Uncommon Prayers is a cycle of five settings of poems by George Scott-Moncrieff (1910-1974). Scored for mixed voices, clarinet in B flat (bass clarinet in the second song), horn, cello and double bass, it was commissioned in 2011 by Clare College, Cambridge, and was first performed by Clare College Choir conducted by Graham Ross on their tour of Australia in July 2012. It lasts 18-19 minutes.
- The Rooks
- The Toad
- The Rat
- The Mallard
- The Owl
1: THE ROOKS
The sun gleams on tarpaulin wings
That slowly push away the air:
In summer when the migrant sings
To croak seems poor pretence at prayer.
But when the gay birds seek the South,
Leaves drop and skeleton the trees,
Sweeping rains drive out the drouth,
There’s place for our cacophonies.
To break the wind’s complaint with praise,
However coarse the knotted notes,
Redeems the barrenness of days
And shows God’s purpose in our throats.
2: THE TOAD
Lighten, Lord, my load;
I no beast of brawn
But tired and troubled toad,
A simple son of spawn.
A harmless, foolish toad
Whom dog disdains to clutch,
Who shuns the hurtful road
But loves the lawn’s touch.
Encourage me who creep
With warted limb and back,
And send me gentle sleep
When winter cometh back.
And I will worship well
In manner of my mind,
Fold fingers, hunch, and tell
The garden God is kind.
3: THE RAT
I am lean,
A lurcher rat,
My senses keen –
God grant me that
I carrion find,
And may it stink;
O Father, kind,
Permit me drink
Of blood ensoured,
Eat flesh flowered
There is no waste
Where rats are fed,
And, for all haste,
Grace shall be said.
4: THE MALLARD
Blackly, blackly to the sky,
Bird-arrows we, the turning night
Swirls to our banking flight.
Trees turn and straggle in the dusk
Below, like currents in the tide
When seas run calm.
Wings whistle and the stars
Flash between changing wings.
The darkness hides the sea we seek,
The widgeon-grass and the favoured creek,
But without error still we fly,
Intimate with Divinity
5: THE OWL
More silent than my muffled wings,
In silence, Lord, Thy greatness shows,
Thou hast no need like bird that sings
For light Thy triumph to disclose.
The darkness lying like a shroud,
Translucent but to wiser sight,
Shall pick me from the heaving crowd
To glide with God across the night.