This thesis explores the integral role of taratīl, the most prevalent genre of non-liturgical devotional music among Coptic Christians. Specifically, this study concerns the role of taratīl in evoking nostalgia, and through the narrative of personal memory and collective remembrance, reconciling many immigrants with their homesickness for Egypt or the Sudan.
Taratīl are religious, non-liturgical folk songs that allow Copts to worship and praise God outside of liturgical contexts, while also serving multiple functions in the lives of Copts in Egypt as well as the diaspora. Unlike formal church services, which are generally sung in the Coptic language, taratīl are sung in Arabic, the first language of most Coptic Christians. As a vernacular genre, they are intimately tied to personal worship. They are also imbued with highly expressive texts and draw upon a wide repository of recurring symbols and culturally embedded metaphors, which, through their expression, evoke nostalgia and remind participants of their homesickness for Egypt or the Sudan. Taratīl not only enliven personal memories, but also allows participants to contextulalize them and to narrate them to each other. Through the collective remembrance of home, taratīl become an effective medium in reconciling homesickness, avoiding a feeling of homelessness, and finally, helping participants create an idealized home away from home. In this case, homelessness denotes an immigrants feeling of emotional severance and separation from their native cultural and social networks (see Edgar et al. 2004; Kim 2005; Papastergiadis 2000). This phenomenon is particularly evident among Copts who have just recently immigrated, or older members of the community who have spent most of their lives in their homeland.
Through musical and textual analyses of metaphors and symbols included in the songs, this study explores how performance of and listening to taratīl stimulates individual reminiscence and collective remembrance of nostalgia and memory, evokes the homeland, and mediates Coptic-Canadian identity. This study is based on ethnomusicological research at St. Marks Coptic Orthodox Church of Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.