Washington Cathedral Choir will sing at Trump inauguration

Washington Cathedral Choir will sing at Trump inauguration


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2017

Statement by the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral:


WASHINGTON, D.C.  — As Christians, we are called, among other things, to be a people of peace and agents of reconciliation. Our choir is singing at the inauguration to honor the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government. Let me be clear: We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man (or woman) taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honor the nation.

From its earliest days, the Cathedral was conceived as a ‘great church for national purposes’ and a national treasure that could help all Americans find God at significant moments in our life together. For decades, the Cathedral and its choirs have played a role in those moments, particularly when they involve the Office of the President of the United States.

The members of our choir were given the option to sing in the musical prelude at the inauguration as part of our call to serve as a spiritual home for the nation. Music is a precious gift that holds the potential to point our hearts toward something larger than the things that divide us. In our bruised and polarized country, we hope the gift of our music can help remind us of our highest ideals and aspirations as one nation under God.

In a similar vein, we decided to host the Inaugural Prayer Service because we are a house of prayer for all people — and all really means all. We worship a God of love, who commands us to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to pray for those in authority. As disciples of Jesus Christ, just as he prayed with all people, so we too are called to pray with all people.


  • E.F. Mutton says:

    Sentiments anyone could agree with, apart from the entirely mythical J.C.

    • Ed in, but not of, Texas says:

      Hardly. A cathedral “that can help all” ignores those among us “all” who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, never mind the atheists among us. Even if tax dollars aren’t used for its operations or construction, the fact that it has the audacity to state that it calls itself a “national” cathedral and purports to speak for “all” including those directly in conflict with its theology (or the victims of it) in a nation whose founding documents speak out clearly against such a thing is simply appalling.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “We worship a God of love, who commands us to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to pray for those in authority.” it seems to have escaped the Dean that Mr T has no idea about such religious vows, and has shown beyond any doubt how godless a person he is, and a lot of other things as well which I won’t repeat here. However well-meant, the choir is compromising itself gravely by their involvement. Sad!

    But of course they would redeem themselves and the occasion if they would sing ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen but Jesus’.

  • David Boxwell says:

    If they’re taking requests for this unique and very special occasion, I’ll suggest Verdi’s setting of “Dies Irae.”

  • Alexander says:

    Too bad Paul Robeson’s been dead some forty years. He used to give a fine performance of the State Anthem of the Soviet Union.

    • Cornelia says:

      Too bad there are so many of you negative, up tight people out there that want to prevent most of us loyal, patriactic Americans who respect our traditions and enjoy such a occasion, honoring and respecting our National Leaders of our great country. No other country would put up with some of the activities going on to upset such a happy, blessed occasion that “could” bring us all together if you could put your selfish attitudes aside.

      I must add that as an Episcopalian, I would be VERY upset if these services were not done there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • AnnaT says:

        Cornelia, for far too many of us, including those who are “patriactic,” this travesty of a president-elect is cause for horror and dismay. It’s not “selfish.” It’s taking him at his word when it comes to who he is and what he stands for. Your weirdly jingoistic tone is reminiscent of the “love it or leave it” of the Vietnam era. There’s no duty to fall in line behind this guy.

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        Cornelia, this is not the time to call for jingoistic patriotism and flag waving – I, for one, and, as I know, many, many others with me, have grown tired and weary of it. History has seen much of such patriotism, and it never ended well. And, please, one exclamation mark conveys your sentiments more than adequately. Do not yell at us!

      • Sue says:

        Bravo. Excellent comments.

    • John says:

      Knowing how he was rejected in the US, I can completely understand why he would.

      • Alexander says:

        Indeed. He was a great man and, like all of us, very much a man of his time. I can certainly understand why, in 1944, an African American would have been enthusiastic to make his own translation of the Soviet anthem. I don’t doubt that if he were alive today he would be offering articulate opposition to Trump and Putin.

        • Sue says:

          Yes, a man who sings the Soviet anthem is a real patriot and a great man – especially when millions were being put to death in Soviet gulags. He was a supporter of all that, obviously. Which only tells you how bad and repressive the USA has been since it liberated Europe in 1945.

          Disgraceful comments; moral relativism and the reason for Trump’s election in the first place.

