Benjamin Straley at Washington National Cathedral

Update (octubre 2017/October 2017): For those who have e-mailed enquiring about any future articles from me about Washington National Cathedral, I appreciate that readers enjoyed my past articles and muchas gracias for your very kind words, but I haven’t watched their Liturgies in nearly a year. I’ve been watching the Liturgies from La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (Roman Catholic, France). It’s good to get out of the US and go to Europe, at least by means of video. Their Messe/Mass at Notre-Dame is far superior to the Anglican Liturgy and what they do at WNC, in my opinion. At Notre-Dame, their Messe is a sung/chanted Liturgy (alternating between the choristers, cantor, celebrant and congregation) in Latin (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc.) and most appropriate for this world-renowned medieval Roman Catholic cathedral. They don’t sing tacky little hymn-style ditties for the movements of the Mass setting like here in the US. The only hymn they sing during the Messe is during the processional following the organ improvisation, and most of the hymns they use I had not heard before. Refreshing. It’s a High Church Liturgy, which they take very seriously. Love it! I do have problems with the vibrato used by some of the choristers (from their Choir School) on occasion in this medieval cathedral (vibrato in Renaissance music?), but overall they have a superb Messe. And they know how to do a procession and, unlike Anglicans, are not afraid of incense, and they have the finest or one of the finest organs en el mundo/in the world with French organ improvisations for the procession and recessional. I hope this answers readers questions. Chau.—el barrio rosa

The original article I wrote titled, “Benjamin Straley at Washington National Cathedral” begins down the page.

Update: Benjamin Straley performed for The Orange Man: One would have hoped he would have higher standards than that! The following is my statement on the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service held at Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia on el 21 de enero de 2017/the 21st of January 2017.

Readers may know that most musicians who were asked to perform for the coronation/inauguration of The Orange Man (TOM, and hereinafter referred to as TOM) said “NO!” One-by-one they refused. Good for them. They stood on some principles. They had their integrity, self-respect and dignity.

Then there are other musicians whom I’ve lost all respect for and that’s because there was another event that was part of the inauguration where the musicians did not refuse to perform for El Hombre Naranja/TOM and his sidekick, and that’s what this article is about.

To begin with, why is there a Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service in a nation where there is supposed to be a separation of church-religion and state? I wasn’t about to watch this Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service video just as I didn’t watch the coronation/inauguration. This prayer service should have been included as part of the “Boycott the Inauguration” movement. But that would have required possessing some principles and convictions on the part of the staff at WNC. I scanned through their video of this prayer service and saw enough of it with the sound off to comment on it. I have lost all respect for everyone at Washington National Cathedral who took part in this Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service and that’s because they stand for nothing. That is so typical of Democrats, and I suspect most (if not all) of the staff at WNC are Democrats considering that the District is a city of mostly Democrats and devout Hillarybots/Obamabots.

