Does Freemasonry belong in popular music?
How necessary it is in this age for some to have the courage to be the ones who are ‘different’, and to separate themselves out from the pack who long ago sold their lives and personalities to this sound and the anti-Aquarian culture which has sprung up around it!
(David Tame, The Secret Power of Music)
Whether or not because of assumed Hermetic influence, a special place in Masonic ritual is reserved for the liberal art of music. Searching for classical or art music with (in)direct references to Freemasonry’s thought and symbolism, one encounters few composers whose initiation led to suchlike compositions. Although overviews of ‘famous masons’ lists jazz musicians with acclaimed, though not always proven, membership of lodges, their work in the jazz tradition by any means inspired by the craft, can not be found. And it makes you wonder if there are traces of Masonic influence in popular music.
Although Freemasonry in Popular Music, a research for the department of Musicology of the University Utrecht, delivered some marginal examples, its conclusions are disappointing; subsequently trying to explain a possible reason. Can we suspect, considering its absence in this dominant area of music and popular culture, that Freemasonry as a central topic on the one hand and function and purpose of pop- and rock music (traditionally for adolescent subculture) on the other, represent conflicting themes? Freestone’s concept album The Temple of Humanity, is an undertaking to prove, at least investigate, the opposite.
The album, self-described as popular music inspired by Freemasonry, is entirely dedicated to a broad variety of aspects of this tradition. References to its meaning, thought and symbols are transcribed in music, lyrics and artwork of the compositions; either directly on the surface, either to be discovered after a more thorough investigation.
In conclusion of the paper: from a hermeneutic standpoint, one of the twelve songs will be examined more closely, an exercise in both critical and Masonic interpretation in order to question whether in the realms of secular reality of 21st century popular culture it is justified to presume that Freemasonry indeed belongs in popular music.
Reflections on Freemasonry in Popular Music
The search for references to freemasonry in a cultural expression such as music produces a broad variety of examples. However, within popular music, there are practically no songs or lyrics in which the fraternity is positively and realistically positioned. Despite the dominance of popular music in secular life and contemporary culture, philosophical themes or existential life questions are rarely discussed in a way that they exceed the adolescent and the obvious; they only play a superficial role in the pop community.
In the essay References to Freemasonry in Popular Music (written for the course musicology at the University Utrecht), I have addressed the question ‘what is the meaning of freemasonry within popular music?’ from an academic perspective. In today’s presentation I will briefly discuss some of the references found and accordingly will try to explain why both phenomena are possibly irreconcilable.
Subsequently, I will pay attention to Freestone’s concept album The Temple of Humanity, my own attempt to giving freemasonry a place within the domain of popular music. The album contains references to Masonic meaning, thought and symbols, which are transcribed and translated into music, lyrics and the artwork of the compositions.
In conclusion of today’s presentation one of the twelve songs on the album will be interpreted as an example to clarify what references can be found on the album and what makes the album a Masonic concept album. Finally, a short fragment of the discussed composition will be played.
Freemasonry in classical music and jazz
Naturally the essay References to Freemasonry in Popular Music starts with describing freemasonry and its prominent features. The second chapter deals with the meaning of music within the Masonic ritual and in lodges in general. Masonic influences in the classical and jazz tradition are also investigated.
Within freemasonry as one of the liberal arts, a special place is reserved for music. During the meetings in a lodge, music can be heard either live or from a sound carrier. Some lodges have their own choir, and there are lodges whose members have a musical background or profession.
Within the classical tradition, a number of composers were known to be freemasons. Some of them, such as Sibelius, Pijper, Mozart, were inspired to compose musical pieces with a distinct relation with freemasonry. Some of the compositions were written to be used during ceremonial meetings in the lodge. The best-known example of classical music inspired by freemasonry is without any doubt Die Zauberflöte KV 620, Mozart and librettist Schikaneder’s tribute to the brotherhood.
Within jazz, freemasonry is hardly of any significance. Again, in overviews of famous masons, we see a number of musicians and composers who were allegedly members of a Masonic lodge, but no jazz compositions that feature lyrics with clear references to the craft or based upon Masonic themes can be found.
Freemasonry and popular music
This brings forth the question: what is the meaning of freemasonry within popular music? In my research paper the discussion of examples of popular music with Masonic references is divided in three categories: examples found on the internet, examples in the folder Masonic References in Popular Music and the song ‘A Rite of Passage’ of the American progressive metal band Dream Theater. I will briefly present the main conclusions.
Internet and MySpace
Names, song titles and lyrics of several bands and artists with a MySpace profile suggest a relation with freemasonry. However, in most cases, this presumption can be disproved.
The name of bands such as The Freemasons, Masonic en The Masonics evoke an association with freemasonry; however, music, lyrics, artwork and band members show no relationship at all, according to the information on their profile and website.
Masonic symbolism can be found in the artwork and song titles of Freemasonry, Masonic Temple and Masonic Abyss, but a relation or affinity with the brotherhood is also missing here.
In one of his lyrics hip hop artist Vybz Kartel addresses his membership of the 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite and he wears a Masonic ring. It is not known if he is a mason at all.
Finally, Dan Hall and Howie Damron are freemasons whose membership encouraged them to write country music dedicated to freemasonry.
Masonic references in popular music
The folder Masonic References in Popular Music provides an overview of songs in popular music that are supposed to have some relation with freemasonry. A critical analysis of these examples, results in the following concluding categories:
- the lyrics portray freemasons in a negative way;
- one or more words in the title or lyrics suggest a relation with freemasonry, but after more thorough investigation, there isn’t any;
- the title or lyrics make reference to conspiracy theories. These examples especially come from hip hop artists;
- the artwork contains masonic symbolism;
- the lyrics of one song indeed appears to touch the core of freemasonry;
- in one song, The Shriners are positioned ironically and in a humorous way.
A Rite of Passage
The song ‘A Rite of Passage’ and the accompanying video of the band Dream Theater is actually a good example of popular music, rock music, with clear and distinct references to freemasonry. The artwork of the album Black Clouds & Silver Linings and the single ‘A Rite of Passage’ display the familiar logo with compass and square. The video contains several images that are linked to freemasonry. The lyrics clearly speak of masonic themes. In all, freemasonry is approached in a positive way.
Within popular music, the number of significant and relevant references to meaning, history and symbolism of freemasonry and its tradition are very scarce and disappointing. From the multitude of popular bands and artists, there are only two musicians who appear to be a freemason. Not surprisingly, they come from the musical genre of British progressive rock.
In the history of popular music, artists have been influenced by perhaps every existing ideology or philosophical stream, and mystical ideas and symbolism have been great sources of inspiration for composing music. Why then, has the search for Masonic references in popular music only produced limited results and why is a combination apparently not that obvious or evident?
A main reason might be found in the customary topics of popular music that determine its character: popular music and the way in which it is presented, strongly focuses on adolescents, and the lyrics express themes and ideas connected to their perception, related to their world view and life phase.
The purpose and values of a freemason such as ‘elevating mankind to a higher spiritual and moral level’ or ‘knowing thyself in the spiritual sense’ might contrast or even conflict with the aspirations and thoughts that are more common in popular music. Within the music industry, the external presentation of one’s self plays an important part, while the freemason is more interested in searching his inner world. The freemason wants to progress on the rough road toward the light, out of Plato’s cave. He chooses to be confronted with reality instead of holding on to the fake reality and its addictive shadows on the wall dictated by popular culture and media.
Thus, themes from traditions of wisdom might conflict with those that are generally dominant and accepted within popular music.
Does Freemasonry belong in popular music?
Does this imply that freemasonry cannot play a role within popular music? Is there indeed no place for the noble, sublime, tasteful and delicate within the tableaux of popular culture, as David Bloom suggests in his Closing of the American Mind or is there a challenge here? Why is it that freemasonry did not produce any sound by means of a distinguishing product within popular culture? After all, freemasonry can call for an inspiring life and can appeal to an, in our times, heartfelt need for quality of life with different areas of focus than those dictated by mainstream media. In other words: does freemasonry belong in popular music?
The Temple of Humanity
In the period before and after my entrance to freemasonry, I found that the craft has a rich cultural tradition in which music is of special significance. In combination with my own musical background and training, this led me to produce an album of popular music inspired by freemasonry. I realized that the riches of the fraternity (symbolism, history, themes from its heritage and events in the rituals) excellently lend themselves for composing interesting music and writing fascinating lyrics within the conventions of popular music. Moreover, impressive art in which Masonic symbolism can be traced would be suitable to present the production in a renewing way fitting the overall concept. From a different perspective, I wanted to present inspiring and mystical themes based upon Masonic thought within popular music.
