Bahá'ís and the Arts: Part II


To musicians, `Abdu'l-Bahá said, "singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts," 28 while Bahá'u'lláh counselled, "We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realms on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion." 29 Given such statements about the value of this art, it is no surprise that Bahá'í musicians were very active during 1994-95.

The Northern Ireland Bahá'í Choir, for example, went from strength to strength, performing at a variety of venues both for Bahá'í community events and for the public. After a public concert at the Bridewell Arts Center for the Magherafelt Arts Festival in late March 1995, audience members commented, "Come every year to the festival!"

Also in the UK, the London Choir received a special invitation in September to do a performance before an audience of 400 at the Brahma Kumaris Center, marking the International Year of the Family. The following week, the choir also performed at an interfaith festival at Middlesex University, attended by the Dalai Lama.

The Italian youth music group Light in the Darkness took part in a European tour during the summer of 1994, performing at the Regional Bahá'í Youth Conference in Berlin and then visiting Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The group, which has been in existence for a number of years and has performed widely in eastern Europe, this year comprised ten youth from Canada, England, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, and the US.

A Bahá'í-owned music and art management company facilitated the holding of a concert in Thessaloniki, Greece, by violinist Bijan Khadem-Missagh and pianist Walter Delahunt, both Bahá'ís living in Vienna. The concert was filmed by a crew from German National Television for inclusion in a documentary on Greece. During the same trip, the two musicians gave another public concert for the benefit of a school for handicapped children, under the sponsorship of the Greek Bahá'í community and in honor of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bahá'í Faith.

In Norway, The Carmel Eulogies, a symphony by Norwegian composer and Bahá'í Lasse Thoresen, premiered in Oslo on 10 November, with a repeat performance the following day. Commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of its 75th jubilee, the symphony consists of two parts, "Fragrances of Mercy" and "Circumambulations." The rhythm of "Allah'u'Abha" ("God the All-Glorious") is inherent in the work, which is based on the Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Carmel. The symphony was critically acclaimed, and many members of the audience were visibly moved during the performance. It was broadcast live on national radio and taped for later airing on the national television network.

In October two Bahá'í musicians, cellist Lev Evgrafov and vocalist Minoo Falahi, joined the Perm Philharmonic Orchestra in Russia in a celebration of the International Day of Music. The recital of classical music was performed before an audience of approximately 700, while the local television station aired the entire concert. Particularly well received was a lullaby composed by Alfredo Speranza, an Italian Bahá'í pianist and composer, entitled "Viens, mon enfant" in which a mother sings to her child to come to pray to Bahá'u'lláh, a beautiful Sun that will shine on her to make her full of joy and happiness.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, was the venue for a solo piano recital in September 1994 by Chris Keller, a Bahá'í musician living in the area. The program included original compositions, jazz standards, and one piece that incorporated passages from the Bahá'í sacred writings. Ms. Keller has also been awarded a grant by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to organize a "Jazz for Peace" concert.

El Viento Canta, which has toured Europe, Africa, and Asia playing traditional South American music with a Bahá'í message, gave several concerts in South and North Dakota during August. The group also sang at the Annual Wakpala Celebration and three powwows while they were in the area.

The Honduran folk music group Wind was invited by the Bahá'í community to perform and present the Bahá'í Faith through music at three different universities in the country. All were highly successful.

In Tasmania, Australia, two Bahá'í musicians from Melbourne gave a series of performances entitled "Tribute to Bahá'u'lláh." The three concerts, in Hobart, Clarence, and Launceston, featured quotations from the Bahá'í writings set to music. A newly-formed dance group in Tasmania, called The Farsight, was also active, performing in high schools and at Human Rights Day activities. 30

July saw the official release of the double compact disc set of the music of the second Bahá'í World Congress. A special celebration in Toronto, Canada, marked the event. The music was composed by a number of individuals, including Jack Lenz, Tom Price, Jim Seals, and Graham Major Barr. It represents a broad range of influences, including modern classical, North American gospel, and Persian classical, and was composed in praise of Bahá'u'lláh on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of His passing. First performed in New York in November 1992, the music was recorded the following October in Russia, with the Mila Moscow Orchestra, by choir members from ten countries.

