2014-11-30 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, (1924-2014) was an influential figure within the Episcopal tradition who died just this past year. He will be best-remembered 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. 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 Hallock has composed numerous sacred works, many of which remain unpublished, including motets, large-scale anthems, and the widely used Ionian Psalter, a three-year cycle of psalm settings for choir with congregational antiphons.

Hallock was born and raised in the Seattle area, the youngest of five children. He studied organ and composition at the University of Washington-Seattle and at 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.

Peter HallockWhen 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 and created an ensemble capable of performing complex choral works, which has been featured on television and radio broadcasts, and has received high accolades; introduced 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 received numerous degrees and honors during his lifetime, 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 was 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.


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