  • Bryan Mauldin says:

    Sir, with all due respect to your office, you could not be more wrong. In this one move, you and Bishop Budde have drastically changed the course of the Cathedral. I spent 13 years being educated on the Cathedral Close. I was confirmed, graduated and was married in the Cathedral. I was there when Dean Sayre insisted that the Cathedral Schools be integrated. One of my classmates was the little girl who broke the color barrier. Under the previous Bishops and Deans, the Cathedral stood as a shining example of civil rights and inclusion, right smack in the middle of Washington, long before those principals were accepted. Its leadership was subject to criticism and condemnation that at times was vicious. Yet they stood by their principles and the moral and ethical commitment to lead the way forward. This is a giant step backward. It is appalling. Dean Sayre must be weeping in that tomb. The Bishops of my time there would never have done this. I wish Richard Dirksen was still with us. He would be busy composing a Dirge for the USA. The President-Elect asked that there not be a sermon at the service — and you acquiesced? He asked because he is a narcissist who doesn’t want to be stuck somewhere having to listen to advice. He doesn’t listen to advice. If anyone needs to hear a good sermon it is Trump. But the icing on the cake is the participation of the Cathedral Choristers. That choir includes girls from the NCS lower school. Young girls. They have no business singing for and in honor of a sexual predator. Those words sound harsh, but that is exactly what he is under the law. It is what he has described himself to be. Someone must stand up and not just turn their head in order to avoid this appalling situation. I would never have expected the Dean of the Cathedral and the Bishop to just turn their heads. You are supposed to lead people in honor, ethics and morality. There is no rationale that justifies what you are doing. If you insist on going forward with this embarrassing and hurtful service, at least leave the young girls out of it. Every alumna and alumnus I have had contact with agrees. Some are changing their planned giving and their wills. As for me, I am literally heartbroken. I was so proud to have grown up under the shadow of the Cathedral and so privileged to see it built. Now I am appalled. The polished corners of which I was told I am a part have crumbled into dust. The solid foundation of my faith and view of morality and ethics has been jerked out from under me. Bryan Mauldin, NCS ’66.

  • Cornelia Clark says:

    As an Episcopalian and a loyal American, I would be very upset if the service and the choir were not participating. This is a time of unity and we should not let the violent, negative people try to ruin it. They should stay home, don’t watch TV and do
    whatever makes them happy and let the rest of us enjoy the joys of life!!!!

    • John Borstlap says:

      But a violent and negative buffoon has just be chosen as president – what is there to celebrate?

      • Petros Linardos says:

        The democratic process, even if the last election is as close to a worst case scenario as many of us can think.

        • Bryan Mauldin says:

          The democratic process in this country is on life support.

          • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

            Indeed. If it were up to a certain Russian doctor life support would be turned off. But he decided to let the active dying take its course. Why go through the trouble? Easier to wait for the moment when it falls dead into his hands.

  • s mattes says:

    As someone whose moral compass was shaped in the shadow of the Cathedral, but the exemplary leadership of Bishop Moore and Dean Sayre, I am deeply saddened to read that my beloved church will now has this stain on a once proud tradition of speaking truth to power.

  • Susan Haas says:

    Dear Very Reverend Marshall Hollerith ~ As a graduate and former boarder of NCS I respectfully request you reconsider having the choir sing at Trump’s inauguration. Your intentions will be misunderstood as an endorsement of his policies towards the poor and the stewardship of our wonderful country’s environment. The prayer service sounds wonderful and I wish I could attend.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    And are members of the choir free to not be there, like the Rockettes, if they feel too offended to sing? He is full of high, mighty, and idealistic words, but I’m sorry, you are not merely putting your stamp of approval on the peaceful transition of power when you perform at this event. It is possible to be intoxicated by your own benevolence.

    • Bruce says:

      “The members of our choir were given the option to sing in the musical prelude at the inauguration…”

      – 3rd paragraph

      • Bryan Mauldin says:

        Some of the Choristers are children.

        • JBBaldwin says:

          Won’t someone think of the children???

        • Bruce says:

          I would assume/hope that “the option” was extended to child members as well, assuming the plans include the pediatric portion of the choir. The parents would presumably handle the matter according to their own wishes or consult their child’s, depending on their parenting style.

          • Bryan Mauldin says:

            The children and their parents should not have been put in the position of making decisions that might prove decisive.

          • Bryan Mauldin says:

            The children and parents should not have been put in the position of having to make a decision that might prove DIVISIVE.

  • frank says:

    The Trump team is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. No one else will perform for them. I guess it was down to the Grand Old Opry or the Pisscopalians.

