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Soul Food: Music as a Ladder and a Bridge

Nancy Palus | Mar 28, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Nancy Palus | Mar 28, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 38.

“We’re all going to do a positive thing today–something that’s going to elevate you when you’re down,” said Pontiac, Michigan Arts Commissioner Dwayne Anthony.

Marvin "Doc" Holladay

Marvin “Doc” Holladay

This prompted relieved sighs and cheers of “Yesss!” from the audience. The musical and cultural event they were all about to participate in, called Soul Food, stemmed in part from a talk Oakland University professor Mark Stone had with famed Baha’i jazz musician Marvin “Doc” Holladay. Doc, who established the jazz and world music programs at OU in the 1970s, told Professor Stone about gatherings in Ecuador that offered music from different cultures as “food for the soul.” Holladay said a friend had brought the concept to Ecuador after an experience in Australia.

Soul Food’s music began, prompting reverence and delight as singers offered thanks to all grandmothers, grandfathers, the moon, the earth, and water in the Anishinaabemowin language. There were tears at Rumi’s poem about the transcendence of song, followed by a mesmerizing education in South Indian classical music. Several generations tapped and swayed together to the music of Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.

A clarinetist played a movement from the Quartet for the End of Time, and a percussionist spoke of how our brainwaves align to the sound of drumming. Everyone stomped and clapped in unison, singing Oh Happy Day.

The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit. Through the power and charm of music the spirit of man is uplifted. – Abdu’l Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52.

“A musical happening like this changes one’s perception,” Doc Holladay said. “It elevates you to another plane of awareness … and you take it with you. It begins to alter the way you see things, the way you think of things, and the way you feel about things. The future is just beautiful – but! It’s going to take a lot of perseverance, and unification of the people,” he said.

“We have to counteract all the horrible things that are going on by doing things that elevate us and make us understand we are really something way better,” Holladay said, citing the Baha’i principle of the oneness of humanity. “We’re all one big family, all over this planet.”

Oakland University student Zollie observed that while people had to make room for one another in the crowded venue, “no one was getting testy. In fact the proximity really brought people together.” For Hormoz, the evening provided an experience that’s not easy to come by. “I felt very much at home, very much moved, and very inspired by the whole affair and the love that you feel.”

“Soul-cleansing” is how drummer and OU alumnus GayeLynn McKinney described music and community. “I can’t tell you how spiritually uplifting this is.” She said she had started the day with a heavy heart. But after playing at a morning church service where children sang, and then attending Soul Food at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center, “I leave here now with a totally cleansed spirit.” She thanked people for supporting the arts, particularly at a time when arts funding is threatened.

Pat said “It was so good to be a part of something that brought people together in a healing, joy-filled way that stays with you long after it’s over.”

“Multicultural, interfaith, intergenerational, across genres, spanning the world – it’s so very special,” Brian said. “Sharing the story of this night, I feel I can help generate other events like this. And we carry the vibration of this wherever we go–whatever homes we go to, whatever families we go to, whatever parts of the world or parts of the country we go to. This vibration is so very healing, so very loving, so very needed, so very unifying in a way that honors humanity and honors the natural world and honors the spirit however we experience it.”

O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man…. it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth ….

For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life…. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines. –Abdu’l Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 1-2.

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