Musician and educator Alan Mason has played the world’s greatest venues including Carnegie Hall, the White House and the Vatican. He’s most at home, however, playing for friends and family in the sanctuary at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, where he will be honored this weekend for 25 years of service.
“My aesthetic, my musical taste, my sensibility and my religious awareness is what brings a quality to what I do to allow it to flourish for 25 years of service at Temple Israel, and, in a peripheral view, to all the temples in the area,” says Mason, the Reform synagogue’s longtime music director for an estimated 1,500 Shabbat and holiday services.
Mason, 58, “is one of the country’s leading accompanists for Jewish music,” according to Temple Israel’s website.
He is founder and program director of the national Winter Jewish Music Concert and from 1994-2014 was an assistant and associate music professor at Barry University.
In 2007, Mason performed at the White House Hanukkah party for President and Mrs. George W. Bush and guests. He has twice played at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in concerts presented by Pro Musica Hebraica. He has also performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, the Vatican, in London and throughout Israel.
Mason was born in New York City and grew up in Westchester.
“Jewish values, Jewish principles, Jewish lifestyles were at all times present in my immediate and extended family,” Mason says. “Because my brother is eight years younger than me, long after my bar mitzvah at the age of 13, my family remained involved in synagogue life. I had younger brothers, so there was reason to remain connected to temple life.”
Always a talented pianist, Mason soon found himself playing for family and friends at weddings and bar mitzvahs throughout Westchester and Long Island.
Mason went to college and graduate school in New York City at the Manhattan School of Music. A decade later, he moved to South Florida and earned a doctor of musical arts degree at University of Miami.
“What was greatly beneficial to me as a doctoral student: I already had 11 years of full-time university teaching under my belt in my résumé. I already entered this doctoral program with the ability to teach, write, research, perform and lecture,” he says. “The skill set developed in New York City is some of the highest attainable. There’s an ambition and drive and standard for excellence in New York that makes one very well prepared to function professionally across the country. I don’t want sound like a New York snob, but you attain a standard of excellence in New York City.”
While a UM student in 1990, Mason met Temple Israel’s then-cantor, Rachelle Nelson.
“She saw the potential in me — the rudimentary skill set necessary to play the piano in a synagogue,” Mason says. “She brought me into Temple Israel for some occasional programming and events, as needed. By 1991, I wound up at Temple Israel on a fairly regular basis. That was 25 years ago. The funny story I tell people is that I was never hired. I never had a conversation with anyone organizationally, it just was a natural, effortless transition. I became the pianist who was playing for services at Temple Israel.”
Mason says that working in a synagogue, “I get to become present to my own Jewishness.”
“Working with children, I get to be inspired by being a part of Jewish continuity. I don’t have children of my own. I’m not going to have children of my own, so where can my own passion for Jewish continuity thrive? It strives for what I can provide for younger Jewish people.”
Mason’s life changed again in 1998, when a mutual friend introduced him to Miami appellate attorney Robert Glazier.
“It’s what we call in Jewish tradition, a shidduch, an introduction,” Mason says. “1998 predates iPhones, cellphones and Facebook. The only way to meet was exchanging voicemails on a telephone. I told him, ‘If you ever want to see who I am, I play the piano at Temple Israel every Friday night.’ He came to Temple Israel the Friday night after Thanksgiving, the fall of 1998. We had both just turned 40 and were unattached. How does it happen? At no time at all, we were a committed couple. Within a short few weeks a committed couple.”
Glazier joined Temple Israel. “His leadership skills quickly leaked out, revealed themselves to the more seasoned congregants,” Mason said. “In a very short period of time, he was serving on the board, chairing important committees at Temple Israel and served as the president of Temple Israel from 2005 to 2007.”
Says Glazier: “They trusted Alan. And if Alan trusted me, they trusted me.”
In 2000, Glazier, Mason and other Temple Israel congregants took the bold step of coming out publicly and launching Ru'ach, the area’s first mainstream LGBT havurah, or fellowship.
“I like a mainstream synagogue that is fully welcoming of gays and lesbians,” Glazier told the Miami Herald 16 years ago. “That meets my spiritual needs better than a predominately gay and lesbian temple. I like the diversity that exists at Temple Israel.”
Mason and Glazier married Sept. 27, 2010, in Greenwich, Connecticut. Several days later, they had a religious wedding ceremony at Temple Israel.
Three years ago, Glazier was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He has documented his medical battle and continues to raise awareness about the disease, which has a five-year survival rate of only 7 percent.
“That initial shock was something they both couldn’t come to terms with,” says Mark Nedlin, a close family friend and fellow Temple Israel member. “That whole time was like a carpet pulled out from under [Alan]. Robert’s illness — that he’s going to die, that death is expected — only God knows when. Alan is a remarkable person. He’s able to adapt. He’s worn many hats. Whatever life throws him, he’ll do it again.”
Nedlin describes Mason and Glazier as “a strong, dynamic couple in a very quiet way.”
“They’re not activists. They’re not involved in the gay world, they’re really not. They’ve been this tower of a couple for all these years and have not really been out and about. They’ve been quiet about it. They’ve shown a very beautiful side to gay couples, making it normal and accepted. In a quiet way, they’ve paved the way.”
This weekend, Temple Israel will honor Mason at its Friday night service (featuring an appearance by the synagogue’s former cantorial soloist, Karina Zilberman) and with a special concert Saturday night.
“I’m awed by it beyond belief,” Glazier says. “Synagogues honor rabbis, cantors, they honor clergy. Generally, they don’t honor the guy who plays the piano. I say with a little bit of embarrassment and a lot of pride, that Alan has had such an effect on the community that they’re honoring him.”
If you go
▪ What: Winter Jewish Music Concert Presents Alan Mason 25th Anniversary Concert
▪ Where: 137 NE 19th St., Miami
▪ When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7
▪ Tickets: $36 plus $2.25 service fee. www.jewishconcert.org/tickets or call Temple Israel Executive Director Joel Berger at 305-573-5900