Thursday, December 17, 2009

Musical Nutrition

Photo courtesy of right here.

"...Bahá'u'lláh has extended the scope and deepened the meaning of self-expression. In His elevation of art and of work performed in the service of humanity to acts of worship can be discerned enormous prospects for a new birth of expression in the civilization anticipated by His World Order. The significance of this principle, now so greatly amplified by the Lord of the Age, cannot be doubted; but it is in its ramifications in speech that keen understanding is urgently needed...

Bahá'u'lláh warns us that "the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison". "Material fire consumeth the body," He says in elaborating the point, "whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century."
(The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

These comments from the Universal House of Justice came to mind when I read a story recently about a creative initiative involving Boston teens. Check it out:

BOSTON - An initiative to encourage healthy teen relationships says songs by Jamie Foxx and Lady Gaga are the musical equivalent of junk food. A teen panel working with the Boston Public Health Commission has determined that their songs are among the top 10 with "unhealthy relationship ingredients." The commission on Tuesday released its list based on a "nutrition label" rating popular songs on healthy relationship themes. The "Sound Relationships Nutrition Label" was developed by 14 teens after they attended a seven-week commission-sponsored institute on healthy relationship promotion and teen dating violence prevention. During the seven-week program, teens were also taught to evaluate music based on themes of power, control, equality and gender roles. The teens then developed their list after analyzing songs from Billboard's "Hot 100" chart. (Read the whole thing here)

Like many adults, I'm concerned about the content of the music our young people are listening to. Song lyrics, like all forms of speech, can be both creative and destructive. It's inspiring to hear that there is a program that encourages teens to think critically about these songs, especially in the context of public health. It's also encouraging that the model being used appears to be about empowering these teens rather than engaging in paternalism. It reminds me of descriptions of the spirit and practice of junior youth groups that Baha'is are leading around the world.

In the long term, efforts like these may have a greater influence on the kind of music that is being created than condemning the artists or the music industry. If a critical mass of young people are really thinking about how healthy the music they listen to is, some will refuse to purchase music they consider unhealthy. Artists and companies who can no longer get rich producing musical junk food may just change their tune so to speak.

If so, it will contribute to more of popular music fulfilling its true potential, "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."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52)