  • Jamesay says:

    One can ALWAYS rely on the proponents of mythological sky gods to justify ANYTHING they do under their banners. So much for a conflicted country which supposedly disestablished the “Church” …and ignored their very own Declaration of Independence!

    Religion is belief in the supernatural based on revelation maintained by dogmatic tradition!

  • Schuyler Gott Andrews says:

    Donald Trump does not exemplify the morality or principles to which our children should be exposed. In no case should they be a part of a celebration of his life or his success! I am appalled that the Cathedral would abandon the foundation of honor and commitment to civil rights, human decency, tolerance and righteousness that are so much of my educational experience for a brief moment in the reflected glare of the spotlight of a poor role model. Schuyler Gott Andrews NCS ’66

  • Gerald Martin says:

    I presume this is the same “Washington Cathedral” that was the site of the “counter-inagural concert” conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1973.

  • Bryan Mauldin says:

    Ah, the era of Dean Sayre and Richard Dirksen. Those currently in authority would do well to look back and consider what their predecessors have done. They would see what a huge step backwards they are taking and how distressing it is to those whose association with the Cathedral and its schools dates back that far. Sayre and Dirksen were men of conscience who had the courage to speak truth to power. To base a decision on possible consequences instead of what is meet and right contradicts the ministry of the Cathedral, which has been consistent until now. Even the prior Dean, Dean Hall has publicly stated that he would not have the Choristers sing.

  • Amanda Harris says:

    Open letter that I signed today, as an alum of NCS, a chorister and soloist representing my school and the Cathedral at numerous events during my 9 years at NCS, a recipient of the Cathedral Senior Prize in Music, a sister of a Cathedral chorister in the early 1980’s, and now as a professional musician and music educator, and a lifelong Episcopalian:

    We recently learned that the Washington National Cathedral agreed to have its choristers, including girls from our alma mater, National Cathedral School (NCS), perform at this week’s presidential inauguration. As NCS alumnae, we understand and respect the decision to participate in the traditional inaugural prayer service at the Cathedral. We object, however, in the strongest possible terms, to the Cathedral’s decision to accept a commitment to have its students actively take part in a performance at the inauguration itself.
    By participating in this event, the Cathedral and NCS legitimize the President-Elect’s intolerance and divisiveness, turning its back on a long-standing, admirable commitment to gender, racial and socio-economic equity, gay-lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, disability rights and religious tolerance. The school’s current mission statement, as posted on its website, reads: “We believe in the power of young women and educate them to embrace our core values of excellence, service, courage and conscience.” With courage and conscience, we feel duty-bound to speak up when we see the school and the Cathedral making decisions that fail to live up to the high moral standards of the school’s original mission.

    It is worth noting that we do not think that it is sufficient simply to provide an opportunity for the girls to opt out of performing. Because these girls and their families may depend on their choral stipends for their NCS tuition, as well as the good will and ongoing support of both NCS and the Cathedral, we do not think this is a meaningful option. Continued involvement of the choir in the event is therefore coercive and unfair. It is disappointing that the Head of School’s objections were overruled. Last but not least, it is perhaps our greatest concern that the girls will be forced to participate in the celebration of a man who has supported assault and objectification of women. What message does this send to the NCS students, alums and broader community about how the Cathedral views the school, constituents and women?

    In observing the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this past weekend, we reflected on his final sermon delivered at the Cathedral in 1968. He said,

    “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

    Conscience asks: is it right for NCS girls to perform at the inauguration? The answer is no. Conscience demands that NCS and the Cathedral must follow its self-stated values and advocate for these young women, and all young women, by withdrawing the choir from participation in the inauguration. This is not our NCS. We stand with the students. We are watching and waiting to see the courage and conscience of NCS, and of the Cathedral, in action.

