Last Thursday, Friends of Music gathered to watch a short documentary centered around the recording of the new Choral Album, The Music of Gerre Hancock. If you have not yet seen the film, we will be making it available in the very near future, and you are in for a treat! When Dr. Filsell arrived in 2018, he decided he wanted to record the music of his predecessor Gerre Hancock, beloved Organist and Director of Music of Saint Thomas Church from 1971 to 2004. The recording had been planned for May, 2020 but, fortuitously, the project was brought forward to February. Had this not happened, the recording would not have happened.
The recording is very special and showcases some wonderful music of Gerre Hancock, some of it composed while he was organist, but many pieces commissioned by other churches and musicians. It remains a mystery to me why his music is less-known in the English Cathedral world, but perhaps because it is now clear to me that Gerre was not only a talented musician, he also possessed the gift of humility. Every chorister and gentleman of the choir that I have met refers to him affectionately as “Uncle Gerre,” and it is not long before they tell me how he inspired them in so many ways.
There is a great irony in the fact that the Vestry of the time and Dr. Morris called Gerre because of his prowess as an organist because, like many of the English Cathedrals at the time, there were questions about the future of a Choir School where the student body was comprised only of choristers that had to board.
The arrival of Fr. Andrew as XI Rector only a year later ignited a partnership between Gerre and Headmaster Gordon Clem that would see a new vitality in the Choir of Men and Boys and its unique tradition. Instead of closing the school and finding new ways of making music, Gerre, Fr. Andrew, and Gordon Clem became a phenomenal team that enriched the mission of the parish and the school both liturgically and educationally. The choir flourished; recruitment improved; the standard of singing became world-renowned. Sixteen years after Gerre’s arrival, the choristers, faculty, and clergy moved into a new purpose-built choir school that was given the name ‘Gordon Clem House’ because of the part that he played in the vision for a new school. In an article in the New York Times in 1987, Gordon Clem is quoted: “We are devoted to excellence in music, in academic achievement, and in the quality of our communal life…We think it’s not extraordinary that our boys can sing the ‘St. Matthew Passion’ while they’re learning several other things at the same time.”
That excellence in music was fostered by Gerre. The Friends of Music gathered on Thursday evening to watch the short documentary and to listen to a panel of former choristers, current gentlemen of the choir, Dr. Filsell, and the film producer reminisce about Gerre. I found it incredibly moving, but also felt sad that I never had the privilege of meeting this giant of church music.
Dana Marsh, currently Chair of Indiana University’s Early Music Department and Director of the Washington Bach Consort who was a chorister in the 1970’s, sums up the devotion that so many choristers and gentlemen have towards Gerre Hancock:
“Gerre was a father to many of us. He was the first teacher from whom I learned how to feel confidence as a 10-year-old. 36 years later his support has been unwavering… Gerre was more than a great man who did great things. He was truly a force of nature. It was mostly about how he made people feel. He made total strangers feel loved and lifted up. He could even achieve this through the pain of a hymn! I’m proud to call him my musical father and hero.”
Last week, I said that we would be able to have a Confirmation Service on May 23 but that is no longer possible. Instead, the Bishop is offering three services on consecutive Saturdays at the Cathedral. As Bishop Shin will be with us on October 2, we are encouraging all those who wish to be confirmed or received to come to that service. If anyone cannot come on October 2, we can arrange for you to be confirmed in the Cathedral.
Finally, remember that Ascension Day is Thursday, May 13. It is a major feast day in the Episcopal Church so we should all try to attend mass in-person or via the video-livestream. The 5:30pm Solemn Eucharist will be open to a congregation and sung by the Choir of Men and Boys. Pre-registration is now open on the website. The Choir will sing the beautiful Palestrina Missa Ascendo ad Patrem, and two glorious anthems by William Byrd; Alleluia, ascendit Deus, and O Rex gloriae.
Your Priest and Pastor,