For this prayer service, the Nave was packed with most people wearing conservative and conformist black. It looked more like a traditional funeral. I saw members of the Military Industrial ComplexTM there, including military musicians. When did Jesus stand for the military? Jesus was about peace and love, and not about the violence and barbarism of the US Military Industrial Complex Killing Machine and its neocon Project For The New American Century (PNAC) agenda of US global imperialism and world domination. Or have the staff at WNC never contemplated this concept? With Democrats, war is only bad when a Republican is in office. I saw the cathedral clergy there including the Bishop for the District of Columbia-Diocese of Washington. The Cathedral Choir of Men, Boys and Girls as well as the two organists performed for these basura, TOM and his sidekick. It’s disgusting that these musicians including the Choirmaster-Director of Music and the Organist and Associate Director of Music from Washington National Cathedral did not possess the integrity, the self-respect and dignity of the many musicians who said “NO!!” to performing for this inauguration, and this prayer service was part of the inaugural festivities. That’s why it was called the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. All the musicians who performed in WNC were performing in TOM’s presence which is no different than performing in his presence at the inauguration. And again, that’s why musician after musician refused to perform in his presence at the inauguration. I guess El Hombre Naranja didn’t know that all he needed to do was to contact “We Stand For Nothing” Washington National Cathedral and he could have easily had the full Cathedral Choir, organists Benjamin Straley and George Fergus performing for his inauguration, with Benjamin and George performing on a Digital Organ or piano. I found this disgusting and appalling behaviour on the part of WNC. I know nothing about George’s politics, but I know a little bit about Benjamin’s. Would Benjamin have been fired if he had taken a stand and gone to the Director of Music and told him that he would have to boycott this event? It’s doubtful that he would have been fired for that. Even if the cathedral was adamant about hosting this event to honour El Hombre Naranja, Benjamin could have called in a substitute organist to fill in for him as he has done on occasion in the past, such as for this Liturgy on the Day of Pentecost 2016. In fact, that substitute organist — who was superb; I loved his High Church playing — filled in for Benjamin on two occasions that I’m aware of. From my understanding, this Inaugural Prayer Service was nationally televised over the US corporate media. Did Benjamin want to play for this prayer service to get national television exposure? He has contacts in the AGO. I have no doubt that some of the substitute organists available from the AGO (the American Guild of Organists-District of Columbia Chapter) would have been delighted to play the Cathedral’s Great Organ and some of them might even be supporters of TOM so they would have had no problem playing there in his presence. Or, not being TOM’s supporters, maybe they too have no principles and convictions. Many people don’t, such as the Men of the Cathedral Choir as another example. But the point is, Benjamin would not have had to lower himself to the cesspool. Yet that’s what he chose to do. And the Men of the Cathedral Choir (they’re paid per call/per Liturgy) who were there for this prayer service deliberately chose to do this service. The Men of the Cathedral Choir — who have other musical engagements and commitments in and around the District, Maryland and Virginia — are “on-call” depending upon which men choristers are available for a Liturgy at WNC. In other words, they are not a permanent group of choristers. Some of the guys come and go from week-to-week. Whereas with some of the other men, I’ve seen them there for an extended period of time. It just depends. When I was watching their Liturgies, there would generally be a different group of men there from week-to-week, depending upon who was available from their roster of “on-call” choristers called “the professional singers.” My point is that the men who performed for this prayer service, chose to be there rather than boycott it. (Sigh. It disgusts me that some people stand for nothing!) I saw how the clergy and others paused to give respect to El Hombre Naranja/TOM by smiling and shaking his hand as they recessed. The only thing they didn’t do was to genuflect to him and bless themselves. It was a disgusting spectacle. This basura deserves no respect. Why respect an arrogant, anti-GTQBL/Queer, international bully with an enormous narcissistic ego? This guy is not “all there.” He’s off the latch. He’s absolutely repugnant and a pathetic specimen of a human being. This immature man boy in an adult body who behaves like an angry, out-of-control, elementary schoolyard bully deserves no respect at all. Respect must be earned regardless of one’s position of authority or office held and TOM has done nothing to earn anyone’s respect. His low-information, know-nothing, stupid-is-in, childish supporters are just as ugly, nasty, vile and despicable as their messiah from reading their comments on message forums. (Related: TOM’s Cult). Some of them are proud Nazis. Some of them write about “the niggers” or “negrows [sic].” Two comments I read from the supporters of TOM while writing this article read: “It’s good to have a pure Aryan in the White House” and “It’s good to have a white man back in the White House who doesn’t have a tranny wife.” (Sigh.) TOM’s disciples are anti-GTQBL and they write hateful comments about “the trannies” as you see above. The supporters of TOM are full of hate, and are proud of their ignorance. They would have lived very comfortably in Nazi Germany and they come with this Dark Ages’ mentality. They’re constantly writing comments about “libtards, libturds and DemoRATS.” They hate on anyone who is not Republican, white, with blue-eyes and with blond hair, and they make baseless assumptions about commenters they know absolutely nothing about. They are the scum of the Earth, just like TOM.

This despicable Orange Man was recorded back in 2005 bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy … you can do anything … grab them by the pussy.”

He said:

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there, and she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.” (It’s not clear who The Orange Man was talking about.)

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” [Source: TOM Was Recorded in 2005 Bragging About Grabbing Women “by the Pussy”]

And this is the basura they honoured/hosted at Washington National Cathedral and for whom their musicians performed. Repugnant! He has made sexist and misogynistic comments, TOM and his sidekick are anti-GLBTQ, he’s talked about los mexicanos being rapists and murderers and building a type of “Berlin Wall” at la frontera/the border between the US and México. I could go on listing his despicable and vile comments made during the septic 2016 US presidential campaign. His comments are well-documented. Yet this basura was honoured/hosted at WNC under the guise of a Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. Outrageous.

TOM is clearly dividing the US in half as if preparing for civil war, and he’s heavily attacking the US corporate media which are supposed to be protected under the First and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution. On his first day in office he talked about relaxing torture restrictions. Is torture what Jesus would do? Not from what I’ve learned about Jesus and from what I’ve heard them say about Jesus at WNC, so why was TOM and his sidekick being honoured/hosted in Washington National Cathedral around the same time that he made the torture comment? It was reported that TOM’s regime plan to end The National Endowment For The Arts and The National Endowment For the Humanities. Yet this cathedral church (WNC) hosts these two pieces of basura. Washington National Cathedral stand for nothing; they are without convictions despite sweet-word rhetoric to the contrary. As I’ve written before and to be blunt, they are ass-eaters and boot lickers for the Establishment no matter how heinous and despicable The Establishment. Just one example: They have hosted this piece of basura (among many others) in their forum conversations at WNC:

The hypocrites at Washington National Cathedral could have stood up, stood for something, and released a firmly-worded statement that this prayer service would not be held in Washington National Cathedral with the suggestion that it be moved to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the entire staff of WNC refusing to have anything to do with it because of their supposed-professed principles and convictions. Ha! What principles and convictions do these Establishment boot lickers have?

