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October 30, 2011

Question: What role does music play in your faith?

 Music is used to augment, to harmonize and to beautify all the “core activities” of the Bahá’í community: its devotional meetings, study circles, junior youth classes and children’s classes. It is also a permanent feature during the spiritual and/or social part of our monthly worship service called the Nineteen Day Feast — the Bahá’í calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days — and our 11 holy days. Those who love to sing can also join the Ottawa Bahá’í Choir.

I recently attended a community consultation called a “reflection meeting” during which the members consulted on the progress of the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá’í Faith in Ottawa. To lift our spirits, we began with singing. Our interfaith devotionals usually begin with music. Both instrumental music and the human voice are used in community activities, but music in Bahá’í temples must be sung a cappella (voice only). No reason is given for this practice in the Bahá’í sacred writings, but a cappella music is also used in eastern orthodox cathedrals, orthodox synagogues and mosques. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter of his writings, advised the Bahá’ís to set the sacred writings to music. This has given rise to scores of new musical compositions that contain unrhymed lyrics. In this way, new musical forms are being developed.

Here is a cogent statement on the subject of music by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “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 … 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” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52).
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen October 30, 2011
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