Complaints Choirs Worldwide

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WHAT EXACTLY IS A COMPLAINTS CHOIR?

A complaints choir is doing exactly what the name suggests - it is a choir that sings complaints. What is special about the complaints choir, that anybody can take part - the only criteria is that people need to have something to complain about.

HOW DID IT ALL STARTED?

We just realized that people complain a lot, no matter what their life circumstances are. Whether the live(d) under socialism or capitalism, whether they are rich or poor, young or old. We wanted to tap into this unending source of energy, we wanted to transform this complaints energy into something else, something surprising. The idea itself stems from the Finish word "Valituskuoro" - which means Complaints Choir. We wanted to see what happens if one takes this term literally. We tested the project in Birmingham (UK) in 2005. The song "I want my Money back" created during a complaints workshop at Springhill Institute became an instant hit on the net.

DID YOU WANT TO COMBINE SINGING WITH POLITICAL PROTEST?

Complaints Choirs are not intended as protest choirs or an agit-prop revival. The political complaint is only representing a small margin of the wonderful world of complaints. Why should such important issues as broken underpants, boring dreams or spying neighbors be excluded? On the other hand the private, the personal, can be very political at the same time. If somebody complaints "I have too much time!" it can be seen just as a personal tragedy, but it also points to a major defect of the capitalistic society, which sidelines people because they are of no use in the production cycle.

HOW DOES A COMPLAINTS CHOIR COME INTO EXISTENCE?

All citizens of a particular city are invited to complain about anything they want and to join the choir. At the first meeting the freshly formed choir decides democratically on the content of the song. A local musician composes a tune for the text which is then rehearsed in 4 or 5 meetings. In the end the choir performs their collective grumbles at different locations in the city

DO YOU ACTUALLY NEED TO BE ABLE TO SING TO BE IN THIS CHOIR?

Absolutely not. The only important thing is that you sing loud and proud.

IN WHICH CITIES THERE ARE COMPLAINTS CHOIRS?

The project started in Birmingham in 2005. Choirs in Helsinki, Hamburg and St. Petersburg followed shortly after. When the videos of those four choirs started to circle in the world wide web we received hundreds of request for complaints choirs. We decided to make the concept "open source" and encourage people to organize their own choirs. Today there are Complaints Choirs in 70 cities from Alaska to Tasmania. Sweden has most complaints choirs while Vancouver region has the highest density of choirs. Canada features also the first One Man Complaints Choir.

CAN ANYBODY FORM THEIR OWN COMPLAINTS CHOIR?

Yes, absolutely. You can follow the "9 Easy Steps Method" from our website www.complaintschoir.org or find your own interpretation of the idea.

WHAT ARE THE MOST UNUSUAL COMPLAINT YOU'VE HEARD SO FAR?

My dreams are boring. My neighbor organizes hungarian folk dance classes above my bedroom. I cant stop thinking about sex! My grandmother is racist.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST COMMON COMPLAINTS YOU'VE HEARD?

Surprisingly people complain mostly about themselves (I am fat and lazy and half-old). Very common are complaints about other people, especially neighbours (My neighbour makes weird animal sounds) In all cities – except Tokyo – people complained also about too much advertisements of all forms; too big billboards, too long TV-ads, too many offers for penis enlargements in your mailbox.

IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE CHORUS HAD A REFLECTIVE OR A COMMENTARY FUNCTION. WHAT GOAL HAS THE COMPLAINTS CHOIR?

The comparison with a Greek chorus is helpful: 15-50 amateur singers comment on the progress of the tragedy, the vox humana in the rumble of the gods. As a side affect we believe that a few of the notorious whiners that are exposed to a complaints choir will achieve a somewhat self-ironic distance to their own complaints culture and start to smile at their neighbors occasionally.

IS THIS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?

When we organized the first Complaints Choir in Birmingham we did not know how the project will turn out: will it be very depressing? Will we need the help of a professional psychologist to assist the choir? But already in the first meeting of the choir it became clear, that this project is very funny. People were laughing all the time and enjoyed the rehearsal very much. People like singing, and people like complaining. I think humour comes from the combination of those not necessarily related activities, but it is important to take both activities – complaining and singing – serious. Than it is funny.

WILL THIS CHANGE THE WORLD?

We defined complaining as "dissatisfaction without action," nevertheless behind most of the complaints there is an idea or a belief or a value that a person is committed to. Complaints have therefore inbuilt the potential of being a transformative power. The truth about the revolution in East Germany is, that it only happened because a critical mass of people was dissatisfied with and complained about everyday life issues.

There is another fundamental aspect to the culture of complaining. Why do people complain about things they have not the slightest influence upon, for example the weather? Here complaining is not at all about changing things, but rather to build a communal feeling: I am not alone with my little problems, we share the same burden – of an total in-acceptable climate for example...