At the Kennedy Center, TOM could have had his Inaugural Prayer Team conduct the service which would have included Franklin Graham (the son of right-wing evangelical Billy Graham) with Franklin Graham’s long track record of anti-GLBTQ statements and frequent attacks on Muslims. Did TOM’s Inaugural Prayer Team attend the service at WNC? (Related: Here’s A Look At TOM’s Inaugural Prayer Team). The Kennedy Center Concert Hall — which comes with a fairly new pipe organ built by Casavant Frères, installed in 2012 and which could be used for a prayer service — would have been a much better venue and a secular venue for this prayer service. That’s because again (for the thick people) there is supposed to be a separation of church and state en los Estados Unidos/in the United States and this event was about celebrating the US Oligarchy/The Establishment or as TOM calls it, “The Swamp” with his cabinet full of millionaires and billionaires.

What was also galling about this spectacle was to see people of various ethnic backgrounds in attendance wearing broad smiles and honouring these two far-right repugnant candidates who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes that we know of. (Disclosure: I did not support war criminal Hillary Clinton and I’m not a Democrat so this is not “sour grapes” or a “sore loser” on my part as the TOM’s disciples like to allege.) This event should not have been held in a cathedral church of the Anglican Commmunion which claims to be pro-GLBTQ. Yet I would point out that the new Dean is a “straight” white guy, just like the former Dean and the one before him. WNC pretends/claims to stand for peace, love, equality, social justice, what Jesus taught, and other sweet word claims. Then they host this prayer service with members of the US Military Industrial ComplexTM in attendance and honouring TOM seated in the front row of the Nave. Incredible. And was that the US Army Choir I saw standing in the Sanctuary/Quire area of this Anglican cathedral?

I stopped watching the Liturgies at Washington National Cathedral at the beginning of November 2016 having become thoroughly turned off by them and what they were doing there (and probably still are) which I have written about in articles, the links of which are down the page. I’m glad I’ve moved on to High Church La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. It’s a much better and more pleasing Liturgy at Notre-Dame (although I’m not at all religious). Shame, Shame, Shame on you Washington National Cathedral! Related: Musicians need to stand for something! Chau.— el barrio rosa

Previously I wrote the following article:

This article is about Benjamin Straley, the superb organist at Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia (Los Estados Unidos/The US). Washington National Cathedral (officially known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Paul) is a cathedral church of the Anglican Communion. Also, some of the video links below do not work now and I’m aware of that but I’m leaving them there for the dates which are part of the link. WNC started their own channel on YouTube and began uploading their videos there and they shut down their own server (making the links below dead). They are slowly uploading their archived videos to YouTube but (from what I can tell) not in any particular order. As soon as they upload the videos below where those links don’t currently work, I’ll insert the new link.

UPDATE: El 16 de octubre de 2016/the 16th of October 2016: Hola. I may not be writing any more articles about Benjamin or Washington National Cathedral after the next article I’m in the process of completing and will be posting soon. The reason being: the sorry camera work of today’s Liturgy (the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, el 16 de octubre de 2016/the 16th of October 2016) where the organist was completely disrespected by their pathetic production crew’s refusal to show him at all during the Liturgy. Viewers never saw the organist. Either the camera at the organ console is broken or they’ve removed it (I’d go with the latter at the rate things are going there. Hope I’m wrong). And they don’t allow any comments under their videos to kindly enquire about it. So for today’s Liturgy, viewers were not allowed to see the organist at all for the entire Liturgy, including the playing of the Organ Prelude, during Communion and for the Organ Voluntary. Instead, we were forced to take part in production’s obsession and addiction to stained-glass windows, columns, baskets of flowers and more windows. Without seeing the organist (either Benjamin or their new Assistant Organist, George Fergus), there’s no way to know who’s playing. And watching our Benjamin perform and his artistry was a major part of my interest and pleasure in writing about him. I’ll check back in a week or so to see if this continues. If so, it’s a permanent change….backwards. UPDATE 10.23.16: The camera is back at the organ console.


First, a request to production: Can you kindly please keep the camera on Benjamin when he’s playing his organ voluntaries and Communion improvisations? He deserves the same respect given the priests when they’re speaking. You don’t dare move the camera from a priest when s/he is speaking. Well Benjamin deserves the same respect as does your Cathedral Choir. Are you really that bored by watching your own musicians? There’s plenty of time during the Homily or before the organ prelude or after the Liturgy to show scenes of the cathedral (I’m referring to your obsession with the stained-glass windows; it’s really a turn-off). Muchas gracias.

UPDATE: My more recent articles about or related to Benjamin:

1. A Tacky Big Band Widor Toccata at Washington National Cathedral (Organist Benjamin Straley)
November 2016. This is my final article about Benjamin Straley and the Liturgies and music at Washington National Cathedral.

