From the ridiculous to the sublime . . . as I transition from my last post on cell phones in church to something more cerebral . . .
As I may have mentioned before, I subscribe to an electronic mailing list devoted to the pipe organ, and there were numerous tributes to Gerre Hancock, long-time organist and director of St. Thomas Church in New York City, whose Solemn Requiem was last Saturday. You can read my earlier post by clicking here. One particular account of the service caught my eye — by Paul Emmons — and his description of the service was so engaging that you almost felt you were there. Here’s his narrative:
Did this night owl want to attend badly enough to get his feet out of bed at 4 a.m., drive to Trenton, NJ before dawn, and catch a train that would arrive in New York City early enough to be at the church before the doors opened at 9 a.m.? Arriving any later than that might leave one out in the cold. The choice, I decided, was between doing it right or not doing it. By the grace of God, it happened, and was well worth the effort. This was an unforgettably beautiful occasion.
People from all over the country, and probably a few from Britain, attended. Arriving on Fifth Avenue and 53rd street at 8:30 found at least a hundred people already queued up on the sidewalk, and the line grew rapidly from that point. Indeed, as a Pittsburgh colleague in line remarked, all considered, merely coming from Pennsylvania was “a paltry offering.”
A webcast is still available by clicking here.
Unfortunately, it seems to be one long track, beginning with the 1 1/2 hours of organ preludial music. Not that this is at all unworthy of hearing, but it does make for a long sitting if you wish to hear the entire service. During the preludes, envision the first fourteen pews on both sides reserved and empty. Then picture them filling successively between pieces. Organ piece. Silence. Fifty people file in from the door on the left. Organ piece. Silence. Fifty more people file in… choir school alumni (over a hundred in all); New York AGO members; Gerre’s former students and assistants; and of course, family.
If and when you reach the Duruflé Requiem, the perfect choice of setting, you will find a tremendously solemn, soaring rendition. Some other attendee will have to tell you whether there was a dry eye in the congregation, since I lost it after about 30 seconds. The physical setting, too was (as an old friend would say), “done right:” Candles were unbleached (except for the large Paschal Candle by the Decani choir stalls opposite Dr. Scott on the Cantoris side). There was no casket or catafalque, since Dr. Hancock’s ashes had been placed under the chancel pavement on Friday, under an inscribed stone about 18″x 24″, near where the choirmaster usually stands to conduct. As Fr. Mead explained in his eulogy, the conductor does not quite stand on Gerry’s ashes, but he certainly stands on his work as on the shoulders of a giant. The three sacred ministers of a solemn mass wore black vestments generously laced with gold.
During Communion, the choir concluded the Durufle requiem and followed with Gerre Hancock’s setting of the African-American spiritual “Deep River”, another perfect choice for the occasion.
After the service, Andrew Hall and the living and dining rooms of the parish house remained thronged with congregants and well-wishers, many of whom waited as long as necessary to say a word of appreciation to Judith, who somehow mustered the energy and endurance to greet everyone who approached.
I’m embedding a rendition of Hancock’s “Deep River” by the Trinity Wall Street Choir.