Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Arts - a Thought

Maybe it's just me, and I'm sure it is, but I couldn't stop laughing this morning. I was looking through the compilation "The Importance of the Arts" and ran across a quote from the Guardian:
Shoghi Effendi wishes me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated October 27th 1931, together with the accompanying music of "The Lonely Stranger" sent through.... He sincerely hopes that as the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner, they will begin to produce in art the divine spirit that animates their soul. Every religion has brought with it some form of art -- let us see what wonders this Cause is going to bring along. Such a glorious spirit should also give vent to a glorious art. The Temple with all its beauty is only the first ray of an early dawn; even more wondrous things are to be achieved in the future.
Isn't that beautiful? Isn't it encouraging? I can just imagine being the recipient of this letter and thinking, "Wow, he approves and is hoping that this music of mine will help animate someone's soul." Even more, I might think he was calling my piece "glorious", but I don't think I'd go that far.

Then he goes on and gives us a vision of the glorious future of this mighy Cause, linking it to the Temple, the most conspicuous work within the Faith at that time.

So what, you may be thinking, did I find so funny? Well, like it said, it's probably just me, but I shifted the emphasis a bit as I re-read it. I seemed to focus on the hope that "talented persons" enter into the Faith. Does that mean that the person who wrote this music was not talented?

Ok. Obviously not. But it was enough to give me the giggles for some time.

In fact, when I showed it to my friend Bob, he gave me a far more lucid explanation.

He said that it may have been a good piece, and Shoghi Efendi applauded that, but that they may have missed a point. The artist may have been lamenting the loneliness of the Stranger, and perhaps Shoghi Effendi wanted something more upbeat. Or at least less lamenting.

It is rare, Bob said, that a lament really uplifts someone and "animates their soul".

Well, all this got me thinking.

I looked through some old copies of The Baha'i World, and there, in volume five, 1932 - 1934, I found the work in question.

It is a fairly simple piece, a duet played andante. This is a moderately slow tempo, but not so slow that it's a dirge. It is between allagretto and adagio, or two beats per second. The lyrics read fairly well, but they are not what I would call uplifting. My friend called them "juvenile", but that could have also been the way I was reading them. Here is a small sampling:
Welcome to the stranger in this desert drear
His most holy footprints follow without fear
He will guide and keep thee; give to Him thy hand
Our dear Master leads us thru earth's toilsome land
To my eye, it's not exactly inspired, but it's a good beginning.

I now read this letter of the Guardian's as an inspiration, a way to say, "Good start, now keep practicing."

It is also a reminder that we are not yet at the point of producing the "great art" of this Dispensation, a reminder that is found throughout the compilation. But just because we are not yet there does not mean we should give up. It just means that we are the very beginning of this Dispensation. And as he says elsewhere, "We need poets..." "We need... writers..."

Now, upon re-reading, and getting all of those pesky giggles out of my system, I see this as a call to raise the standard higher. And today, there are many works of art that are of a considerably higher quality than what we saw within the Faith 100, 50 or even 20 years ago.
But you know, we still have a long way to go: "even more wondrous things are to be achieved in the future".

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