Update 2017: 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.
This article is about Washington National Cathedral (WNC), a cathedral church of the worldwide Anglican Communion in the District of Columbia, and its superb cathedral organist, Benjamin Straley.
Hola. Southern Baptist revival music in an Anglican cathedral? I would say it’s a first, but it’s happened before at WNC. What is going on here? Loco. Well, as I usually do, I went to see the service leaflet for the Liturgy on el 2 de octubre de 2016 to see what our Benjamin was playing for his organ voluntary. I keep hoping to see Henri Mulet’s Tu es Petra listed. I’d love to hear him play that piece since it’s one of my favourite organ works from the French repertoire, although I didn’t expect him to be playing Tu es Petra for this Liturgy since it was just played last week by a guest organist but I didn’t particularly care for his quiet interpretation of it. The guest organist — in this case I do know his name because strangely it was printed on the service leaflet which is most unusual for WNC, but since I’m not writing positively about him he can remain anonymous — seemed afraid of the organ while playing the Mulet. I prefer a more fiery interpretation since the piece is supposedly about the gates of hell opening up and this fight between “good” versus “evil.” Then, “good” supposedly wins, according to the story. Unless I missed it, I’ve not heard Benjamin play Tu es Petra since he’s been at WNC. The last time I heard it played there was when Jeremy Filsell was filling in. He played it superbly. He’s organist/choirmaster at the Church of The Epiphany (Anglican Communion) in the District.
So I scanned the rest of the service leaflet while I was there and saw that they were singing (get this): “Revive us Again.” Oh good lord. Not that hymn. That’s a “come to meeting” hymn of the anti-gay and bigoted southern baptist church. Why on Earth would they be singing that at WNC, and two verses of it? That hymn is used on — what they call — “Homecoming Sunday” which is the beginning Sunday for a week of reviiiiiiiiiiival (think a heavy southern, redneck accent) services at night in the southern baptist church during the Summer months.
I wonder how our High Church Benjamin likes playing hymns from the anti-gay southern baptist church as part of his job requirements at WNC? Well, I have to say this for him: Whatever he’s asked to play, he plays it very tastefully and beautifully. Not at all tacky the way it’s played in the bigoted southern baptist convention. He played it more the way I would expect a well-trained Anglican organist (which of course he is) to play it. As I’ve said before, he makes even the worst of music sound good (if one can call “Revive of Us Again” music), and I’d never heard that hymn played on a pipe organ and especially a large cathedral organ and played by a high-quality organist. He was required to play (as I said) two verses of “Revive Us Again.” (“Hallelujah, thine the glory, Hallelujah, amen, (repeat), revive us again.”…. ugh). Frankly, I didn’t know that Anglicans needed to be “revived.” We never needed to be “revived” in the Anglican parishes I served as Organist/Choirmaster in. Our Benjamin looked like he hadn’t played it before (that’s not a criticism) as intently as he was watching the hymnal he was using. I suspect he had run through it though. But someone of his skill level could easily sight-read that thing. There’s nothing to it. I could play that god-awful hymn without the score having played it too many times in my distant past. I played that part of the video for mi amigo/my friend and he said, “It sounds like a nursery tune.” Didn’t go anything for him. I can see why. I don’t think our Benjamin grew up within a church of the prejudiced southern baptist convention. I have some direct experience with that so that’s why I can speak with some authority about this, having been there, unfortunately.
WNC has used other southern baptist/evangelical hymns in the past. I don’t know why. They’ve used “We’re marching to Zion” comes to mind. “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.” And most recently, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” All right out of the southern baptist church. It’s almost as if they would prefer to be southern baptists. I’d like to know who selects these hymns at WNC. Is it Michael the Director of Music or some priest? From my experience in Anglican parishes, it was the priest who selected the hymns.
