Gerre Edward Hancock

February 21, 1934 – January 21, 2012

Gerre Hancock, one of America’s most highly acclaimed concert organists and choral directors, passed away peacefully on January 21st, surrounded by his family, in Austin, Texas.  The cause was coronary artery disease.  A gifted artist, teacher and composer, he was considered by many to be a giant figure in twentieth to twenty-first century American sacred music.  He was known not only for his artistry, but also for his energy, optimism and love of the people he taught and for whom he performed.

At the time of his death, Dr. Hancock was Professor of Organ and Sacred Music at The University of Texas at Austin, where he taught along with his wife of fifty years, Dr. Judith Hancock. Prior to this appointment in 2004, he held the position of Organist and Master of the Choristers at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City, where for over thirty years he set a new standard for church music in America.  Previous to his time at Saint Thomas, he held positions as Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, where he also served on the Artist Faculty of the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, and as Assistant Organist at St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City.

A native of Lubbock, Texas, Gerre Hancock began to hone his legendary skills as a child, taking piano and organ lessons in Lubbock and playing in a local church.  He went on to study at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree, and from there to Union Theological Seminary in New York for his Master of Sacred Music degree, from which he received the Unitas Distinguished Alumnus Award. A recipient of a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, he continued his study in Paris during which time he was a finalist at the Munich International Music Competitions.  His organ study was with E. William Doty, Robert Baker, Jean Langlais, Nadia Boulanger, and Marie-Claire Alain.

A Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, Dr. Hancock was a member of its National Council, and was a founder and past president of the Association of Anglican Musicians.  As a noted teacher, he served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, the Institute of Sacred Music of Yale University, and The Eastman School of Music.

Dr. Hancock was appointed a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music in 1981 and of the Royal College of Organists in 1995.  He received honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Nashotah House Seminary, the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and from Westminster Choir College in Princeton New Jersey.  In 2004 he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree (Honoris causa) from the General Theological Seminary in New York, and was presented with the Medal of the Cross of St. Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a ceremony at Lambeth Palace, London.  He is listed in Who’s Who in America.  His biography appears in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, and the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists named him International Performer of the Year in 2010.

Gerre Hancock’s consummate skill was clearly apparent in his concert appearances.  Possessing a masterly interpretive style, he was an artist of taste, warmth, perception, and style—and a master of virtuosity in his improvisations.  Considered for decades to be the finest organ improviser in America, he was heard in recital in countless cities throughout the United States, Europe, South Africa, Japan, and Great Britain.  He also performed on occasion with his wife, Judith, including a recital at Westminster Abbey.

Compositions for organ and chorus by Dr. Hancock are published by Oxford University Press, as is his textbook Improvising: How to Master the Art, which is used by musicians throughout the country.  He recorded for Decca/Argo, Gothic Records, Koch International, Priory Records and Pro Organo, both as conductor of the Saint Thomas Choir and as a soloist.  In addition, the American Guild of Organists produced a DVD about him, volume IV of The Master Series.

Gerre Hancock is survived by his wife, Dr. Judith Hancock of Austin, Texas, his daughters Deborah Hancock of Brooklyn, New York and Lisa Hancock of New York City, as well as his brother, the Reverend James Hancock, of Savannah, Texas.  A Memorial Service is planned for February 4, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. at Saint Thomas Church, New York City.  The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the University of Texas at Austin Organ Department with an emphasis on Sacred Music.