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

Update 2017: Cathedral Organist Benjamin Straley performed for Donald Trump. One would have hoped he would have higher standards than that! Read more about that here at the top of the page.

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.

Hola a todos. They had an outstanding guest organist on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 28, 2016) at Washington National Cathedral (WNC and a cathedral church of the worldwide Anglican Communion) in the District of Columbia. He also served as guest organist on The Day of Pentecost 2016 when Cathedral Organist, Benjamin Straley, served as Choirmaster on that day, which I wrote about at that link. Unfortunately, I don’t know his name because WNC doesn’t feel it important that we know his name or the names of other musicians nor do they feel the need to respect musicians by printing their names on the service leaflet. So musicians often remain a mystery or anonymous. As a musician, I’m curious to know something about other musicians and their background. But when it comes to the priests, they never fail to list them and other “worship leaders.” Also, they print the title of the pieces on the service leaflet that the guest organist told them he was going to play, but for some reason they can’t seem to find their way down to the bottom of the service leaflet under the “Worship Leaders” section to type his name as “Guest Organist.” And even though our Benjamin has been organist there for years, even his name has yet to appear permanently on the service leaflet as Cathedral Organist and Associate Director of Music. What is wrong with these people at WNC?! I would like to say this to those responsible for doing the service leaflet (and as Hyacinth Bucket – “it’s Bouquet” would say to them): “You have some serious discrepancies in your department!…Are you sure you’re in the right job? … Oh I know, have you considered flower arranging? (instead)” To appreciate that quote, you would need to have watched the British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances” with Patricia Routridge as our Hyacinth.

So hereinafter I will refer to the Guest Organist by the initials GO, for “Guest Organist” since that’s all I have to go on.

Like our Benjamin, the GO played splendidly. He’s a superb High Church organist. How did he end up playing there again? He must have been Benjamin’s excellent choice. I really appreciated his playing. And because of that there are a few things I thought I’d point out that readers might want to hear from the Liturgy:

His prelude was the Franck Choral No. 3 in a minor. I enjoyed that work from the French organ repertoire. I think my favourite part was from the pedal point section on to the end. He had the cathedral rumbling with the — was that the? — 64′. It must have been thrilling to walk in there when he was playing that piece, especially the last few pages. This is music I would expect to hear in a cathedral church.

The pieces he selected to play for this Liturgy were from the French organ repertoire. I noticed that he seems to know the cathedral’s Great Organ as well as our Benjamin and he plays in an equally relaxed manner. Very at ease with the cathedral organ and not afraid of the organ at all, as some organist can be, unfortunately.

I’d recommend readers listen to his High Church improvisation following the reading of The Gospel.

He also played a rather High Church elaborate improvisation as an introduction to the Closing Hymn for that processional (or some people call that the recessional). I liked that a lot. His signature style is that of a High Church organist. And because of that, if he were the permanent organist there I suspect he would be reeled in, suppressed, oppressed, depressed and told to, “tone it down, por favor…this is not a High Church.” (He might be thinking to himself: As long as I’m here, it will be a High Church, thank you very much). If he were told to tone it down, I’d suggest to keep him and get rid of the person or people telling him to tone it down.

And finally, his organ voluntary was the SASSY Fête, Op. 51 by the French composer Jean Langlais. He worked it!

You know, there are occasions where one can feel disappointed that the Guest Organist is not as good or of the same caliber as the permanent Organist, but in this instance that was not the case at all. If one didn’t know, one would have thought that Benjamin was playing. Although the one thing the GO did that I’ve not heard Benjamin do (and I wish he would) is that High Church improvisation which began the Closing Hymn. That was really nice. Very inspiring to me — I’ve watched/listened to that many times — and I don’t recall Benjamin ever doing that on the last hymn. (Although would that be too High Church for someone there? We all know who I’m talking about, don’t we? He was not there on this Domingo/Sunday. They had a guest Choirmaster and he was also not listed on the service leaflet). But both the GO and Benjamin are of the same High Church caliber. Muchísimas gracias to Benjamin for having this guy back as Guest Organist. He was a pleasure to listen to and watch.

Here are the timing for the pieces I mentioned:

Franck: Beginning of video with part of the piece cut off by production
Improvisation following the reading of The Gospel = 32.10 into the video
Improvisation into Closing Hymn (after the Blessing from the priest): 1.23.30 into the video
Organ Voluntary (Langlais): 1.27.20 (after the Closing Hymn)

Service Leaflet

One comment on “Franck – Choral No. 3 in a minor at Washington National Cathedral

  1. Conservatory Student

    Hi or rather Hola, been meaning to ask you: what do you think of the way the choirmaster at Washington National Cathedral conducts? Where did he learn to conduct like that? It’s not how conducting is taught here.

    I loved the César Franck piece. Will have to come back to hear the rest. Regards.

Fin. The End.