Arts Events

A Bahá'í creative writers' group in Ottawa, Canada, met monthly and also sponsored a monthly Arts Night, involving visual artists, singers, and musicians as well as members of the writing group. In Dallas, Texas, a similar venture, called "Arts Afire," sponsored a Race Unity Day event at the Dallas Bahá'í Center, including visual art, cultural exhibits, a reception, and a program of music, drama, dance, and short talks about the contribution of art to the appreciation of diversity.

The Australian Bahá'í community sponsored two youth who took part in an international conference for young playwrights called "Interplay," held in Townsville, Australia in July 1994. The conference brought together 42 young people from 21 countries. Jedda Bradley's play, Dare to Tango, explored the theme of equality through the eyes of a group of men and women who work in a café. June Perkins' play, Immigrant Mother, looked at the issues of racism and family relationships by telling the story of a new immigrant to Australia. Ms. Perkins also presented a paper for a forum on indigenous drama on "Unity in Diversity: A Regional Drama of the Pacific."

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa established a Bahá'í association for the arts, called "Arts for Unity," in 1994. It invited the participation of artists and craftspeople of all descriptions, with the goal of contributing towards unity in South Africa.

Two major arts events took place in Zimbabwe during the year. The first was a national music and drama congress, held 12-14 August in Mhondoro, with approximately 200 attending. Music and drama groups from all over the country participated, with the drama group from Murewa and the Epworth children's choir winning in their respective categories. Choirs were required to sing two songs, one for a funeral and a second selection on any theme. Most of the songs were original. Zimbabwe's second major event ran from 26 to 31 December, when approximately 700 people from 30 different countries gathered in Harare for the Zimbabwe Bahá'í International Summer School and Music and Drama Festival. In the music competition of that event, a group called Voice of the Youth, from Bulawayo, walked away with the first prize, the Murewa Choir came second, and the Epworth Choir came third. All three winners are from Zimbabwe. In the drama category, Africa Awake from Malawi carried away top honors, Botswana came second, and Namibia was third.

Kenya hosted a national contest in 1994, with the final stage held 20-21 August in Nakuru. Thirty-six teams participated in four categories of competition: music, poetry, drama, and memorization of passages from the Bahá'í writings. The Lutali community in Kakamega won first prize for drama and memorization, the Binyeny community of Bungoma won the poetry prize, and a team from the Kisumu community won for music.

In Zaire, approximately 2,500 youth gathered in Mboko City, South Kivu, in April 1995 to attend the country's fourth annual Bahá'í music festival. The theme was "Youth Can Move the World," and about 40 groups sang songs, danced, performed skits, and read poetry inspired by the message of Bahá'u'lláh.

The Landegg Academy in Switzerland hosted several significant arts events during the year. One hundred and ten people from fifteen countries gathered there 18-22 November for the institution's fourth annual Music Forum. Bijan Khadem-Missagh acted as artistic director of the Forum, which included public concerts, spontaneous performances by participating musicians, and workshops on subjects such as composition, the influence of African music, dances of the world, and improvisation and the role of music in the corporate world. Other highlights included addresses by best-selling author Dr. John Diamond, who challenged participants with his unique music methodologies, and by Dr. Susanne Schaup, German author, who spoke on "Music Without Boundaries." The Landegg Music Forum Choir also held its first rehearsals during the gathering, under the direction of Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen and baritone Johan Walström. Just over a month later, Landegg hosted a conference on "The Role of the Aesthetic in a Global Society," which brought together more than 100 people from 20 countries. The keynote address for the event, the overall theme of which was "Art, the Artist, and Unity," was given by Otto Donald Rogers. Other speakers and performers included artist and writer Anne Gordon Perry, dramatist and puppeteer Bill George, Native American dancers Kevin and Kimimila Locke, and pianist Mark Ochu, all of the US, as well as dancer Arlette George of Scotland, guitarist Conrad Lambert of England, and actor Omid Djalili.