(NOTE: Early December 2016. I’m no longer writing about Benjamin Straley or the Liturgies at Washington National Cathedral. I’m now writing about High Church La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. They have a much better Liturgy (Messe/Mass) in my opinion. It’s genuine High Church and the Nave is always full for their High Church Messe. If the two cathedral churches were side-by-side, I’d go to Notre-Dame. As I mentioned at the top of the page, I’m now writing about La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. Here’s the link to my first article in that series: Organ Improvisation by Philippe Lefebvre (Titulaire des grandes orgues de Notre-Dame de Paris). And my second article: Salve Regina at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris).)

2. Washington National Cathedral: Trying to appeal to US Pop Culture ?
November 2016.

3. Is it an Anglican cathedral or a Jazz Night Club? (Washington National Cathedral)
October 2016.

4. Benjamin Straley smoked the organ with his Improvisation-Toccata on Cwm Rhon­dda

5. Washington National Cathedral: Chant The Nicene Creed accompanied by Organist Benjamin Straley

6. Southern Baptist Revival Music at Washington National Cathedral? (Organist Benjamin Straley)

7. Why Didn’t They Hire A GLBTQ Dean At Washington National Cathedral?

8. Franck – Choral No. 3 in a minor at Washington National Cathedral

9. Herbert Howells – Rhapsody No. 1 in D Flat Major (Cathedral Organist Benjamin Straley), and Cathedral Singers of Washington National Cathedral

10. Benjamin Straley Kicks Organ Ass with St Cecilia (Washington National Cathedral)

11. Music And Liturgical Review: Trinity Sunday At Washington National Cathedral (Organist Benjamin Straley)

12. Improvisation-Toccata on Hyfrydol (Organist Benjamin Straley)

13. Music And Liturgical Review: The Day of Pentecost At Washington National Cathedral (Choirmaster Benjamin Straley)

14. Arts & Liturgical Review: Jehan Alain’s Litanies (Organist Benjamin Straley)

15. Arts Review: Benjamin Straley’s Organ Voluntary: Improvisation-Toccata on ‘Salzburg’

16. Benjamin Straley Can Play the Shit Out of Organ Music

17. Benjamin Straley’s improvisation on Mit Freuden zart


Our Benjamin has been promoted!

UPDATE: El 23 de diciembre de 2015: Hola. I have some buenas noticias/good news. Benjamin is now The Organist and Associate Director of Music at Washington National Cathedral. Yes! The other guy who was the Principal Organist was fired by the Bishop of Washington (District of Columbia). Yes, Fired! You can read more about it here. Chau.—el barrio rosa

UPDATE: El 14 de abril de 2015. Hola. Benjamin played for the memorial service of Norman Scribner (Remembering Norman Scribner, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington). For this Liturgy he played the hymns legato (which is not always how he plays them; although I don’t think by his choice. See down the page.) He’s a very fine accompanist, which is an art form. He accompanied the superb Choral Arts Society of Washington for their performance and kept the organ under them nicely. He could have easily overpowered them with the Cathedral Organ. He also turned pages for Norman’s longtime amigo, J. Reilly Lewis, who played the organ voluntaries, I presume at the request of the Scribner family. Reilly’s final organ voluntary was the Widor Toccata and I noticed that for the last chord Benjamin without even looking for the stop added a stop that he thought would be nice or was necessary for the final chord. My point is that he knows the organ so well that he doesn’t even have to look for the stop! He knew exactly where it was. I enjoyed Benjamin’s playing. He’s a superb organist. I wanted to praise him when praise is due, since I’ve also criticised him down the page. Maybe he’s gone back to being the original Benjamin Straley that I really liked when he first arrived at WNC. I’d have to watch future videos to see. Chau.—el barrio rosa

