MEMORIZING AND DELIVERING THE WORK
Bro. Myron Lusk
As I look around this lodgeroom, I see many accomplished ritualists. You are quite accustomed to hearing your brethren say how easily you memorize the Work. No one knows better than you how simplistic that assumption is. The photographic memory we hear about is certainly a rare thing, if not a myth. The reality is that you probably approach the task of memorizing with a higher degree of discipline, concentration and organized system which works for you. I do not feel presumptuous speaking about this subject to men who are experts. Achievers are always alert to hear ideas from others who share their interests. That is why they are winners.
Without a doubt, I believe that the greatest preparation for committing anything to memory is to understand thoroughly that which we intend to memorize. We must understand what the writer intended to communicate, what it means to us and what our delivery will ultimately mean to those who listen. All three considerations are important.
First, I recommend sitting down in a quiet, well lit location with a dictionary at your side. Read the entire piece. Then, read it again, stopping to consult the dictionary for meaning and pronunciation of any words which bring questions to mind. The dictionary is an indispensable "working tool". Many words in our ritual are obscure to modern day conversation. We must be aware that there may be several meanings to consider. Time, custom and fashion have a way of changing or distorting the connotation of words, so we must give consideration to this in forming our interpretation.
Read the piece over and over again. You cannot read it too much. Impress it indelibly on your mind. This initial contact will prove its value manyfold. Understanding what you are talking about will make memorization infinitely more pleasant, lend creditability to your presentation and earn the confidence and attention of your audience.
Now read it ALOUD. You have done your study to understand the piece; now become familiar with its SOUND. Much like memorizing music, the writing will have a rhythm and continuity in our mind's ear. Read the piece, aloud, over and over until it sounds comfortable and familiar. I liken this preparation to learning to swim. Until you gain the confidence that you can FLOAT, I think that learning the mechanics of swimming is a waste of time.
Now, and only after this mental familiarity with the subject, is it time to begin memorizing the Work. Technically, you will have done a lot more memorizing than you may realize.
Always memorize by sentences or complete statements and thoughts. Do NOT attempt to memorize by rote. Word by word commitment can be accomplished but it never produces a smooth, natural delivery. It will also leave you vulnerable to mental blocks and lapses caused by the loss of a single word. When you memorize thoughts or statements you are capable of "ad-libbing", if necessary.
This does not mean that I advocate innovation or deviation from the ritual. I love to hear the Work perfectly quoted, but I see no great crime in describing an Officer's "performance" of his duties rather than the "discharge" of his duties. But I think the dignity and impact of the ritual is diminished by stumbling, hesitant delivery, continually interrupted by prompting. When a Brother smoothly substitutes a word, it is apparent that he knows what he is talking about. When he is thrown by a single word it brings doubt. I never feel completely complimented when someone tells me I was "word perfect". I strive for that goal, but more importantly, I desire to convey the message of Masonry in the most tender and meaningful way within my capability.
There will be certain words which are troublesome to memorize. For some unknown reason they continue to bother you. I find I must not dwell on the individual word too much or it becomes even more troublesome. I try to make the problem disappear by reciting the complete sentence over and over until the word becomes part of the statement, rather than a single word.
It is valuable to speak ALOUD when memorizing. It helps establish the sound in your mind and is the first step in building style. I find it helpful to recite the ritual while standing. It simulates the physical situation of your actual delivery. Similarly, practising the Work in the lodgeroom prepares you to be more comfortable in that atmosphere.
As soon as possible, you should divest yourselves of the luxury of holding the book of the Work. It is all too easy to fool yourself that you know the Work by sneaking a peek. You will not have that book on the floor of the lodge. It doesn't look good with your tuxedo.
Observe the punctuation marks in the ritual. The commas, semicolons, colons, colons and periods will help you with phrasing. You should deliver the Work in your own style, rather than to attempt to imitate our favourite ritualist. Try to speak from the heart. Everyone has his own touch to add to Masonry's beauty.
Practise, practise, practise! Make use of every opportunity. For example, I find my travel time on the road perfect. Before I know it I have driven from Edmonton to Calgary and have memorized another bit of Work or freshened up one I have not done for a while.
Assuming that you have done your homework you now know your Work and know that you really do KNOW it. Now, comes the moment of truth. You must be mentally and emotionally prepared to deliver it. I always sit near the situation in the lodge where my Work will be performed. I make particular note of the piece of Work which precedes mine so there is no anxiety or surprise. I recite the first sentence of my piece mentally as the guide positions the Candidate, take several deep breaths to relax and slowly move into position.
You can make yourself and the subject more relaxed and attentive by displaying a friendly countenance. Remember, you are among brethren. Each of them has stood where you stand. Each of them has felt the "butterflies" too. All of them want you to succeed.
You should position yourself so you can be seen and heard to best advantage. When working in the East, a 450 angle will still give the impression of addressing the Master, while allowing you to be observed and heard instead of talking to the wall. Remember, what you say is for the benefit of the whole lodge, not just your subject. Project your voice! We are all capable of speaking from the diaphragm rather than the throat alone. What a difference it makes! Speak out, enunciate, vary your delivery speed and pause for effect. Your audience cannot comprehend as quickly as you can speak, so do not rush. What you have to say is important. One of the most common mistakes made is to let the voice tall off at the end of a sentence. Be conscious of this pitfall and maintain audibility.
When you are demonstrating something you should demonstrate. For example: "I now present to you the Working Tools of a Fellowcraft, which are the Square, (display it to the Candidate and then pass it to him for his examination), the Level, (do the same), and the Plumb Rule, (do so again). This involves the subject, informs him and holds his attention. Be demonstrative, but excessive gesticulation is distracting and produces an undesirable, melodramatic effect.
None of us is perfect. Each of us can have a mental lapse or a nervous loss of concentration. When this happens you should calmly turn to the Director of Ceremonies and ask for a word. As I said before, you are among brethren, They want you to do well. They love you.
What I have offered you today is only part of what could be said. It may be nothing new to you. Perhaps you have learned something. Maybe I have reminded you of something you already know but have neglected to apply for a while; whatever the case, I offer these suggestions for your consideration. Coining the phrase from our Installation Ceremony, I say" "Suffice it to mention that what you have seen praiseworthy in others, it is expected you will carefully imitate."