Music From a Baha’i Perspective

     The Baha’i path, just over 160 years old, has already generated a truly diverse and ever-expanding body of music, as well as providing inspiration and guidance to musicians from every musical genre and from cultural backgrounds that span the globe. Songs of worship, devotional prayers and chants, songs of brotherhood, songs to uplift the spirit and raise our personal and collective awareness to issues of social justice, choral music, folk songs, symphonic orchestral and chamber music, jazz, and popular forms from many cultures are some of the genres Baha’i musicians have utilized.

Enjoy the diversity of musical traditions and styles on this 24/7 streaming internet radio station presenting Music From a Baha’i Perspective: click here -> radioNUR.

Musical and Cultural Diversity

The following quote illustrates how cultural diversity in music (and all the arts) is encouraged and essential to the Baha’i way;

“Music, as one of the arts, is a natural cultural development, and the Guardian does not feel that there should be any cultivation of Bahá’í Music any more than we are trying to develop a Bahá’í school of painting or writing. The believers are free to paint, write and compose as their talents guide them. If music is written, incorporating the sacred Writings, the friends are free to make use of it, but it should never be considered a requirement at Bahá’í meetings to have such music. The further away the friends keep from any set forms, the better, for they must realize that the Cause is absolutely universal, and what might seem beautiful addition to their mode of celebrating a Feast, etc., would perhaps fall on the ears of people of another country as unpleasant sound – and vice versa. As long as they have music for its own sake it is all right, but they should not consider it Bahá’í music.”    – From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, July 20, 1946: Ibid   (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 411 )

     In further quotations from Baha’i writings cited below, we read that music is a “…ladder for our souls, that they may be lifted up unto the realm on high…” and that we are to use music to “Strike up such a melody and tune as  to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy.”

KC Porter’s Song For the Yaran

     Here then is a very recent work by KC Porter that while not typical of the kind of song described, very clearly belongs in the repetoire of music to be considered from a Baha’i perspective. Yaran is about the seven Baha’i teachers imprisoned since 2008 in Iran. The piece begins with a sample of a prayer by Abdu’l-Baha chanted in Farsi by Fariba Kamalabadi, one of the seven Yaran, then transforms into KC Porter’s sobering yet also inspirational song.  Here are the lyrics:

In Spring 2008,
In a world not yet awake,
Seven loving parents,
Arrested for their faith.

Taken from their loved ones,
And stripped of all they own,
Into a small, dark cell,
Their fate would not be known.

Teaching was their service,
Their leaders would forbid,
And now they’re serving countless years,
For things they never did.

Their only crime was selflessness,
And daring to believe,
That until there was unity,
The world would not know peace.

Yaran,
You Are Remembered And Not forgotten!

The world has come to know you,
As friends, as the Yaran,
Your strength and inspiration,
They help us carry on.

Bereft of every comfort,
Through day and sleepless night,
Still, in your darkest hour,
Your spirit’s shining bright!

We will not sleep,
‘Till you’re released,
We will not eat,
‘Till you are free,

How can we breathe,
While you’re in captivity?
A hundred million of our tears,
Are swelling up, swelling up the sea!

My Introduction to Baha’i Through the Songs and Life of Mark Spittal –

     During the 1980s and 1990s, I spent a considerable amount of time going to open mics, performing and listening at concerts with my good friend Mark Spittal.  Mark introduced me to the Baha’i faith and we spent many hours discussing and exploring music as a “ladder for lifting souls”.  Mark’s songs were powerful expressions of spirit, he touched hearts and souls wherever he went.  When Mark left this earthly realm in 1999 I wrote Wandering Star and sang it at his memorial service. 

Mark released one CD which is out of print. I am working on making it available again. Let me know if you are interested in being notified when and if that happens.  tmckamey@earthlink.net

I will be adding posts linked to this page with more music from a Baha’i perspective as I come across them. You are welcome to comment on any of the above, or add suggestions you know of by using the Reply form at the bottom of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Quotes on Music from Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi:

“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.”  – Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 38

“Among certain nations of the East, music was considered
reprehensible, but in this new age the Manifest Light hath, in His holy
Tablets, specifically proclaimed that music, sung or played, is spiritual food
for soul and heart.  The musician’s art is among those arts worthy of the highest
praise, and it moveth the hearts of all who grieve. Wherefore, O thou
Shahnaz,[1] play and sing out the holy words of God with wondrous tones in the
gatherings of the friends, that the listener may be freed from chains of care
and sorrow, and his soul may leap for joy and humble itself in prayer to the
realm of Glory.”

[1 Shahnaz, the name given to the recipient of this Tablet,
is also the name of a musical mode.]

Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 112

“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. It has wonderful sway and effect in the hearts of children, for their hearts are pure, and melodies have great influence in them. The latent talents with which the hearts of these children are endowed will find expression through the medium of music. Therefore, you must exert yourselves to make them proficient; teach them to sing with excellence and effect. It is incumbent upon each child to know something of music, for without knowledge of this art the melodies of instrument and voice cannot be rightly enjoyed. Likewise, it is necessary that the schools teach it in order that the souls and hearts of the pupils may become vivified and exhilarated and their lives be brightened with enjoyment.”   – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52

“O servant of Baha!
Music is regarded as a praiseworthy science at the Threshold of the Almighty …     By virtue of this, consider how much the art of music is admired and praised. Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wilt notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as
to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a recently translated Tablet to an individual believer; Bahá’í Writings on Music, a compilation of the Universal House of Justice (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 411 )

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About Tim McKamey

Founder of Sound Possibilities - Practitioner of Music, Song, Folklore & Musicology - songwriter - guitarist - guitar instructor - web design - videography
This entry was posted in Bardic Technology, Music and Spirit, Music in Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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