(This article revisited): El 1 de junio de 2014. Hola. So what has happened to Benjamin Straley? He’s not the same organist he was. I stopped watching the videos of the liturgies at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) awhile back because they changed their video player. On my system, in order to scan forward or backwards in the video most of the video has to play first before I can go back or forwards. They say on their website: “If the player does not work in Internet Explorer, please confirm that Flash is installed.” Who still uses IE? I use Firefox. I found one of the recent liturgies where Benjamin was playing. He hasn’t played much since Epiphany. His hymn playing is now the opposite of how he used to play hymns. What happened? He used to play hymns legato (as we were all taught to play hymns) and very refined. His hymn playing is now choppy, almost sounds staccato at times, almost sounds amateurish (instead of refined) as if the organist (Benjamin) is a good sight-reader and has never played the hymn before but is playing the hymn “by-the-book.” In the recent video I found, he was playing the hymn tune Westminster Abbey. That was the processional hymn. He played it very choppy as opposed to legato. By comparison, not long after he had been hired by WNC, he played the same hymn legato as heard in this video for the processional hymn. In that video (at that link), he plays it lovely and very legato with a grand and glorious interlude when the Bishop for the Diocese of Washington, District of Columbia makes her entrance. Mi amigo/My friend who was watching the recent video with me asked me, “what’s happened to him?” I had said nothing about Benjamin’s hymn playing at the time. He noticed the change in Benjamin without me saying anything. Mi amigo said, “he now sounds like the dry-as-dust principal organist. (I said: Yes he does.) He continued: The principal organist might as well be playing.” I agreed. I was disgusted at what I was hearing. So I went looking around for other videos where Benjamin had played and as I said earlier he hasn’t played much based on who was playing the organ voluntary at the beginning of the liturgy. He played on 02.16.14 and his hymn playing then was also bland and boring and pretty much “by the book” except for the last verse of hymns. Mi amigo asked me: From your experience as an Anglican church organist, what’s happened to him? I don’t know what’s happened to him. I know church politics can be pretty petty, nasty, very immature and intense especially in a cathedral church. Did someone at WNC ask him to play more like the principal organist? I don’t know. No one ever told me how to play anything when I was a church organist. Did someone ask him to play much more “Low Church?” (because that’s what he’s doing now). Or, is he bored with the assistant organist position? Has something happened in his personal life where he doesn’t feel like playing his usual legato “grand and glorious” High Church hymn playing style? I don’t know. He looks bored and even disinterested and perhaps as if he doesn’t want to be there. Is he pissed off about something happening in the cathedral or in the Music Department? But even so, why would that make him start playing hymns choppy and detached-sounding? Also, he used to be frequently changing registration but not now. Granted, he’s been playing Bach in the videos I saw and there’s not much registration change in Bach. I especially noticed how his hymn playing has changed deteriorated. Tell it like it is. It’s not the same person playing. I agree with mi amigo: At this rate the other guy might as well be playing who I no longer watch/listen to. I’m sorry I’m having to say this because the original Benjamin Straley at WNC was an outstandingly superb organist. This “new” Benjamin Straley is just ordinary, like the principal organist. By comparison, the organists at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in Manhattan are extraordinary in their (legato) hymn playing style and playing in general. They don’t play hymns choppy and detached. That’s my comparison. Benjamin used to be in that category. And whenever Benjamin uses solo stops to play the melody line of hymns on another manual his playing of the melody line is even more non-legato, choppy and detached. The congregation at WNC doesn’t sing at all no matter how the organist plays hymns. So this style of non-legato hymn playing can’t be for their benefit because they are not a “singing” congregation. They are a stand up and look at their hymnal or service leaflet and mumble congregation. Contrast that with St Thomas Fifth Avenue. They are a singing congregation to the point where they almost sound rehearsed. Chau.—rosa barrio

Previous updates to this article are now at the bottom of the page.

El 3 de agosto de 2013. Hola. Benjamin Straley was hired in the Summer of 2012 as Assistant Organist at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) and I immediately liked him and was hoping he would be around awhile—he was/is a refreshing change from the previous organist—and wasn’t just filling in for the organist who left.

I wish Benjamin were the Principal Organist because then Benjamin would play more often, but I presume he applied for the Assistant Organist position. He’s the best organist at Washington National Cathedral. He’s also studying to be an Anglican priest from what I’ve read about him. He studied organ with Dra Marilyn Keiser at Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. Benjamin is one of the finest organists I’ve ever heard and WNC is very fortunate to have him (I hope they know that). He plays as if it is effortless for him, which is the sign of an artist. He seems so very relaxed while he’s playing (compared with another organist who looks uptight, stiff and rigid. I won’t name names.) I always look forward to seeing Benjamin at the organ console. Unfortunately Washington National Cathedral is rather Low Church, and almost seems to be getting lower. (“Is that a cry of pain I hear on the line?” as Hyacinth Bucket [pronounced bouquet] of “Keeping Up Appearances” asked the Vicar’s spouse). Yes, one can hear a cry of pain from me with Low Church as I’m a High Church person. Benjamin’s playing makes the Liturgy feel higher church by his artistry and he seems to know the cathedral organ thoroughly. Organ registration is one of his strong interests and expertise. He’s frequently changing settings, stops and thumb/toe pistons for the particular sound he wants. He also doesn’t play the hymns “dry as dust” as someone else does, but rather plays each verse differently (different registration) and spices up the last verse especially with more elaborate harmonies (often giving a “grand and glorious” feel) and he also sometimes uses creative organ interludes in between verses, which I like a lot. He has played for Liturgies where the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, District of Columbia, was present. The organ fanfare he provided for her entrance one would have thought that Her Majesty the Queen were arriving. That’s how good it was.

