On my way to 7:30 mass this morning, I was listening to public radio. Early Sunday morning is reserved for organ and church music.
The drive is not terribly long but I did hear one piece in its entirety, an organ/choral setting of the hymn, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” [Tune: Nicaea], which was one of the first hymns I ever sang as a young child after Vatican II. The organist was Gerre Hancock and the recording was from late in his career when he was in Texas.
When I was an undergrad at Smith, I had a friend who was pursuing his Master’s in Sacred Music from Yale and who studied organ with Gerre Hancock. It was a great privilege to attend one of my friend’s lessons, held at St. Thomas Episcopal in New York City, and a rehearsal of the choristers there. St. Thomas was the place where he spent most of his career and established himself as one of the finest organists and choir directors of his generation.
Mr. Hancock, while prodigiously talented as a musician and teacher, was a kind, generous, and polite gentleman. I remember that he addressed me as Miss Corey, which was a surprise to me as a college student coming, as it did, from the one of the best church musicians in the country.
The recording I heard this morning was magnificent. It opened with an extended organ introduction and included an artful modulatory interlude. (The modulation reminded me of talking with my daughter T last weekend, who recalled her favorite description of modulation, as voiced by someone at our church, as “that thing you do on the organ and then everybody sings louder.”) While I know that Mr. Hancock was fully capable of improvising these, I expect that for the purposes of making a recording, he had actually composed them in advance.
When mass began this morning, our entrance hymn was “Holy! Holy! Holy!”