  • Amanda Harris says:

    This response by the NEW dean of the Cathedral makes no sense. I spent 9 years (the most formative years of my life intellectually, spriritually, and musically) as a student at The National Cathedral School for Girls, I was a chorister and soloist, president of Madrigals, and recipient of the Cathedral Prize in Music. My my brother, a St. Albans student, was a chorister at the Cathedral, under Richard Wayne Dirksen. His tuition was cut in HALF while he sang as a boy soprano (the scholarship decreases after your voice changes). The dean’s first main point is that the choristers will NOT be singing for Trump, but for God. That is a bunch of crap. You can sing for God anywhere. In fact, they will sing for God the following day at the National Cathedral prayer service which Trump will attend. Secondly, the dean says it is about “reconciliation.” Well, I will go out on a limb and take issue with a man of God and tell him that you CANNOT reconcile with a person who does not first acknowledge that his behavior is wrong. To ask girls from a school such as NCS, a champion of empowering young girls to become women who change the world (I rememember clearly Susan Rice’s commencement address, and I was only in 4th grade), to pander to a man that brags about sexually assaulting women, is nauseating. The days of Bishop Walker and Richard Dirksen are sadly gone. My NCS sisters and I have signed an open letter to NCS and the Cathedral, and if we receive no response within 24 hours, things will get ugly.

    • Bryan Mauldin says:

      Dear Amanda,

      I would like to join forces. I hope you have also signed the petition on Change.org. Just search “Cathedral Choristers” on that site. I organized my class’s last three reunions and have marshaled my classmates to contact the Dean directly as well as signing the petition. I know they will be happy to join in signing your letter.

      I wrote an extremely strong letter to the NEW Dean which I will post on this site. I did not hold back. I agree with all the points you make in your letter. I had hoped that under pressure he would “see the light,” so I held back from getting ugly. I did however tell him that he has betrayed the women of NCS, fouled the Cathedral, and reversed decades of vision and leadership in social justice, morality, and ethics. I also told him he should be ashamed of himself.

      I also agree with you that should he not reverse this decision within the next 48 hours further action is necessary. The next petition and letters should be to ask for his resignation or dismissal. Just as Trump is unfit for the presidency. This Dean is not fit to serve at the Cathedral.

      I am now contacting the Alumnae Office and asking them to call you with my email address and other contact information. We need to unite under these deplorable circumstances. I simply cannot understand on any level how a “Man of God” would arrange for young girls from an Episcopal affiliated school, who serve at our National Cathedral, to sing at ceremonies in honor of a self-described and unrepentant sexual predator. They should be singing at the Women’s March. If Mr. Dirksen was still living he would be composing a “Dirge for the USA.”

      Bryan Mauldin NCS ’66

    • Susan Haas says:

      Amanda you are wonderful ~ you go girl.

    • Sue says:

      But, as a ‘liberal’, you were endorsing a woman who enabled her husband to sexually assault women while he was President. Staggering hypocrisy. Absolutely bloody staggering and the lack of self-awareness is stupefying.

  • Bryan Mauldin says:


    I graduated from NCS in ’66. Please do not even ask the children do this. Please. It is not too late to pull the Choristers from the inauguration program. Members of congress are still making the decision not to attend. Trump has no regard for women, treats them like objects, and is a self-described sexual predator. Grabbing women’s genitals without consent is sexual assault. And you propose that these girls sing in praise of him? The Cathedral is supposed to nurture and protect these girls and provide moral guidance so they grow with grace and strength of character. It is supposed to be a sanctuary, not a place where an unrepentant, and actually proud, sex offender is given approbation. I cannot believe you would even consider this. I went to school on the close for 13 years. I was confirmed and married in the Cathedral. I am horrified and devastated. Dean Sayre must be rolling in his tomb. The Choristers should be singing at the Women’s March, not for the entertainment and glorification of a sexual deviant and predator. Please, please don’t do this. My heart is breaking. And the children do not even understand. You are supposed to keep them safe.

    It is not a valid justification to say that you have given the students the option not to participate. That only puts the students and their parents in the position of having to make a decision that, either way, will be divisive.

    Volunteering the Choristers is contrary to the leadership role the Cathedral has, until now, taken with regard to racism, sexism, prejudice and social and political equality and justice. Your predecessors were never afraid to speak truth to power. You are making an extremely hurtful decision based on fear of an anticipated outcome, not on what is ethically and morally right and just. You must be completely unaware of the history of the leadership of the Cathedral. The girl who broke the color barrier at Beauvoir, and subsequently NCS, was in my class. She is now an Episcopal priest. Can you imagine what she endured when she first arrived on the Close? You have betrayed her. It was Dean Sayre who insisted it was time for the Cathedral to move forward, despite virulent criticism, much of which came from people in power. The superb and wonderful Richard Dirksen would never participate in this. If he were still living he would be composing a “Dirge for the USA.” Truth to power. I wish you had known him. He was indeed a force to be reckoned with. None of the Bishops in my time would have permitted this. There was actually a counter-inaugural concert at the Cathedral once. The adherence to the principles of social justice was unbroken until you came along. Even Dean Hall has stated publicly that he would never have allowed this. And how long have you been at the Cathedral?

