I recently completed a course on conducting ensembles by Coursera – a fantastic overview of the zillion skills a conductor has to attempt to practice and develop (if you would like to learn how to lead an ensemble, the online course is free!). Thanks to this refresher course, I was reminded of the degree of detail conductors have to think about in order to reach an increasingly high level of musicianship: studying the music; practicing gestures to demonstrate the various aspects of the music (tempo, articulation, dynamics, etc.); and expressing the feeling of the song with our facial gestures. Our work continually evolves with practice and becomes clearer and clearer as we gain experience and work on improving every minute detail. Music training is, as any other skill, always a work in progress towards perfection.
I’ve seen some great articles on the topic of perfection: Peter Gyulay’s recent article Patiently Persisting Towards Perfection (I love the alliteration – just another level of perfect detail) in which Peter ponders how to strike a balance between perfectionism and growth. There is also a beautiful quote from the Bab in the Bayan that teaches us a very profound and mystical concept: we all possess the power to elevate something to its “uttermost perfection” with the aim that this thing be not“deprived of its own paradise” because every created thing “desires to attain to the highest point of its limits.” I talk about this mystical concept in a TikTok video and it was also raised by one of the participants in our Personal Reflections project:
It’s intriguing that human perfection can never be attained, yet if we don’t strive for perfection, we can’t really progress. In Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha says that “motion being compulsory” in the material world, “everything must either go forward or retreat.” In the spiritual world, on the other hand, “there is no decline.” The only movement of the soul is “towards perfection.” Abdu’l-Baha tells us that “Divine perfection is infinite, therefore the progress of the soul is also infinite. From the very birth of a human being the soul progresses, the intellect grows and knowledge increases.” I used to imagine that we only took our inner virtues with us to the next world, but this passage from Abdu’l-Baha says that our knowledge, reasoning powers and scientific achievements are also infinite:
The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal.
You must ever press forward, never standing still; avoid stagnation, the first step to a backward movement, to decay.
As Baha’is, we are blessed to have a model of perfection in the mysterious Personage of Abdu’l-Baha. Darius Lamy wrote a new book called The Perfect Exemplar and here is a Baha’i Blog interview with him about it. Also, relevant to the topic of perfection is Ariana Salvo’s article about conquering ourselves and allowing our spiritual soul to inform our choices, thereby progressing upward on our spiritual journey. The stunning thing about perfection is that it doesn’t matter if your goal is outward or inward, whether you are dedicating yourself to the service to others, or working to better yourself and draw closer to God: both roads lead to the far-off destination of perfection. Michael Day’s recent tribute to Knight of Baha’u’llah Lilian Ala’i is a testament to a soul drawing nearer to her Beloved through countless acts of service and doing her best in all circumstances.
Learning to work together to achieve a coherent and unified society is another aspect of reaching towards perfection. When all participants are motivated to do their part, and to the best of their ability, the results can be phenomenal. Because choirs form a big part of my world, I just love the image of each individual singer striving to achieve a beautiful whole, at the highest level of perfection they can achieve at any given time. A quote from the House of Justice’s Ridvan 2023 message reminds me of this as well:
The chorus of voices raised in support of oneness, equality, and justice shows how many share these aspirations for their societies.
Esther Maloney crafted a gorgeous article – both in her well written text and with her beautiful artistic illustrations – about our common responsibilities that will evolve as our capacities grow organically and we all progress as a world community.
I would like to close with this uplifting passage from the esteemed Universal House of Justice’s Ridvan message of 2008:
So high must be your standard of excellence and so pure and chaste your lives that the moral influence you exert penetrates the consciousness of the wider community.
May we all enjoy gaining immense satisfaction from making efforts to achieve our goals – be they spiritual, related to our personal abilities, developing our inner potential or serving others and building vibrant communities.
Lorraine is a passionate advocate for sacred choral music as well as music education and firmly believes that we can all develop our inner musicianship to our heart’s content. Her favourite activities are conducting choirs, dabbling in writing choral music in English and French, and reading about the science of music. She is trying to write a book about it, but often gets side-tracked into writing shorter articles or making short videos. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, Alan, and together they love doing anything music-related, in addition to dreaming about moving up to Queensland to bask in warmer weather. Lorraine holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Pedagogy, a Bachelor’s Degree (Hons.) in Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.