What's the purpose of Masonic Music?


It may surprise you that most of the music I play is improvised on the spot to suit the occasion; it is specifically conceived for the moment. I believe that all Masonic music should be as ignorable as it is interesting. You should be able to listen to it with some degree of satisfaction but not be able to recall it or hum it on the way to the bar. There is good reason for this: each masonic ceremony has profound words and important thoughts to soak into our minds. No candidate will immediately understand the full meaning of a charge, understand the symbolism of the accoutrements, the significance of the movement around the temple and absorb the depth of the message being imparted. It is unlikely brethren on the side benches will be alert enough to hear all of what is repeated and repeated as we see ceremonies time and time again over the years. Over familiarity or brain-dead moments prevent the important meaning of the ritual being absorbed easily, so in my view the last things we all want is 'memorable music'. I put inverted commas around those words because - and this is a very personal view - a catchy tune, or a familiar theme from the shows steers the mind away from the ritual.


So I hope you cannot remember what I played in the Grand Temple when you were last there. A Masonic event is not one to showcase the organist. True: the duty of the organist is to create the atmosphere whether that be contemplative for the quieter parts of our ceremonies, or strident, robust and inspiring for grand fanfares and processions. However loud the latter may be, you should not remember it when it is over; however sleep inducing, thought provoking and inspiring the quieter passages may be at the central focal point of the ritual, it should wash over you and not bring to mind memories of the Sound of Music, or of your favourite rugby song.


That is why I create it for the occasion. This serves two useful purposes, it makes absolutely sure the music ends in a musically pleasing cadence when the movement ends, and it properly fits the resources of the organ. The bigger the organ, like Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street, the greater the variety of tonal colours and sounds that are at the tips of the organist's fingers. But most masonic music is played on quite mediocre instruments in smaller temples. Importantly, that ceremony has to impress the candidate and those sitting on the side benches; more so than any flashy fanfares and exuberant displays possible on the larger instruments.


So I hope you cannot bring to mind in any great detail whatever you have heard me play, but that instead you feel the music was 'fit for purpose'.
As I come to the end of my tenure as Grand Organist for Mark and KT for ten years I hope my music fades into the background, but that the impact of our wonderful ritual has gently soaked into your consciousness - without you really spotting my 'Cunning little Plan' (as Baldrick so often said), hence my determination that the music should be interesting but ignorable.


Naunton Liles Febuary 2019