Benjamin played a piece just before the Introit for the Choral Eucharist on July 14, 2013. At first, I thought he was improvising. He needed to fill time after the Organ Voluntary (Cantilene from Sonata No. 11 by Josef Rheinberger) at the beginning of the Liturgy and he played a piece not listed on the service leaflet. The piece reminds me of the Anglican composer Herbert Howells. I hear Howells in this piece, but from listening to quite a few organ works by Howells, I don’t know that it’s Howells. I don’t know who the composer is. Regardless of whether it’s Benjamin’s improvisation or a composed piece by someone, he played it from memory. It’s a beautiful piece. If you’d like to watch him play it and listen to it, it begins near the beginning of the video (first link below) at 1.25. The piece begins in the pedals. And at the beginning Benjamin looks like he’s reading the score on the left side of the music rack but then pretty much looks like he’s playing from memory from then on. The piece is very fitting for the times we’re living in and that’s one thing that spoke to me about it, especially the section from 5.50 on in the video.

Girasol Amarillo

Girasol Amarillo

In case you’re wondering, the organ console at Washington National Cathedral is in the very back of the Quire area (on the right side if you’re facing the High Altar) of the Cathedral and the organist has a television-type monitor above the music rack for watching the Choirmaster (who stands near the free-standing altar) and for watching the Nave (the processions, reading of The Gospel, etc).

The choral music for this same Liturgy (July 14, 2013, Eighth Sunday of Pentecost) is also excellent. Because the WNC School is closed for the Summer, they had the visiting Girl Choristers of Christ Church Cathedral (Lexington KY) join the Men of the Washington National Cathedral Choir and they sang works by Stanford and Franck. So check out Benjamin’s playing and the rest of the Liturgy. Enjoy. Chau.—rosa barrio

Washington National Cathedral Direct Video Link: July 14, 2013. Eighth Sunday of Pentecost

Service Leaflet for July 14, 2013. Eighth Sunday of Pentecost

A special treat at 1:48:30 into the follow video (from the Diocesan Ordination Service):
Organ Voluntary: Benjamin Straley plays Final, from ‘Organ Symphony No. 1’ by Louis Vierne
Benjamin’s page turner, one of the Men of the Cathedral Choir (he’s a countertenor), looks like he’s enjoying it and knows the piece well.

Washington National Cathedral Worship Archive Link

P.S. One of the other organists I like at WNC is Dr Jeremy Filsell. Jeremy is the Artist-in-Residence. He used to play more at WNC, but since Benjamin arrived Jeremy hasn’t played much or at all. I think Jeremy is now Director of Music at another Anglican/Episcopal church in the District. He played Henri Mulet’s Tu es petra for his organ voluntary el 26 de agosto 2012. I enjoyed it. You can watch him play it in this video (link above) at the end of the Liturgy at 01.11.10.

Related Articles:

Benjamin Straley’s improvisation on Mit Freuden zart

Herbert Howells: St Paul’s Service (Washington National Cathedral)


UPDATE to this article: El 8 de diciembre de 2013. Hola. Well that didn’t last long, did it?. I’m referring to the discontinuing of the use of incense at Washington National Cathedral for the principal Liturgy on Domingo/Sunday mornings. I’m not surprised the incense is gone. As I’ve written before, I got the distinct impression that there was very little interest in incense to begin with the way it was rushed through by most of the priests. I’m wondering now whether it was Benjamin who suggested they use incense—he comes across to me as High Church and he’s studying to be an Anglican priest—so they used incense for awhile and that was long enough. Now put it back in the closet. We won’t need that anymore. Too bad. Sorry to see that happen. But typical and unfortunately expected. Chau.—rosa barrio

UPDATE to this article: El 17 de septiembre de 2013. Hola. I thought I would put this here since this is the only article we have about Washington National Cathedral (WNC) at this time. Unfortunately, this past Domingo/Sunday Benjamin didn’t play and anyone with an ear for music knew he wasn’t playing. The principal organist was playing and damn, he played every verse of every hymn the same way. BORING. If I were in the congregation I would be asking myself: How many more verses of this boring hymn do we have for christ’s sake? It just keeps going on and on all sounding the same. I did ask myself: Can’t the organist improvise or was he taught to play every verse of a hymn note-for-note the way it’s in the hymnal? And the way he plays the cathedral organ he might as well be playing a Hammond organ in a parish somewhere. I take it he doesn’t like full and lush organ accompanist—such as what Benjamin uses—to lead the congregation (as they do at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, for example). I think he can improvise because I presume the music he played after the reading of The Gospel was an improvisation (that was pretty good), although maybe he was playing a composed fanfare from some score he bought somewhere. I don’t know. Benjamin Straley plays each verse of a hymn differently. From my own personal experience, when I was organist in Anglican churches I never played every verse the same way. I would have fallen asleep at the console if I had to do that because frankly some hymns can get monotonous (like the hymn playing from this principal organist guy at WNC). I presume he’s never heard of changing the harmonies, interludes, modulations to a different key and the like. As I’ve said before (down the page), Benjamin’s playing gives a High Church feel to the Liturgy at WNC. The opposite is the case for this principal organist. His playing is boring and dull and he looks stiff, rigid and uptight at the console. He’s fine with organ voluntaries (something already written out for him) but overall I can’t listen to him. His playing—especially his dry-as-dust hymn playing—drives me up the wall. Down the page I wrote that it looks like WNC is making the main liturgy on Sunday a High Church service with incense and sung responses before/after The Gospel, for example. That seems to be a permanent change which I’m very pleased with. I did notice that the Thurible seems to run out of burning coals or something. It would be nice to see more smoke coming out of it. And the acolytes looked more polished now. So when might we have the pleasure of hearing and seeing Benjamin again at the cathedral organ? Chau.—rosa barrio

