John Gordon Armstrong

Canadian Composer


On the Cusp

In the summer of 2014, I had a commission from Coro Vivo Ottawa to write a powerful celebratory piece for their 30th anniversary. For whatever reason, I expected it to take the whole summer, but I finished it in about 3 weeks! So, with the remaining time, I wrote a piece that I wanted to write, a song cycle for baritone voice. I had written for every other voice, including 8 cycles for soprano, but had never written for baritone, even though that is my voice.

For a text, I turned to Seymour Mayne, whose texts I had used for Hail in 2003. Mayne writes “Word Sonnets” – 14 word poems. These suited my natural tendency to prefer miniatures over developed movements; it was a “fun” project. Seymour suggested his set On the Cusp. In contrast to my method with Hail, where I designed an elaborate tonal plan before writing any note, with On the Cusp, I just started writing and stopped when I was finished. I feel that this should result is some profound difference in the two pieces, but, in fact, they seem to be pretty similar.

On the Cusp was premiered on Nov. 5, 2017 by John Avey, baritone and Andrew Tunis, piano in Salle Huguette Labelle at the University of Ottawa, as part of a concert of my music, celebrating my 65th birthday. The following recordings are from that concert.

Composed in 2014 for Baritone and Piano
Duration: 12 minutes
Advanced student/Very accessible

1. “Cusp”


2. “Insomniac”


3. “Magic Carpet”


4. “Libations”


5. “Force”


6. “Way”


7. “Season”


8. “Gong”


9. “Thaw”