John Gordon Armstrong

Canadian Composer


Uncommon Prayers

Uncommon Prayers is a setting of Ottawa poet Susan McMaster’s poetry from her 1997 collection Uncommon Prayer. It is an expansion of O God, which was commissioned by the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, then under the direction of Laurence Ewashko, with the combined support of the Laidlaw Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council, for a benefit concert in aid of the Cantata Singers and WaterCan.

I have always felt that O God seemed incomplete by itself, like a conclusion to a larger work. From the time of its completion, I imagined the completion of the work with large forces, choir, soloist(s) and orchestra. The impetus to actually do the work came from a conversation with David Curry in the Spring of 2006. I was interested in writing something for him and made a few practical suggestions: a short overture for orchestra or perhaps an arrangement of a short song cycle. His response to me was that I should do what “I” wanted to do. Of course, what I really wanted to do was to write the more ambitious piece presented here. I began work in the Spring of 2006, sketching the entire piece within a few months. The working out of the orchestration and the copying took much longer.

Uncommon Prayers is presented in six movements in the form of a Cantata, complete with an orchestral prelude and an a cappella chorale as the fourth movement. Where this piece differs from a Bach Cantata – aside, obviously from the musical language – is in the emphasis on the final movement to which all of the previous movements lead.

The first performance (excerpts below) was on April 4, 2008 by Shannon Cole, soprano and the Choirs and Orchestra of the University of Ottawa, directed by Laurence Ewashko.

Composed in 2007 for Mezzo Soprano, SATB and Orchestra
Duration: 25 minutes
Advanced Student/Very Accessible
Published: Canadian Music Centre (Toronto)

3. Laugh

4. Prayer