual songs that will revive the soul and fill it with life. Additionally, I will dedicate another book to the dramas and plays from Ancient Egyptian songs and spiritual songs for schoolboys and schoolgirls to be sung during celebrations and festivals.

The present economic situation, including the expensive price of paper and the increased printing costs, especially that which is music related, as well as other obstacles that face any reformer who wants to change something, did not prevent me from realizing [congregational] responses in accordance with the great [tradition of the] Church of Saint Mark. With attention to ladies tastes, melodies combine religious traditions with modern tastes. To facilitate memorization, I transliterated the Coptic [congregational] responses into roman letters that are widely known by the majority of people. I could not write it in Coptic because so few people know it. I also could not write it in both languages as it would have crowded the pages and confused the reader. Furthermore, for the utmost benefit, I translated every response into Arabic so that people can understand what is said in church.

Since I do not desire any profit from this work, nor am I looking for any publicity, but rather, it was to my brewing passion and national idea that I accomplished it as a service to my country to raise its dignity. I offer this book at a very low price so that it is easily disseminated among our Coptic families. I have also donated what is left after the book's expenses to support two projects: the building of the Girls College and the Coptic Church in Heliopolis, as well as to the free Coptic school for girls and charitable organizations in Cairo and outlying suburbs.

If the dignitaries and leaders of the Coptic nation, as well as members of women's organizations, took heed to teach this book and disseminate it throughout all of the Coptic schools for girls, our daughters will grow to love our Church and tend to our language. Also, their tendency to pray in Arabic in church will decrease and they will gradually abandon learning inappropriate manners. Perhaps they will find this as an opportunity to organize events and gatherings performing these church responses instead of what is usually performed. More so, it would be easier to use the organ in the church to standardize the variations [of hymns] that cantors had developed over time despite the opposition of church leaders. This was one of the reasons that the hymns of the oldest Coptic liturgy of Saint Mark, as arranged by Pope Cyril the 24th Pope of Alexandria, was lost.

The use of the organ in the Coptic Church does not contradict a religious spirit in any sense, neither is it too costly. Other Christian denominations have agreed to use it following what was mentioned in the Holy Bible in Psalm 150. I am so pleased to see the most affluent church in Cairo using the organ and I am ready to print what is needed [to achieve] such a goal. In the meantime, I recommend introducing the use of [Western] musical notation in the Clerical School so that the preachers and future clergy are knowledgeable of this art, akin to European deacons and priests. Educating young cantors of this art from now on, so that they can [later] render this service for a monthly salary that will be paid by their church in the future, will not cost much.

I think that church cantors will not discourage this project because the presence of the organ in the church does not lessen their worth but, rather, it dignifies and adds power and reverence to their voices.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank all of those who have encouraged me to publish this book. I look forward to this as a progressive beginning for the Coptic [Orthodox] denomination and to find approval and an endeavor to spread [this book] among Coptic families. I hope I will not be severely criticized for what I have written about the moral decay amongst Coptic families because I aspire to serve my nation out of ultimate loyalty.

I am grateful to anyone who has comments regarding this project and who would inform me about women's intentions and other individuals and teachers in order to improve the second volume that I have previously mentioned. I implore you to correspond with me privately and not in newspapers because I might not receive it if I am serving in the outlying country of the Sudan.

I have received all help and support from God and ask Him to protect me from any downfalls, and that all Coptic readers will benefit from this book.

The faithful to his nation:
Kāmil Ibrāhīm Ghubriyāl

Tout, 1633
[September, 1916]


  1. According to the Coptic calendar. [back to article]
Format Web Pages
Contributors Atalla, Magda Wadie
Ghubriyal, Kamil Ibrahim
Ramzy, Carolyn M.
Subjects Article
Songs and Music
The Musical Notation of the Responses of the Church of Saint Mark
Contributor Names
Ghubriyal, Kamil Ibrahim (author)
Atalla, Magda Wadie (translator)
Ramzy, Carolyn M. (editor)
Subject Headings
-  Articles
-  Songs and Music
-  From Al-Tawqi'at al-Musiqiyah li-Maraddat al-Kanisah al-Murqusiyah. [Cairo]: Printed by the Government of Sudan and Egypt, 1916. Music Division, Library of Congress. Call Number: M2159.8.G3C5 (General)
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