2013-12-01 Notes from the Bench

“Advent Calendar” by Peter Hallock

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

The American composer, Peter Hallock, (b. 1924) is an influential figure within the Episcopal tradition.  He is best-known for establishing the great musical traditions at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA where he served as the organist and choirmaster for forty years.  Hallock has composed numerous sacred works, many of which remain unpublished, including motets, large-scale anthems, and the widely used Ionian Psalter, a three-year cycle of psalm settings for choir with congregational antiphons.

Advent Calendar was commissioned to honor Archbishop Rowan Williams on the occasion of his retirement by The Compass Rose Society. The text for this work is a poem by Archbishop Williams.  The premier performance of Advent Calendar was sung during the Evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral by the Canterbury Cathedral choir on October 5, 2012.

Hallock was born and raised in the Seattle area, the youngest of five children.  As a young child, he was fascinated with the sounds produced when phonograph records were played which sparked his interest in music.  He began taking piano lessons at the age of five, and by the time he was fourteen, he was playing the organ for his childhood parish, St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA.  Hallock studied organ and composition at the University of Washington-Seattle, however his studies were interrupted when he was drafted for military service during World War II.  Following the war, he completed his course work at the University of Washington, and then enrolled in the College of St. Nicolas of the Royal School of Church Music, which was based in Canterbury, England at that time, where he sang countertenor.  Upon his completion of the RSCM program, he graduated from the UW with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music.

When Hallock returned from England in 1951, the Very Reverend John Leffler, Dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral, offered him a job at the cathedral with the charge, “to create a great music tradition at the cathedral.”  Under Hallock’s leadership, the cathedral has earned a national reputation for excellent music and liturgy.  During his tenure, he built up the cathedral choir, creating an ensemble capable of performing complex choral works, which has been featured on television and radio broadcasts, and has received high accolades; the introduction of a brass ensemble, an innovation for Episcopal churches at that time; and initiated the acquisition of a new organ for the cathedral, considered by many to be one of the finest instruments in the United States.  The cathedral’s Sunday evensong services, compline services, liturgical dramas, and concerts are all the result of Hallock’s work.

Hallock has received numerous degrees and honors including a Master of Music in Organ Performance and Composition from the University of Washington, and a Doctor of Sacred Music degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.  He is an Associate of the Royal School of Church Music and the Royal College of Music; and was named Canon Precentor, a title traditionally reserved for clergy.  Today, Dr. Hallock makes special appearances, is working on some unfinished projects, and serves as organist at St. Clement’s Parish, Seattle.

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