No visit to the Northwest would be complete without a visit with composer Peter Hallock, which is exactly what we did a couple of weeks ago when we went for a family funeral. The weekend we were there, Peter had just completed a most prestigious commission — a new anthem called “Advent Calendar” which will be sung at Canterbury Cathedral in honor of the retirement of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Wow! how is it that an American got a commission to compose an anthem for Canterbury Cathedral, and for the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet? Well, it goes back a few years, when we were in Seattle for Peter’s 85th birthday and retirement from the Compline Choir. (That was the time Carl and I cooked him a special birthday dinner and brought/sent 8 boxes of kitchen utensils, table decorations, pots and pans, new dishes, new silverware, new stemware, 1 case of pineapples, 1 case of papayas, etc. in order to make it happen!)
At a reception which followed a concert of Peter Hallock’s works, he was presented with a special cross blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, brought to the U.S. by a St. Mark’s Cathedral parishioner and member of the Compass Rose Society. It was Marshall McReal who proposed to the Society that Peter be approached for the commission when Archbishop Williams’ retirement was announced only about six weeks ago. He became enamored with Peter’s works and was profoundly affected by the Compline Service which Peter founded in Seattle over 50 years ago.
You see, it was Peter’s experience as a countertenor in the Canterbury Cathedral choir, singing Compline in the crypt, that made such an influence on HIM. Peter was in Canterbury in 1949 to do graduate work at the College of St. Nicolas (Royal School of Church Music) and heard the legendary Alfred Deller sing a concert. The sound of his countertenor voice, combined with the beautiful Elizabethan language was “almost psychedelic,” in Peter’s words. Two days later, Peter found himself in the men and boys’ choir room and when it was announced they were short on altos, he volunteered and his career as a countertenor was on its way. A year later, when Alfred Deller left for London and there was a vacancy, Peter became the first American lay clerk at Canterbury Cathedral. And so, things have come full circle.
On October 5th at 5:30 pm, Canterbury Cathedral will sing a special Evensong with Dr. Williams and his wife present to hear the U.K. premiere of Peter’s anthem, Advent Calendar. You can even see the listing on the Canterbury Cathedral website by clicking here. The text is poetry by Archbishop Rowan Williams, and as Peter says, “if you have a good text, the music writes itself!” The setting is for SATB choir, organ and horn, and is typical Hallock, absolutely gorgeous.
Here are the lyrics:
He will come like last leaf’s fall
One night when the November wind has flayed
The trees to bone and earth wakes choking on the mould,
The soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost one morning
When the shrinking earth opens on mist
To find itself arrested in the net of alien swordset beauty.
He will come like dark one evening
when the bursting red December draws up the sheet
And penny masks its eye to yield the starry fields of sky.
He will come like crying in the night,
Like blood, like breaking as the earth writhes to set him free.
He will come like child.