Uncommon prayers

for SATB choir (+ solo alto in no. 5), clarinet (bass clar. in no. 2), horn, cello, double-bass
19 mins.
April 2012

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.

  1. The Rooks
  2. The Toad
  3. The Rat
  4. The Mallard
  5. The Owl




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.







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.









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,

Fragrant extraction,

Eat flesh flowered

With putrefaction.

There is no waste

Where rats are fed,

And, for all haste,

Grace shall be said.






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






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.