Rees Mason Taught Music, Hosted Community Sings

Rees Mason died at home on August 10. She was born in 1915 in Raleigh, N.C., one of the four daughters of Michael Finger and Mary Browdy Finger, and was named Clarise Diane.

When Rees was 12 her family moved to Baltimore. The family was musical - her father played banjo and mandolin, and all four girls sang - and Rees showed exceptional talent for dancing and singing from age four. In Baltimore, she won a full scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory Preparatory Department. For the next five years, while also attending a separate junior high and high school, she studied music, dance and voice for three or more hours every day at Peabody.

In 1935, on a visit to New York, she met Jerry Mason, a freelance journalist who had also grown up in Baltimore, and the following year they married. Jerry was also passionate about music, and a few years later began writing a record review column in addition to writing for and editing magazines. Rees decided not to pursue a professional career in music, but she met and played music with a number of the fine classical, jazz, Broadway, blues and folk musicians and composers who were based in or passed through New York city from the 1930s through the 1950s.

In 1948, Rees, Jerry and their two children, Judy and Michael, moved to Pound Ridge, N.Y., then a rural town of about 400 families. Rees and Jerry became two of the fewer than 30 Democratic voters in the town, and it was at that time that Rees developed an abiding passionate interest in American politics. She was very active in the League of Women Voters and ran for town supervisor on the Democratic ticket, winning a remarkable number of votes. Always aware of the lack of gathering places for young people in the small, decentralized town, she played a central role in the establishment of a small town park with fine recreational facilities.

For 35 years, Rees taught piano in Pound Ridge, using a method she developed that emphasized improvisation and encouraged children's realization of their own innate musicality. In addition to private lessons, for many years she held Sunday afternoon improvisational music-making sessions for all of her pupils who wished to come. She worked for several years with the Young Audiences organization in New York city, as a New York liaison between visiting professional musicians and schools where they presented special concerts for young people.

In 1953, Jerry Mason established a small, innovative book publishing and production company, specializing in books that combined photographs and text, usually published in multiple international editions. Rees encouraged Jerry to take the kind of financial risks that allowed him to do this, advised and supported him creatively, and traveled widely with him on business trips in the United States and abroad. The Family of Man was one of the first books they produced.

Rees and Jerry Mason began coming to the Vineyard in the summer of 1948. In the early 1950s their home became one of the central up-Island places where large numbers of people would gather weekly for singing and guitar playing. The popularity of Rees's "sings" eventually outgrew her living room, leading her to become involved in the creation of the Chilmark Community Center.

In 1971, Rees and Jerry bought and gently spruced up an old farmhouse on Stonewall Beach in Chilmark, where they spent more time each year, eventually moving there full-time. A few years after Jerry's death in 1991, Rees moved to West Tisbury. She was a regular attendee and supporter of music performances at the Wintertide Coffeehouse, and helped establish the Rising Tide organization, responsible for the "movable Wintertide" series of concerts that maintained the continuity of Vineyard music performance venues. Rees was also an avid writer. She spent many years documenting her life experiences in a book to be called American Citizen. Most notable are her many spirited and powerful poems.

Rees encouraged and influenced a number of young and old musicians through her lifelong belief that all people are innately musical, as well as through the sense she communicated that music was deeply connected to and expressive of the humanistic community, social, political and moral values that she cared so much about. Among the devoted musicians and music lovers she encouraged and leaves enriched by her values and teachings are her daughter, Judy Mason of Morro Bay, Calif., a photo editor and researcher; her son, Michael Mason, of Martha's Vineyard, a composer and writer; her granddaughter, Justine Underhill of San Francisco, vice president of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs; her granddaughter, Molly Underhill of Nashville, Tenn., a singer and dancer, and her two grandsons, Willy and Sam Mason of Martha's Vineyard, both very active Island musicians.

Friends are invited to bring an instrument and join the family for a musical celebration of Rees's life at the Abel's Hill Cemetery on Saturday, August 17, at 10 a.m. In case of rain, the celebration will be held at 24 Pioneer Lane in West Tisbury.

In lieu of flowers, the family would greatly appreciate a donation to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. Arrangements are under the care of Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs.