Plain City man to play at Nat’l Cathedral
By Dean Shipley
Benjamin Straley said he felt bad at commencement. Honestly, as a graduate of post-graduate studies in sacred music at Yale in June of this year, Straley, of Plain City, had nothing to feel bad about. But since he had no job “bragging rights” at that specific moment in time, Straley said he felt like a loser.
“I was one of a few people at commencement who didn’t have a job,” Straley said in a phone interview.
That feeling didn’t last long. By July, Straley had auditioned twice for an opening in the music department of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and was accepted as assistant organist.
“Good things come to those who wait,” Straley said.
Straley’s day are filled with good things these days. He admits some of the initial excitement has worn off the appointment, but he does daily remind himself of how fortunate he is.
He describes himself and the “number three” person on the musical staff at the cathedral. All three share playing responsibilities for the Eucharist and evensong.
Then for very special events, it’s “all hands on deck,” Straley said.
Straley used a nautical phrase for the most recent special memorial held at the national cathedral, the memorial for former astronaut and Navy pilot, Neil Armstrong.
Straley said he was moved with emotion to be able to participate in the memorial for a fellow Ohioan, also from a small town, Wapakoneta, who literally soared to then (July 1969) unbelievable heights and was the first human to walk on the moon.
In addition to playing for memorial services, Straley rehearses the choristers and coordinates their classes in piano instruction and music theory. He said while in other churches the traditional boys choir is being discontinued, it is being maintained as a day school at the national cathedral. It also has a girls choir.
With all his duties, Straley is a busy young man, but clearly he’s enjoying it.
“This is a fantastic place, so busy,” he said. “But it’s a good problem to have.”
As mentioned Straley recently graduated from Yale. In addition to his sacred music degree, he also pursued theological education while at Yale. He completed a master of divinity and a diploma in Anglican Studies.
His playing accomplishments include the Baker Prize, awarded to incoming organ students at Yale deemed to be in the top 1 or 2 percent of young organists in the country. Add to that, Straley was one of the few Americans in the entire history of the Haarlem Organ Festival invited to compete in its prestigious improvisation contest.
Also during his studies at Yale, Straley won the Downes Prize for excellence in the public reading of scripture and of hymns, as well as the Thomas Phillips Memorial Award for exceptional achievement and further promise in the study and practice of Anglican liturgy.
Prior to attending Yale, Straley was an undergraduate at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.