Music is the universal language of mankind. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. – Victor Hugo
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music. – Kurt Vonnegut
Did you ever wonder why the greatest artists of history, in every discipline, often died as paupers, penniless and in debt, or at least, deprived of respect?
Then, after many years passing, their art became recognized, revered, and brought great wealth to those who had those results in their possession. If it hadn’t been for that process, Johann Sebastian Bach, who was buried in an unknown grave, would never have been acknowledged to be one of the world’s greatest composers. For a few centuries, he was just that old composer of music for the Church who used a very old-fashioned compositional technique that went out of fashion a long time ago: counterpoint. Even his own kids didn’t like his music—they saw it as “religious.”
There has been monumental research done on music going all the way back to the Ur Valley and before. Historians have studied the influence of the early Vedic art and music of that area of Asia that became known as India and its environs. All of that early human music was religious in its exposition. That goes far, far back to the days of the Hindu orientation from Krishna, though probably sometime after his presence there and closer, possibly to the teachings of Buddha.
What I am trying to say here is: The arts represent the Creator’s teachings, throughout all of history. Music still gives us the validation of what life is about on this planet—and it always will.
Consequently, the arts reach the pinnacle of their expression when a new spiritual civilization comes. We see that pattern over and over again, as every major religious revelation creates new knowledge, new enthusiasm and a renewed human spirit—which, in turn, leads to new art and music. On the other hand, the eventual decline of that same civilization results from the arrogance of humanity as it takes over the distorted teachings of the Revelation that created it, and begins to prostitute its art forms in the process.
All we have to do is look around us, and we can say, with impunity, that it is clear why God, the Creator, has found it necessary to send to us, not one, but two messengers for this age: the Bab and Baha’u’llah.
That is why I have offered the observations in this series of essays, so you can consider how the artists of this age might realize the role that Baha’u’llah has given us to play at this very important moment in our history, and “hearken to the melody which will stir the world:”
Let us seek the song with the sweetest strains, so that it may be taken up by the angels and carried to the supreme concourse. Let us hearken to the melody which will stir the world of humanity, so that the people may be transformed with joy.
Let us listen to a symphony which will confer life on man; then we can obtain universal results; then we shall receive a new spirit; then we shall become illumined. Let us investigate a song which is above all songs; one which will develop the spirit and produce harmony and exhilaration, unfolding the inner potentialities of life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 77-78.
Accommodation and compromise cannot assist us in this task. If we strive to follow the guidance about art and music in the Baha’i teachings, we can achieve the excellence of our command of the language of each of the arts that we participate in. Music, as Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha both said and wrote, has become one of those arts most important to the expression of this new age of human progress.
Musicians, our artistic offerings must be of the highest order of excellence, without compromise or accommodation, but truly committed to the spirit of the Baha’i teachings by the elevated quality of what we create—keeping in mind that everything that comes through us is ultimately from the Creator.