Last night at a concert, a lady in the audience admitted to wondering if it was OK to set the Bahá’í Writings to music in a way that made her want to move and dance and get happy. This was after hearing us play a twanged-up Moanin’ Sons version of Whither Can a Lover Go - which, while certainly one of our more intense pieces using the Writings as lyrics, is far from what we would consider ‘pushing it.’
“Is it OK?” I found her question startling, even after decades of playing for Bahá’í audiences. If someone is willing to ask this out loud – and I admire her candor – how many others are thinking it?
The reason I was startled in this instance was that the woman in question was African American. It was her own culture that wrote the book on how to combine music and Scripture in the most exuberant, joyous ways imaginable – I can think of no instance in world history, including the ecstatic drumming of the Sufis, that can compete with the sheer visceral intensity of African American sacred music. And yet she questioned her own emotional and physical response to a song that borrows heavily from that proud tradition – her own tradition.
Where did she get the idea that this was not valid in the Bahá’í Faith? Whose voice was in her head? Certainly not the position of the Writings themselves, which insist that that we ‘leap and dance with ecstasy in the triumphal procession of the Covenant,’ that we ‘lift up (our) voices and sing the blissful anthems of the spirit.’
My heart goes out to anyone who doubts whether the music they find spiritually inspiring is appropriate in a Bahá’í setting. Be it folk songs, hip hop, rock & roll, gospel or whatever, there is always a way to raise these art forms to a level befitting worship. (How to do that is another story – and a subject for another post.)
Reverence and dignity are always a consideration for any artist attempting to present the Faith using their talents. But whose concept of reverence? Whose definition of dignity? Are there cultural norms in place that we mistake for a Bahá’í standard?
These subjects will become more and more relevant as people from all walks of life embrace this Faith as their own. We will explore them in depth in later posts. For now, let these words of the Master suffice:
If we are not happy and joyous in this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look?'Abdu'l-Bahá