WNC’s new marketing slogan is “a house of prayer for all people.” Now let me tell it like it is about this: This “house of prayer for all people” slogan is BS. They don’t mean that. They don’t want “all people” coming there. Do they want the Ku Klux Klan showing up there, or anti-GLBTQ groups or anti-women priest groups? I don’t think so. But those groups are part of “all people.” All people includes the most septic people we have in our society. Do they want the bigoted and prejudiced Orthodox Anglicans showing up there? I don’t think so. Someone didn’t use or posses critical thinking skills when they came up with this syrupy marketing BS about WNC being a “house of prayer for all people.” The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in Manhattan is using the same marketing slogan so maybe this is an Anglican Communion thing for their cathedrals. Admittedly, it sounds good and “welcoming” (come and give us your dinero/money, and I think that’s what this is about), but the very concept begins to crumble upon analysis as I’ve just explained. And if they were a “house of prayer for all people” at WNC they wouldn’t disable the comment section under all their videos online in order that “all people” could comment, no? That comes across as hypocritical. In fact, they don’t want anyone commenting. I can understand why. I think they would get a lot of hate. I’ve read hate online from the Orthodox Anglicans whining about WNC having women priests, about the District having a woman Bishop (they can’t stand her and what they call her “New Age” Homilies), and the Orthodox Anglicans also write anti-gay comments. They are a piece of work! Also, under the Anglican videos on
You GoogleTube of British state ceremonies from St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and Westminster Abbey where the Royal Family was in attendance with the Queen, I’ve read the comments (those that I could stand to read). Haters — usually rabid Roman Catholics — go on about how the Anglican Church/the Church of England is not a real church (according to those idiots) and how the Anglicans supposedly lost themselves and need to “come home to the real church: the Roman Catholic Church.” Some Roman Catholics have this very ugly and misplaced superiority complex about their church. Who would want to be a part of that bigoted and sexist church (the Roman Catholic) where they are anti-GLBTQ and opposed to women priests? Other commenters go on about the Queen (the Supreme Governor of the Church of England which is the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion), the Queen Mother (even though she’s dead) and the Royal Family and hate on them. Based on all that, I can see why WNC disable the comments under their videos. So much for this “house of prayer for all people” nonsense.
It’s become clear to me that some people at WNC have the deepest affection for stained glass windows and southern baptist hymns, and those hymns are slowly increasing in usage there. I don’t know why they don’t do a series of videos on all of their stained-glass windows in the cathedral then they wouldn’t have to disrespect the musicians (our Benjamin and the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys/Girls) by taking the camera off of them when they’re performing and showing the same stained-glass windows we’ve already seen for months on end for the umpteenth time (just like Trinity Wall Street; they too are absolutely obsessed and fixated with their stained-glass windows as I wrote about here. It’s as if both Trinity and WNC think that people have never seen stained-glass windows before. And I also don’t know why they (WNC) find music of the prejudiced and bigoted southern baptist convention so appealing. As Ms Councillor Newgent said to our Hyacinth: “Damn Odd, Ms Bucket.” (“It’s Bouquet”….an inside joke from the British comedy staring Patricia Routledge “Keeping Up Appearances”…our Benjamin would know what I’m talking about if he reads this).
At WNC, I get the feeling that there’s some struggle going on with the music. So very typical. (I’ve had experience with that too). It would appear that too many people there want to stick their nose in the music and decisions made about the music. Michael and Benjamin were in charge of the music; just the two of them. What was wrong with that arrangement? Then they hired two new priests connected with the music as I wrote about in this article. I don’t get the impression that everyone is happy at WNC. It seems they want to bring in (more) jazz and “global song” (I’m unclear on what that is) and gospel music, and they’re using more southern baptist stuff. By comparison, I doubt that the southern baptists are using more Anglican music, or any at all. The southern baptists wouldn’t know a canticle setting if they heard one! Who’s Herbert Howells? Never heard of him. Or was he that guy that won Idol awhile back? (Sigh). One gets the impression that they at WNC are really not fully comfortable being Anglicans which is really quite a shame so they seem to think they need to mimic or emulate other denominations. Attendance is dropping at many if not most churches across the many christian denominations (the same is true in the UK) so I don’t think that messing with the music and trying to be more like an evangelical denomination is going to change anything for the better. I just don’t understand why they find hymns specifically unique to the prejudiced, bigoted and anti-gay southern baptist convention so appealing. Damn odd, Ms Bucket.
And finally, in their continuing disrespect for the music (the Cathedral Choir and Benjamin), they’re now ignoring the Men of the Cathedral Choir entirely on the service leaflet. The Choir performing for this Liturgy they called “the Girls Cathedral Choir.” Well, I’ve never heard of them. They must be a new ensemble. [sarcasm intended]. The “Girls Cathedral Choir” gives the false impression that there were only girls there and that the Men of the Cathedral Choir had the day off. In reality, the choral ensemble that performed for this Liturgy was the Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls. Is that so difficult to type? (Are these people sure they’re in the right job at WNC?) That’s typically what they’re called and have been called for years. And even though he’s been there for years, as usual our Benjamin’s name was not printed on the service leaflet. WNC is disgusting me more and more.
Note (November 2016): A change of venue to Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris: Organ Improvisation by Philippe Lefebvre (Organist at Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris)
Chau.—el barrio rosa