Gerre Hancock (1934-2012)

The world of church music has suffered a great loss with the death, on January 21, 2012, of Dr. Gerre Hancock, Organist and Master of the Choristers Emeritus at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Born in Lubbock, Texas in 1934, Gerre Hancock became one of the world's most sought-after church musicians, organists and choral directors. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, he obtained his master's in sacred music from Union Theological Seminary in New York. He later studied in Paris with the famous pianist and pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and also studied organ with Jean Langlais and Marie-Claire Alain. His most enduring legacy is his 33-year tenure with the choir of men and boys at Saint Thomas. As the only church-related residential choir school in the United States, Saint Thomas has a long-standing reputation of excellence in the Anglican musical tradition. The Saint Thomas Choir School is a fully accredited academic institution for boys from eight to fourteen, with a study program of English, mathematics, history, science, art, Latin, French, music theory, and instrumental instruction. Each week, Dr. Hancock led the choir of sixteen men and twenty-five boys in daily services in music from Gregorian chant to modern-day composers in the great sacred space of Saint Thomas Church and many other venues on annual tours. He taught at the Julliard School of Music, the Eastman School of Music, and Yale University. Upon his retirement in 2004, he and his wife, the former Judith Eckerman, also a highly acclaimed organist, moved to Austin, Texas, to teach at his alma mater. Known affectionately as "Uncle Gerre," he taught hundreds of young budding musicians the glories of sacred music and inspired countless others with his gentle charm and wit. While I never studied with him, I always held his name in high praise as did his countless colleagues. When he invited me to play one of the recitals following one of the Sunday Evensongs in February 2003, he treated me as "one of his own." Many organists from around the world will undoubtedly attend his funeral at Saint Thomas on Saturday, February 4th. His work on earth is complete, but he is certainly improvising before the saints in heaven now.