Hopefully, professional and well-presented popular music inspired by freemasonry will serve as a contemporary and attractive way of familiarizing the public with our tradition, which stimulates a distinguishing and constructive way of life. Of course, this has not been done to deny or derogate freemasonry but out of respect for its values and the tradition it cherishes.
Producing the album with all its complexities and ups and downs took several years, and ultimately it saw the light of day in may 2008. The music on the album can be characterized as progressive and symphonic rock music and provides a journey of discovery through the symbols and rituals of freemasonry. So no conspiracy theories or unnecessary secrecy, but a genuine story based upon personal experience and considerations.
Every composition has one central theme as starting point, such as the process that leads to initiation, the mystical history of freemasonry, a tribute to Mozart, a realistic qualification of prejudice and conspiracy, and the impact of the initiation on an individual. These themes can be traced back in the music and the lyrics but also in the artwork. Every song is accompanied by a piece of art with clear or hidden Masonic references. For the packaging and booklet, artists from different countries (a few of whom themselves masons) have contributed their work.
Interpretation ‘Brotherhood of Men’
So what makes The Temple of Humanity a concept album about freemasonry? What masonic references can one discover in music, lyrics, titles of the songs and the artwork? After all, the album in its entirety tells a story that is not always easy to understand, especially for the non-initiated. To illustrate the Masonic character of the album, I will finish my talk by giving a critical interpretation of one of the twelve songs, ‘Brotherhood of Men’.
‘Brotherhood of Men’
A free man is attracted to freemasonry by his inner voice. This voice is represented by the saxophone part, only hesitantly present in the introduction. Shortly before the drums join, the lodge meeting is opened, we hear the well known three knocks: one in the middle (the worshipful master), one to the right (the senior warden) and one panned to the left (the junior warden), as if the not yet initiated man of good standing is situated between the wardens in the west: chaos waits for order.
The drums start and the saxophone gives a somewhat comforting incentive, with just a few notes and some false air, as if it wants to say he’s on the right path.
Then, the candidate tells his story: ‘I was a traveler and travelled alone. On my way toward nothing. I had my dreams, my hopes and my fears. I kept looking for what was missing’. The second verse is based on an old kabalistic story. ‘I was a seeker in search of what? I searched the highest mountains. I searched on the bottom of the sea. Only to find the secret inside of me’. Only the depth of the human heart seems to be the right place to hide the secret.
In the chorus the acquaintance with the Hermetic insight follows: ‘As above, so below. From dark into the Light I needed to go’. The inner voice, sometimes difficult to hear, that drives him to continue no longer holds back, but erupts in the saxophone solo. We hear the candidate taking one last deep breath.
‘I knocked on the door and I started to pray. I opened my eyes. And the dark, the dark went away. In the chain that encircles the earth’. A journey is accomplished, in the third verse for a moment the candidate is no traveler or seeker, but just before the actual initiation time seems to stand still. He will be enclosed in the chain that encircles the earth and the presumption of the Hermetic saying is being confirmed.
After the initiation in the degrees of entered apprentice, fellow craft and master mason, something happens to the individual. Time, symbolized by the ticking sound of the bass guitar, is a necessity to let the rite do its work. The somewhat strange sounds in the bridge, symbolize this process: sounds are reversed and the saxophone has a different tone. Even your own inner reality is hard to recognize and maybe everything seems opposite. We hear the comforting sax and overtones on the guitar, tones you normally cannot hear, but nevertheless determine the essence of the sound of an instrument: the reality once hidden and veiled suddenly becomes visible and nothing seems the same.
The poem that ends the song expresses what an initiation can do with an individual. ‘Pierce your heart to find the key. What can’t be seen, try to see. With you take, what no one else would take. Lose, that the lost you may receive. Die, for no other way you can live. When earth and heaven lay down their veil. And that apocalypse turns you pale. When your seeing blinds you. To what your fellow mortals see. When their sight to you is sightless. Their living, death. Their light, most lightless. Seek no more’.
Just to give you an impression of how these thoughts can be recognized in the song, I would like to play a short piece of this second track of the album, only until the end of the saxophone solo.
My brethren, dear attendants,
Interest in popular music inspired by freemasonry begins with an inner concern on the part of the listener who wants to understand the vast scheme of things. Besides enjoying the music, lyrics and artwork, the album can hopefully be of use in gaining new, positive and necessary attention for freemasonry with the public in a modern and appealing way. I thank you for you attention.