UPDATE to this article: El 19 de agosto de 2013. Hola. I watch the liturgies at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) when Benjamin is at the organ. I couldn’t listen to the Offertory Anthem or much of the Communion Anthem yesterday because of the god-awful wobbling vibrato from the sopranos. TURN IT OFF, POR FAVOR! And their director (who was not Michael McCarthy, the Choirmaster) didn’t seem to have the sense to tell them “No Vibrato.” The countertenors, tenors and basses didn’t have vibrato in the Thomas Tallis. Just the sopranos. The sopranos did not “match” the rest of the choir. Couldn’t their director hear that? They were singing a piece by Thomas Tallis for the Communion Anthem. They (the Cathedral Singers) sang the same piece last Summer with mostly different sopranos and at that time they sang the Tallis beautifully with no vibrator and Michael McCarthy was conducting that. The muchacho who serves as principal organist was conducting yesterday (one wonders: is he trying to conduct or fly?…watching him conduct I think he would be difficult to follow and just for a point of reference I had the privilege of singing in the major Orchestra Choruses—Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus, Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington and Robert Shafer’s Oratorio Society of Washington—when I lived in the District). He certainly doesn’t conduct like Julian Wachner (of Trinity Wall Street and The Washington Chorus) who is very easy to follow from watching Julian conduct the superb Trinity Choir at Trinity Wall Street. I enjoy watching Julian at Trinity. But how this guy got hired for principal organist/assistant choirmaster at WNC is beyond me! Glad to see WNC becoming more High Church with incense and singing the responses before and after The Gospel reading. A suggestion for them: Changes in the liturgy such as these require rehearsal of those changes and I can tell by watching that rehearsals have probably not been held. Some of the new changes look a little chaotic at times. The acolytes are not looking as polished as they used to, as one example. Rehearse these changes so that they look like you’ve been doing them all your life. I really like the use of incense but I get turned off by the priests who have this, “Do we have to do THIS?” look and then rush through the incense as if it’s a bother to them. What exactly is the point of using incense if you’re going to rush through it (such as the priest who read The Gospel yesterday and last Domingo/Sunday, as well as the priest who celebrated yesterday)? There is no shortage of Low churches around if one prefers Low church. I think Benjamin was having trouble with the cathedral organ again. Last week one note (I think it was a G sharp) was sticking after his grand and glorious High Church improvisation after the reading of The Gospel. He’s a brilliant organist. I was listening to his improvisation after that Communion Anthem (with the wobbling sopranos) yesterday and his improvisation somewhat reminded me of the music of Pat Metheny (of the Pat Metheny Group…one of my favourite jazz groups) especially some of the sorta jazz harmonies Benjamin used. It was lovely. They removed the Communion hymn which I think was a good idea. I’m glad that WNC seems to be heading in a more High Church direction, at least for now. It adds a lot to the Liturgy. Of course there are those in the congregation (not the resident congregation, per se) who look like they don’t have any idea where they are. They are just there). Chau.—rosa barrio

9 comments on “Benjamin Straley at Washington National Cathedral

  1. Robert

    What was your experience like with Anglican priests when you were an organist? How was your rapport with them?

    1. rosa_barrio Post author

      Hola Robert, generally very good. I only had one bad experience which was my last church job at an Anglo-Catholic parish—a terrible pipe organ—where the priests tried to tell me how to do the music, which they had no training in. I disagreed with them and wasn’t there that much longer after that. I did feel badly for many of the parishioners because they came to me and told me that they hated to see me leave because they always enjoyed the music as it was “always so joyful” they said. Well I appreciated that. I always tried to make the music grand and glorious in High Church style and more like what one would hear in an Anglican cathedral than a parish.