A music institute on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, drew together about 20 Bahá'í youth from seven different communities for eight days at the end of January. The program consisted of study classes on the Bahá'í sacred writings, sessions to work on the composition of melodies for passages from the writings using traditional styles of music as well as to learn existing songs, and lessons in guitar playing. In the evenings, participants joined in social activities and were able to share what they were learning with members of the Bahá'í community and the public.

In Sri Lanka, a three-day music and drama program held 7-9 April 1995 featured a modern Oriental dance on the theme of peace and unity as well as drama and music. The previous August, Colombo's young people produced a drama about Tahirih for a meeting commemorating her life.

Awards and Achievements

The Australian Bahá'í Business and Professional Association has established an annual achievement award to recognize individuals who achieve excellence in their business or profession. The award for 1993, presented to the recipient at a brief ceremony at the Sydney Bahá'í House of Worship on 29 May 1994, went to well-known Aboriginal artist Lorni Hyland, whose work has been exhibited throughout Australia, including at Bahá'í events and, notably, in a show at Parliament House in Canberra. A banner designed by her was shown at the second Bahá'í World Congress in New York in 1992.

Donald Camp, a conceptual and experimental photographer from Philadelphia, US, was named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation--the fifth African American male visual artist to be granted this fellowship in its 71-year history. He was also awarded a 1994 Fellowship in the Arts and was appointed Visiting Artist to the American Academy in Rome by the Pew Charitable Foundation. The work for which Mr. Camp received the Guggenheim Fellowship is titled "Dust Shaped Hearts," in honor of poet Robert Hayden's first collection, Heart Shape in the Dust. Conceived to honor African American men, the work consists of full faces printed in light-sensitized earth pigments and casein on lithographic paper, a process reclaimed from a nineteenth century photographic process and enhanced by Mr. Camp. Of this exhibition, the photographer has stated, "I'm often asked...why I don't do women or people who are not African American or men. The public image of black men is very different. I want to make prints that dance between the public and the personal images of self. The prints evoke a mystery and enigma that I hope will disappear over time. Not that I hope the modesty of the prints will fade but that the present fear and distrust of the men will end. What I hope remains are the reflections of modesty, humility, nobility, and perhaps the struggle that is evident in the faces I've chosen. I wish them to be `...indicative of both the light of reunion and the fire of separation.'" 31

An arts endowment in memory of Gwen Wakeling Staudigl has been given to the Bosch Bahá'í School in Santa Cruz, California, US, to promote education, development, production, exhibition, and performance in various fields of artistic endeavor. The endowment, a gift of her husband Henry J. Staudigl shortly before his passing last year, also includes a research and resource library. Henry Staudigl was a prolific film critic, as well as a writer and director for motion pictures, radio, television and stage productions. Gwen Wakeling was a versatile and creative costume designer, winning an Academy Award in 1950 for best costume design for Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah.


An architecture exhibit entitled "New Architecture for a New World" was held in the cultural center of Debrecen, Hungary, in late April 1994, attracting some 1,500 visitors over a ten-day period. Photographs and posters of Bahá'í Houses of Worship around the world and holy places at the Bahá'í World Centre in Israel were displayed in 24 frame panels set up as a nine-pointed star. The success of the exhibit led to further showings at universities, museums, and cultural centers throughout Hungary.

Looking toward the Future

In his essay "Aesthetics and Spiritual Education," Glen Eyford has characterized and analyzed the world in which we live at present as follows:

Man is challenged to dedicate himself to `the emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture....' Because he was made in God's image, man constantly strives to create order from chaos, to find meaning and purpose, to discover harmony, unity, and beauty. The instinctive tendency operates in both the creation and the appreciation of the arts, and, through intimate interaction with the creative word of God it can be channeled to assist in the building of a new world order. 32
Such a perspective is not fashionable in contemporary artistic circles. `Abdu'l-Bahá's statement that "It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony, and perfection" 33 does not find much resonance in the late twentieth century arts world, which tends to focus on expressions of dissonance, disharmony, incongruities, shapelessness, randomness, triviality, and/or ugliness. And who can blame artists, if their view is limited to what they see immediately around them? It is because Bahá'u'lláh has given Bahá'ís a vision of oneness that they feel impelled to transcend current views and trends and work out the expression of that vision through their artistic pursuits, at whatever level they may be able to do so.

Mark Tobey once wrote, "Of course we talk about international styles today, but I think later on we'll talk about universal styles...the future of the world must be this realization of its oneness, which is the basic teaching as I understand it in the Bahá'í Faith, and from that oneness, will naturally develop a new spirit in art, because that's what it is. It's a spirit and it's not new words and it's not new ideas only." 34 The healthy development of the arts in the Bahá'í world community is ample evidence that such a new spirit in art is in the process of formulating itself.

  1. Bahá'u'lláh, from a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1 (Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1991), p. 1.
  2. Ibid., p. 3.
  3. `Abdu'l-Bahá, from a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 4.
  4. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 129.
  5. Otto Donald Rogers, "The Moral Circumstance of Artistic Intent" (unpublished essay).
  6. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, 20 July 1946; cited in "Compilation of Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2 (Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1991), p. 81.
  7. Otto Donald Rogers, "Expanding and Consolidating the Cause of God: The Contribution of the Arts," in Bahá'í Canada (Kalimat, B.E. 151), p. 36.
  8. Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: Baghdad 1853-63, vol. 1 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974), pp. 62-63.
  9. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1971), p.35.
  10. For further details, see "The Mission of the Báb," pp. 193-225.
  11. Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1954), p. 167.
  12. From a letter written 21 September 1957 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States; cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts" in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 8.
  13. See William P. Collins, Bibliography of English-language Works on the Bábi and Bahá'í Faiths, 1844-1985 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1990) which lists published references to a number of well-known Bahá'í artists.
  14. William C. Seitz, Mark Tobey (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1962), p. 43.
  15. Otto Donald Rogers, introduction to the catalogue of his exhibition at the Canadian Art Galleries, Calgary, Alberta (1991).
  16. Quoted in The Bahá'í World, vol. 18, 1979-1983 (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1986), p. 717.
  17. Michael Fitzgerald, ed. The Creative Circle: Art, Literature, and Music in Bahá'í Perspective (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1989).
  18. "Ladder of the Soul: An Interview with Lasse Thoresen," with Trym Bergsmo, in The Creative Circle, p. 194.
  19. See p. 264.
  20. Dizzy Gillespie, with Al Fraser, To Be, or Not...To Bop: Memoirs (New York: Doubleday, 1979), p. 474.
  21. From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to Bahá'í youth in every land, 10 June 1966; in Wellspring of Guidance: Messages 1963-1968 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 95.
  22. From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 23 January 1985.
  23. `Abdu'l-Bahá's words to Mrs. Mary L. Lucas, as quoted in "A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca" (Chicago: Bahá'í Publishing Society, 1905), pp. 11-14; cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music" in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 79.
  24. Phillip Hinton, "Art a gift of the Holy Spirit," Herald of the South (April-June 1993), p. 23.
  25. Ibid., p. 23.
  26. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 19, no. 11 (February 1929), p. 341.
  27. `Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted by Loulie Mathews in The Magazine of the Children of the Kingdom, vol. 4, no. 3, (June 1923), p. 69.
  28. `Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 74.
  29. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 51.
  30. Many other Bahá'í youth dance groups, known as Youth Workshops, have formed around the world. For a more detailed look at some of these, see pp.172-177.
  31. The passage cited is from Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 176.
  32. Glen A. Eyford, "Aesthetics and Spiritual Education," in World Order (Fall 1979), pp. 48-49. Cited passage from Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters, 2d. rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 163.
  33. `Abdu'l-Bahá's words to Mrs. Mary L. Lucas, as quoted in "A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca," pp. 11-14; cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 78.
  34. Cited by Arthur Dahl in "The Fragrance of Spirituality: An Appreciation of the Art of Mark Tobey," in The Bahá'í World: An International Record, vol. 16 (1963-76), p. 644.

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