Instrumentation: SATB & Piano
Commissioned by: Jackson Thomas & KC VITAs (2023)
Ruminations & Affirmations was commissioned by Jackson Thomas for a culminating doctoral study at the University of Kansas centered on the pedagogy of minimalist vocal techniques. The piece is inspired by elements of Minimalism, as well as the composer’s personal experiences with anxiety and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The first half, Ruminations, features an incessant motor and an “obsessive thought” in the piano that keeps restarting, followed by frantic intrusive worries sung by the choir. The Ruminations section climaxes into a slowly building wall of anxiety featuring counting and various obsessive thoughts from which the singers may choose. This gives way to the choir taking a breath, holding it, and slowly exhaling along with the slowing motor in the piano, resting on B Major.
The second half, Affirmations, begins in the calmer Parallel E Major with a slower, more peaceful motor in the Piano. The choir then sings meditative observations based on their senses, which is adapted from the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique, often used to calm an anxious mind (it asks the person to name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste). The idea is to gently bring one’s consciousness back into the present and immediate physical world. The section concludes with the choir singing repeating affirmations, often used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat anxiety and OCD.
This piece would fit well in any concert, particularly on themes of mental health, awareness, and advocacy.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from anxiety or OCD, know that help is available. Reach out to a licensed professional or one of many resources available, such as the International OCD Foundation (https://iocdf.org/) to be connected to someone who can help.
Is everything okay?
Is everything okay?
Am I okay? Are they okay?
What if it’s never okay again?
Will I be okay? Will this be okay?
What if we’re never okay again?
Something is wrong.
There’s something wrong.
Is there something wrong?
There must be something wrong!
[Am I safe? Am I loved?
Am I sick? Am I well?]
[What if no one loves me?
What if I don’t belong?
What if I don’t matter?
[How do I know when I can breathe?
How do I stop being afraid?
How will I know when to let go?]
[How can I stop these thoughts?
Why won’t my mind calm down?
When will my brain unlock?]
(Breathe in, hold, then exhale)
See the sunlight through the leaves.
Feel the gently rustling breeze.
Hear the birds sing in the trees.
Smell the flowers blossoming.
Taste the salt air from the sea.
You can just be.
This will not last.
This too shall pass.
Just because I feel it,
doesn’t mean it’s real.
Don’t live in the violent froth.
Dive into the deep where it’s calm.
These thoughts are clouds