My Orlando Scottish Rite Brothers,
At the request of Ill:. Chet King, our Valley Personal Representative, I have written a brief article for our Valley Newsletter. As an amateur musician and organist, it seemed natural that I share with you some of my thoughts and considerations in using music to complement the work of our Masonic degrees. Over a decade ago I began volunteering my talents as a musician in several Masonic Lodges, and, I have enjoyed the privilege of being the organist for many Valley of Orlando reunions. This privilege and honor is not taken lightly, but instead with humbleness and dedication to the purpose for which we honor as Scottish Rite Masons.
As you recall, music was one of the seven liberal arts, and sciences Freemasons are encouraged to embrace. The use of music in our lodges and ritual ceremonies compliments the meetings and adds to the degree work in many ways. As we confer all Scottish Rite degrees in our annual reunions, music has a special place. The object of our degree ceremonies is to make a lasting impression upon every aspirant as well as the education and enjoyment by every Brother in attendance. Music that is appropriately presented compliments this objective. The music selected for each degree must complement the lectures and presentations while being careful to not distract from their meaning and intent.
Musical interludes carefully introduced into degree work provides an atmosphere that compliments the thoughts and effects of the lecture or acts being presented. Sometimes I refer to this nondescript music as “improvisations,” “floor music,” or “movement music.” Regardless of what we call it, the intent for the organist or pianist is to ensure the music is appropriate and that it indeed enhances and embraces the work on the floor.
There are many factors involved in planning music for a Masonic Degree. Many of these take place ahead of the scheduled degree work. Some are naturally inherited during the actual degree. I believe it is imperative for the organist to know the meaning and essence of each degree to prepare the music for it properly. Within the “Blue Lodges,” this essential task is not that difficult. It becomes a more demanding task in Scottish Rite degrees because of the number of degrees to be presented. Another contributing task factor is organization; presenting them within a short period, i.e., an eight to ten-hour window for seven or eight degrees.
The organist requires homework in advance. Each degree to be conferred on the ‘floor’ requires carefully reviewed in advance, noticing the script and floor movements, requirements for special music and special effects such as a chime, or special sound effect. This choreography, matching music with esoteric material being presented. Final coordination with the Degree Master before the degree beginning is also an essential factor for success. With repetition of the degrees over time (years) the organist should develop a knowledgeable sense for these musical needs and creatively improve their presentation.
Sorting through scores of music, selecting appropriate music for various phases of each degree, and even working on musical improvisations to cover those short walks or movement on the floor need to be considered and planned. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the organist must be flexible to those unplanned moments when the unexpected happens. The “unexpected” might be an unexpected pause, an unplanned movement in floor work, a skipped over part by one of the actors or some other minor distraction. The organist follows the degree’s script line by line as it is being presented. Sometimes, the unexpected might require the organist to provide “fill” music.
The choice of music to be used in a Lodge is an important factor. It should go without saying that one should avoid sectarian or nationalistic music unless the occasion in the Lodge is for the presentation of the national colors. A musician must take care to ensure diligence in selecting music for Lodge. Any word in a selection must be examined to ensure that no appeals to a specific religion or nations, or political sentiment are brought or presented within the tyled lodge. As an example, I would not play a hymn exclusively used by a religious denomination. While this would appeal to that denomination, it would not necessarily be acceptable to another denomination. Conversely, I would have no objection on using a choral presentation of the Hebrew prayer, “Adon Olam,” or a presentation of “The Lord’s Prayer.”
There are available recommended musical selections for the mandatory Scottish Rite degrees. These degrees are those required to be conferred during each reunion. The use of recommended musical selections is designed to enhance the lessons of these respective degrees. However, the discretion of the musician is permitted in deciding their use. Many of the selections are moderately difficult to play. Not all musicians will be capable of mastering some of the selections. Within our Valley, many of the selections are used for the class entering and retiring from the lodge-room.
The mood and tone of the music presented, and the volume of the music is an equally important factor the organist must consider. When accompanying a vocalist or other music instrument, the organ must not be over-powering. Additionally, the tempo and rhythm of the organ music must complement and be in synchrony with the vocalist or instrumentalist. Sometimes the music to be presented is in a key that is too high for the vocalist. Key changes require the organist to transpose the music to a lower key. Timing in the presentation of music is a make or break essential in my opinion. The music selection must be played not too fast, nor too slow, but ‘just right” as written by the composer and accordingly adjusted to suit the mood of the degree work.
The organ is recognized as the ‘king of instruments” in the music world. It presents tonal sounds from reeds, flutes, strings, principals, and an assortment of other sounds including percussion, bells, and sometimes even a whistle. Incorporating, pairing, and managing these sounds together as well as individually, is a challenging task for any organist. I believe a Masonic organist should consider this challenge, taking it to affect man’s passions with and by musical sound.
It is written that few have not felt its charm and acknowledged its expressions to be intelligible to the heart. Music in Masonry, (and especially within the Valley of Orlando), should be congenial to all Brothers, for by its powerful nature the most discordant passions may be brought to perfect unison. (Ref. The Freemason’s Hymnal, Waldemar Malmene, 1875, St Louis, MO).
James (Jim) R. Hamilton, 32° KCCH
Master of Kadosh