This is being written on Saturday morning, February 4, as I listen to the Solemn Requiem for Gerre Hancock, Organist and Choirmaster as St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, a musical establishment that played a long and important role in my avocational life. Slightly indisposed, I cannot attend the service, so I am extremely grateful to be able to listen from my home via a webcast.
It’s hard to underestimate the influence of such powerful (and very kind) intellectual leaders in the musical world, and I believe all of us are greatly saddened that Gerry Hancock is gone. He was brought to St. Thomas (and to its highly esteemed choir school) in 1971 and worked diligently to build upon and make even greater the splendid music program that was already in place. There is hardly anyone in New York who does not recognize the important music that is presented through St. Thomas, bringing beauty to the lives of many, whether church-goers or not.
For years, New Yorkers have been drawn to St. Thomas Church, not just for the excellence of the music and the high place that the church’s service music holds in the larger Anglican/Episcopalian community but for splendid concerts and records that bring much pleasure to all music lovers in this part of the country. The concerts presented by the St. Thomas Choir regularly fill the church to its maximum capacity, and many New York-area music lovers mark their calendars when the concerts are first announced. And while I have no first-hand indication of the numbers relating to the choir’s success with its recordings, I certainly hear and read much about them, so I must conclude that they are popular.
So today we are honoring the memory of one of the church’s great musical leaders, following in a great line of musical leaders. St. Thomas Church is famous for the excellence of its organists and choirmasters, and Gerre Hancock’s great work at the church will always be remembered. Today’s service ends with one of the church’s most beloved hymns, “Ora Labora” (“Come Labor On”), composed by T. Tertius Noble, another of the Anglican Church’s great musicians and organist at St. Thomas for thirty years, from 1913-1943. And, yes, it’s one of Mr. Guy’s favorite hymns (I’m very happy it will end the service and I just might sing along!). There can be no finer climax in honoring Gerre, whom many of us came to know and respect and love during our many interactions with him. By the time I came to St. Thomas, my chorister years – most notably at St. Stephen’s in Richmond and at St. Bart’s, a few blocks away here in Manhattan – had come to an end, so in that respect I was not a direct participant of Gerre’s leadership as a choral leader. As a member of the parish, though, and as a sometime lay-reader, it was often my great thrill to be a “listening” member of the results (and, yes, as again a singer when we all joined the choir with our full-throated and wide-open-voice hymn singing, a tradition for which St. Thomas is famous).
So today’s service is a very special opportunity to remember one of the great influences in New York’s musical heritage, and it makes me very happy to share these thoughts and memories with my friends and colleagues. The service leaflet can be read here and you can listen to the service by going to the bottom of the St. Thomas calendar and selecting your choice for the transmission Windows Media Player or Quick Time).