Sunday, December 14, 2008

‘Big Night’ (continued)

Bro. Robert L. Barrows, Grand Organist of the Grand Lodge of New York, was next on the program Monday night, speaking on “Freemasonry and Music.” A musician himself, even a choral director, Bob is well known for his lectures on a variety of music subjects. “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” he said, opening his remarks with a rhetorical question about culture, either the Craft or life in general. “Or it should be.” He came not to discuss famous musical Masons like Mozart, Haydn and Sibelius, but to explain “the why” of music in Freemasonry. “Why should the arts concern us at all?”

He answered his own question in two parts.

There is a shared camaraderie. Music in lodge should be accessible to “the rankest amateurs in the room,” he explained. “I don’t know about your lodge, but in my lodge….” Laughter ensued. Getting serious again, he explained that music serves a unifying purpose that reinforces what perhaps is the most important goal of the lodge: to bring people together. Freemasonry adopts no creed, but its use of music appears to have been borrowed from church and synagogue. “It’s not that we ‘took,’ but our use of music comes from the same source.”

Secondly, Barrows cited “an enormous craving” for a personal relationship to the mythos of Freemasonry, especially to the Sublime Degree. The lodge’s use of music “creates a timeless and perfect parallel universe that connects all of us in a virtual temple not made with hands,” he said.

“You can’t just do that by talking about it, folks. You have to do it. And we do that through the evocative power of the arts,” he added. Through the arts we can evoke the richness of the whole of the gentle Craft.” To not have that would be a “tragedy,” an atmosphere “we can get at the corner bar.”

“The arts are, for us, more than a paste-on adornment,” Barrows said in conclusion. “They are the core. Without them, we cannot express our true Masonry.”

During the Q&A, Bro. Barrows said something else equally worthy of notice: that Ludwig van Beethoven and J.S. Bach were Freemasons. He explained that a coffee house the two composers frequented was known to be an establishment where Masons gathered.


Next on the agenda was to be the lovely and talented Bro. Robert G. Davis, author, lecturer, Secretary of the Valley of Guthrie, &c., &c.

But he couldn’t make it, due to a sudden scheduling conflict. But the paper he was to deliver did arrive, and was presented by Bro. Marcus Fuller of King Solomon-Beethoven Lodge No. 232 in NYC. Its title: “Freemasonry and the Theater Arts.” Bro. Fuller, an actor seen in several television series, including “Law & Order,” was wisely chosen to give the talk.

DEAD! Dead! This whole deed is done!” Fuller cried, beginning the paper with an excerpt from “The Ruffians Lament,” a drama set in the wake of You Know What.

Fuller explained how Masonic degrees are all theater. Hundreds of degrees that are “ritual in structure, but theatrical in nature.”

“All the stories of human occurrences become plays,” he explained, alluding to Aristotle. “Comedy, tragedy, pleasure, magic, education. Man loves to imitate. What we Masons do is basically theater, so why aren’t we better at it?” To answer that question, Fuller took us on a historical tour, back to the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, to examine the period when craft guilds staged mystery plays in their towns. These plays, with the supervision of the church, even turned into competitions among the various guilds. They influenced the social lives and education of the thousands of people who saw them, until the plays were outlawed by King James, “making them at least semi-secret, or at least deeply esoteric.” The Master Mason Degree is a mystery play.

Of course the obvious theatrical experience in American Freemasonry is found in the Scottish Rite where, since the 1880s, the AASR has used all the tools of the stage to introduce its initiates into “a rich world of fantasy and pageantry.”

“Masonry had reinvented itself as an art,” Fuller said. The degrees went from the dark rooms of the lodge to the pageantry of “a powerfully heightened initiation,” that made it possible to “mass produce” Masons. “It is a highly charged romantic experience” to those found on both sides of the footlights.

Fuller closed with a quote of his own: “I went to the theater as a child and looked into the lights,” he said. “And men told me the truth.”

From left: Bros. David, Philippe, Rob and Luther.

1 comment:

BlackEagle said...

The Director and the Trustees of the LC Library are to be congratulated on this refined affair, particularly RW William Thomas. Thank you for documenting it for both reflection by those who attended and awareness for those who did not.