    I watched the Cathedral grow for 13 years. I participated in the dedication of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower. My classmates were among the first bellringers, and two still ring those bells. The bell room has to me always been the most beautiful room in town. I know almost every inch of the Cathedral from the crypts to the bell room. As an alumna, I feel that the “polished corners” of which I was taught I am a “part” have crumbled to dust. To me you have fouled the Cathedral and made ashes of what it always stood for. And for what, a few minutes of time on national tv hopefully to raise more funds? The end justifies the means I suppose. That is how Trump does business. You should be ashamed of yourself. I am old enough to be your mother so I can say that to you. Someone has to. Truth to power.

    If you have had the guts to visit the petition site on Change.org, you know how the alumnae feel. There are some already making changes to their planned giving. How are you going to have any credibility with the current students? We needed Dean Sayre. He enveloped us in Christ’s love and made us feel cared for and safe, even in the most difficult times. My mother died when I was in the 7th grade and Dean Sayre, along with Dr. Kloman at St. Albans, was a rock for me. Dean Sayre led us through the assassination of President Kennedy which was quite traumatic since the Johnson’s daughters were students at NCS. The current students need you, but you have turned your back on them. You have betrayed them. That is not what you were ordained to do. How are you now going to counsel a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence?
    My faith in my church is shattered. You have made a travesty out of the house of prayer for all people and the church that has always been my “home church” wherever I am.

    Please, I also beg you, do not send me some automated reply with links to some statements that are supposed to “reassure” me. Do not insult my honesty and intelligence further. Remember, I went to NCS and have lived long enough to see clearly. Do what is right.

    My screed is done. You can go ahead and hit delete, which is what I expect you to do. But feel some shame before you do it. You have broken the hearts and trust of a lot of women.

    Bryan Mauldin NCS ‘66

    • Susan Haas says:

      As always you speak my mind better than I can. Thank you.

    • Eleanor Kloman Wallace says:

      Thank you for your kind thoughts of my father Dr. Kloman. I too was upset when I heard that the girls would be part of the service.

      • Bryan Mauldin says:

        Dear Eleanor,
        Your father was a wonderful, caring, inspirational man. I attended St. Albans until I went away to college. He was also the first example I had in my life of someone with a “disability” who carried on and did not let it defeat him. And he forged ahead without complaint or feeling sorry for himself. Though that lesson was never put into words, I learned a lot from that. That image of him has stayed with me throughout my life and continues to inspire me. And he really was wonderful when my mother died.

  • Robert Mace says:

    Assuming that many of us here are Episcopalian, and that all of the arguments pro and con are valid to the extent that they are deeply held personal beliefs, feelings, and reactions to how we perceive the character and worthiness (or lack thereof, as the case may be) of the President-elect, I think we need to remember one thing. That is, most of us in this forum were baptized in a Christian tradition as babies, long before we had any personal concept of worthy or unworthy, good or bad, to say nothing of political or humanitarian understandings, sympathies or leanings. Our very first commitment was made to Christ Jesus and we were welcomed into the household of God which posits two great commandments: to love God with our whole heart and mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. There was no qualifier which defined “neighbors” as only those who are good and kind and gentle and forebearing. In fact, some of our neighbors may well be unkind, uncharitable, exclusive, threatening, mean, cruel and evil, even. Still, we are unqualifiedly commanded to love them regardless. Christ went to the Cross for such as those, and all of us sinners. To be a Christian is a heavy, demanding burden because we are called to embrace the lepers, the prostitutes, the adulterers, the perjurers and the betrayers. We have to give everyone a chance, in love, to be forgiven and redeemed. Otherwise, to profess the Creed and confess that we are Christians are empty, deceitful exercises — we may feel self-vindicated and better about ourselves by denouncing someone who (perhaps justifiably) offends our better natures, but we are in that event decidedly un-Christian. We all have a choice to either do the very hard thing of loving what we want to hate, or expressing hatred of it. But the latter is not what Christ would have done, nor does it conform to our baptismal promises and our difficult obligations as Christians.

  • D. Howard Gilpin says:

    I have listened to the Dean’s sermons and he does not expound the Wod of God. So disappointing.