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As a musician and a Baha’i, I care deeply about both subjects—especially when they converge.
The Baha’i teachings have a great deal to say about music and its rapturous impact on the human soul:
We have made it lawful for you to listen to music and singing. Take heed, however, lest listening thereto should cause you to overstep the bounds of propriety and dignity. Let your joy be the joy born of My Most Great Name, a Name that bringeth rapture to the heart, and filleth with ecstasy the minds of all who have drawn nigh unto God. We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion. Truly, We are loath to see you numbered with the foolish. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 38.
With this in mind, let’s review the definition of four of the key words in this passage—propriety, dignity, self and passion—from Webster’s Dictionary:
Propriety – n. 1. the quality of being proper, fitting, etc.
Dignity – n. 1. honorable quality, worthiness; nobility 2. high repute; honor
Self – n. 3. one’s own welfare or interest
Passion – n. 2. Intense emotional excitement, as rage, enthusiasm or lust 3. The object of any strong desire
Obviously, these words connote a whole lot of stuff we might want to think about, considering what we see around us today in the world of music.
Yes, this is not the 19th century but the 21st, sure enough. However, the Baha’i teachings ask us to define whose definitions we follow—those from our Creator, or the more current and popular definitions readily available to all of us through the various mediums of current TV, movies, literature, and yes, music.
Baha’i musicians and artists see our role as exponents of a New World Order. We make music to lift the human soul “up unto the realm on high,” which helps create a unified, harmonious humanity. That path lies not in our following whatever current popular trend that surrounds us, but for us to create a symphony and a diverse chorus of new voices for this New Age that we espouse:
The art of music must be brought to the highest stage of development. For this is one of the most wonderful arts and in this glorious age of the Lord of Unity it is essential to gain its mastery. However, one must endeavor to attain the degree of artistic perfection and not be like those who leave matters unfinished. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet translated from the Persian
The great humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer once researched Johann Sebastian Bach, and wrote:
Music is an act of worship with Bach. His artistic activity and his personality are both based on his piety. All great art, even secular, is in itself religious in his eyes, for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.
Schweitzer continues by stating from the rules and principles of accompaniment that Bach prescribed to his pupils:
Like all music, the figured bass (then the standard harmonic principle of music) should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamor and ranting.
I found it quite interesting to realize that Bach’s reference to what music really is so resounds with the comments of both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, made 200 years later. The Baha’i teachings call music “the spiritual food of the hearts and souls:”
Among some of the nations of the Orient, music and harmony was not approved of, but the Manifested Light, Baha’u’llah, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts.
Music is most important. Music is the heart’s own language. Its vibrations uplift the spirit; it is very beautiful and a great art. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, p. 131.