Nickitas Demos

Rituals at the Center of the Universe



  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Rituals at the Center of the Universe (2017)

Nickitas Demos

Duration: 14 minutes

View performance on YouTube.

I. Aggressive Processions - score preview                                                                                       

II. Lamentations of the Easily Outraged - score preview                                      

III. Litanies of Ammunition - score preview    

Commissioned by the Gwinnett Symphony Wind OrchestraThomas Wubbenhorst, Director

Like many, I look upon modern society with mixed feelings. These feelings range paradoxically between marvel, hope, happiness, cynicism, nonchalance and despair. While I would like to think that I maintain a bright outlook most of the time, or at least shift between these disparate views equally, I must confess to falling prey to unease more often than other views. When considering the causes of my disquiet, the easy target is always the external. While it might be comforting to pin the blame for my anxiety on something or someone else, the hard truth is that most of the time, the real cause of this unrest is much closer. Science may teach us that we are tiny specks living within a vast and incomprehensible universe. However, because I have lost sight of this fact and consider myself the center of the universe, I am easily agitated, offended and lacking in peace of heart.

This composition is a relatively short meditation on rituals that promote and celebrate the notion that I sit at the center of the universe. An exhaustive exploration of all these rituals would result in a composition too long to bear so I have divided the work into the three rituals I perform most often. The first movement, Aggressive Processions describes my daily commute to work. Like many large metropolitan areas, Atlanta is home to many aggressive drivers with myself, sadly, chief among them. The root of aggressive driving, of course, is the notion that my time is much more valuable and my daily agenda much more important than those around me. Other drivers and pedestrians are obstacles in my way. The movement opens with a fanfare that I consider essentially one long, extended blaring of my car horn. The music then moves with dizzying speed simulating my assertive driving.

In the second movement, Lamentations of the Easily Outraged, I take a moment to note how often I get agitated when things do not go my way or when I encounter views in opposition to my own. When you sit at the center of the universe, any detour from your plans or your worldview is a cause for outrage. The music is pensive throughout; a ritual chant of lamentation for the indignity of running into ideas counter to my own.

The final movement, Litanies of Ammunition describes what passes for discourse in the center of my universe. Often, I do not listen to understand but to know how to retort and to impose my ideas on others. Conversation becomes a conflict where I use the words of another as ammunition in my battle to convince them that I am right. The music reflects this as the entire ensemble is divided into three groups (percussion, brass and woodwinds respectively) who assert themselves and ultimately never come together. Their entrances are disruptive and combative throughout.

An 18th century monk of the Orthodox Christian Church, St. Seraphim of Sarov, once said “Acquire a peaceful spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.” These simple words stand in stark contrast to the ornate rituals I have constructed around my own spirit. They invite me to reconsider the ceremonies I have constructed and the fallacy of the position I believe I hold. More importantly, this famous quote allows me to recognize that much of the unease I feel in this modern society is not the result of anything external but rather self-inflicted. The rituals at the center of the universe yield nothing but despair. St. Sarov’s words are an invitation to step away from myself and pursue peace.