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What does "okay" mean in an a cappella group?

By: Swathi Sampath, Rahul Mirchandani - members of University of Michigan a cappella group Maize Mirchi

The most salient part of our group mental health is the word “group.” Members of Maize Mirchi know that we are not alone and that the well-being of every other group member is of central importance. We have noticed that, as college students, it is impossible for everyone to be definitionally “okay” from a mental health standpoint all of the time. Between school, other student organizations, our own a cappella group, and life itself, it's easy to feel lost or overwhelmed. In fact, it is often the norm. That’s why “okay,” to us, has evolved to become more of a group mindset and a group effort.

One of our senior members often reminds us that a cappella singing is the oldest form of trauma therapy. There’s something about a group of individuals coming together and making music with nothing other than ourselves that enables the group to connect at a deeper level, and thus to heal more quickly and effectively. Interestingly, we have found singing itself to also be a barometer of group health. When we are collectively more “okay,” we sound better and make better music.

So what does “okay” mean to us? Given that it is impossible to ensure that everyone in a group of nineteen very busy individuals is in a perfect mental state, we choose to view this as more of a group effort than an individual one. Although what Mirchi teaches us about what it means to be “okay” and look after each other seems niche, it’s quite applicable to our everyday lives and interactions with others. When you join Mirchi, you enter into an unspoken agreement with all the members to sacrifice - to give a part of yourself to the group, and the group gives part of itself to you. In this way, we look to prioritize ensuring that everyone can feel supported within the group, as they give so much back to it.

The role of our executive board and president is one of the most contributive, tangible factors to our familial, supportive environment. Rather than viewing executive positions as hierarchical and top-down, they represent more of a bottom-up support system for Mirchi, performing the tasks that help the group function and succeed. Unlike most other groups, the president’s primary role is not rooted in logistical prowess and outward leadership (although those qualities are always highly desired); instead, Mirchi’s president is tasked with keeping up morale, facilitating conflict resolution, and, most importantly, being a pillar of emotional support. Our president serves as an executive catch-all, who supports the other exec members functionally and individuals within the group emotionally. Positioning our president in this way helps the group understand that we are all there to spend time with each other and make music together.

The structure of our group has self-ensuring benefits, as we know each other so well that we can tell when people are not okay - almost before they can. Whether it comes from seeing someone look slightly out of it during rehearsals or if they go directly to other members of the group for help, we know when we need to pick someone up and make sure they can feel the love and support within the group when they need it most. People aren’t always going to be okay, so we strive to create an environment where members can give and take to and from the group when they want and/or need to.

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of competitions, classes, and life in general, but where commitment to Mirchi is concerned, one tenet always applies: health, school, and family come first. This holds just as true the night before a competition as it does during a chill rehearsal; it is just as true at the beginning of a semester as it is in the middle or end. This tenet is the cornerstone of Mirchi, and it helps our members learn how to prioritize themselves as well.

As a competitive group, members choose to take more than a few hours out of our weeks to devote to each other and the group—rehearsals, planning, and traveling to competitions across the country all make Mirchi an intensive commitment. This makes it fairly easy, then to let certain important facts slip through the cracks, including the fact that we are, above all else, a group of friends. We make it our first priority to keep that as our first priority and to never lose sight of what truly matters—each other. When we can take care of each other, we can take care of the group, and work toward being as “okay” as possible.


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