      The one thing I did consistently notice about Anglican priests is that they didn’t know how to pronounce Latin correctly, and I don’t know why that is. So for example, they would refer to the “Sanctus” part of the mass setting and mispronounce it “Sanctas” (using the “a” sound as as in the English word “Sand”). They also did the same with “Agnus Dei.” They mispronounced that as the English woman’s name “Agnus,” again with the wrong vowel sound. I thought to myself: Haven’t you ever been to a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, for example, and listened to the well-trained Symphony Orchestra Chorus sing the text? I can assure you they didn’t pronounce it the way you’re pronouncing it! I probably pronounced the Latin text after them not trying to sound as if I were correcting them but I don’t think any of them picked up on it. I would think to myself: this is pretty basis stuff and I would have thought correct Latin pronunciation would have taught in the seminary school, no? What exactly did you learn there? Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  2. Sylvia

    Washington National Cathedral strikes me as weird. I think they try too hard to be how you say, “all things to all people” and it doesn’t work. There ends of being a clashing of styles. Southern baptist right next to high church. I’ve heard them sing the hymn We’re Marching to Zion there during the procession in one video I was watching. That’s a southern baptist hymn. I mean real southern baptist. I’ve heard them sing Leaning on the Everlaasting Arms. That’s a southern baptist hymn too. They sang that hymn just before their high church chant before the Gospel reading. It was weird. It felt like I was in a southern baptist church and then I quickly ran across the street to a high Anglican church. Two very different churches. Don’t know who chooses these hymns but I’ve never heard an Anglican church sing either of those hymns. Would they prefer to be southern baptist rather than part of the Anglican Communion? Maybe this has something to do with what you wrote about a change in Benjamin, and you’re not alone in noticing it.

  3. Alejandro

    Is Benjamin Straley gay? I’m asking for a couple of reason. I’m hoping that he’s a “member of the club” and you wrote in one of your articles that you like hearing when a musician is gay and you mentioned concert pianist Stephen Hough. You recently learned he’s gay. Just wondering if you know anything about Benjamin.

    1. rosa_barrio Post author

      Hola Alejandro. I think Benjamin is gay, but I don’t know for sure. My very reliable gaydar tells me is, although he may still be in the closet and “discreet.” When I was researching his musical training after he was hired as Assistant Organist at WNC, I read something somewhere (I forget where it was) and he listed people he would like to meet and he included two GLBTQ celebrities on the US corporate media. Would a “straight” guy be interested in meeting two GLBTQ celebrities? I also noticed that he was chosen as organist (and not the other guy) for the Cathedral’s special service celebrating the Supreme’s same-gender marriage ruling. And I sense he’s a bit conservative. He doesn’t like earrings on guys. (I like earrings and rad earplugs on guys. I think they’re caliente). Also, I think many of the Men of the Cathedral Choir are Queer boys. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

    1. rosa_barrio Post author

      Hola Brian. And you probably won’t see that anywhere else, hopefully. I’ve never liked that either. Why are they sitting there? In my opinion, if the Cathedral Choir sat in The Quire—where they belong—it would look High(er) Church. As it is now, it looks Low Church (which is what they seem to prefer at WNC). Why would the Cathedral Choir sit somewhere else than where it was acoustically designed for them to sing? I suspect the reason given for it would be that the sound of the Choir “carries” better outside the choir stalls. Well if that’s supposedly the case, why do they use the choir stalls for Choral Evensong? Or is that because most of the congregation sits up in The Quire area for Choral Evensong? And if the choir can’t “carry” outside their own choir stalls into the Cathedral, doesn’t that mean they are a weak choir? Sitting inside the choir stalls doesn’t seem to be a problem in England. I’ve not heard about any problems with sound “carrying” there in the various Cathedral Churches. For a Liturgy, I’ve never seen a Cathedral Choir in the UK sit outside the choir stalls designed for them. And the occasional visiting Anglican choirs to WNC from the UK must find it odd that they are asked to sit outside The Quire.

      From where the organ console is at WNC, I’ve heard that the organist cannot hear the congregation singing. Well that would especially be true when they don’t sing, which is the case at WNC. It’s difficult to hear people (what I call) mumble-singing. The resident congregation sings quietly, I think, but if one looks at the many visitors/tourists (from the back of the Nave forward during the procession), they’re often standing looking straight ahead or somewhere else with their arms folded. Not even involved or singing, even when the hymn being sung is one of the hymns found in many christian denomination hymnals, so one would think they might know that hymn or at least make an effort. I agree with Lee’s comment in that there’s no reason for Michael to be conducting hymns (and looking behind him…I’ve noticed that too) and Benjamin having to watch Michael in the monitor as Michael conducts the hymn, or at least that’s the way it looks. Gracias to you and Lee for your comments. Chau.

  4. Lee

    Hymn playing is a chore in the cathedral. Organists have to listen & understand the problem and then ignore it or correct it later. First, is it possible to send Michael McCarthy back to England ? He might be most of the problem. He also might be a fine director; but, his directing looks awkard & bad. Why does he attempt to direct many things as he turns around and looks at other clergy members and out in the nave ? That looks awkard ! All he needs to do is look like a choir member and sing. He can sing; can’t he ? The organist can hear and listen and play hymns without Michael McCarthy. I’m sure the cathedral paid a lot of money to get him to the U.S. I wonder how much money it would cost to send him back to England ? When the new part of the nave opened in 1976, it was evident that playing hymns would be a problem. Detached playing might help. I’m sure that Ben has tried and experimented with several ideas. I have an idea or two that will help; but, I have not heard the telephone ring yet !

Fin. The End.