Daniel Carter: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer
In one year’s time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s first vision. Daniel Carter’s miniature cantata, a setting of “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer,” is a perfect addition to any sacrament meeting. It is short, relatively easy to work up, and contains solos for the feel of a full-fledged cantata. Each of the four verses is like a separate movement, though there are no rests in between; the music keeps flowing.
The first verse is light, setting the stage. The choir sings unison until the end of the verse while a solo voice, or even a C instrument (flute, violin), sings an obbligato above it all.
The second verse is a cappella, featuring a male solo, with the choir supporting. This verse uses text painting to capture Joseph Smith’s grapple with unseen forces and then overcoming.
The third verse features a female solo singing an ethereal melody with the choir singing hints of the melody softly underneath, depicting the vision of brightness and the appearance of the two heavenly beings.
The fourth verse invites the congregation to join singing in unison. As in the first verse, the same high-voice obbligato is used with some variations. Thus depicting the joy in seeing God and His Son. The verse ends with the choir and soprano solo singing a soft afterthought a cappella.
The whole piece can be accompanied by either piano or organ, both, or mixed together (see the simulation below).
Here are thoughts from the composer himself:
I composed this little cantata in the spring of 1990, nearly 30 years ago. It has never been performed or published, although it was programmed after I completed it, it got bumped, and so sadly, my little cantata was never performed. I’ve always hoped to find a publisher for it. I’m very happy that Melkim Publishing is willing to give this little work a great home! I’m also delighted at the prospect of it being performed, used, and included as an important part of any program about the restoration, particularly with the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision coming up in 2020. The idea for the cantata came to me as I considered what our ward choir might sing for a restoration themed sacrament meeting. I couldn’t create a grand program for worship services, because we needed to keep the usual worship meeting patterns of including speakers, etc. So creating something that took about the same amount of time as singing a congregational hymn was a perfect way to proceed. Making every verse a separate movement and introducing new musical material in succeeding verses seemed to be an unusual and good way to present a familiar and beloved hymn. Adding the congregation on the last movement (or verse) helps unify everyone in attendance. I hope those who perform this little cantata will find inspiration and beauty.
Finally, here is a simulation of a performance. It demonstrates the variety available in performing this piece.
The piano plays the intro. Then at the beginning of Verse 1, the organ joins the piano, playing the bass only. A flute plays the obbligato solo.
In Verse 2, the organ and piano both rest.
The organ comes in alone at Verse 3.
Both the piano and organ play in Verse 4, and the flute plays the obbligato again.