Monday, March 7, 2011

Complaints, Catharsis and a Toronto Choir

How lucky can I get? I get to complain and call it art.

I've found a way to get through this harsh Toronto winter by joining a Complaints Choir, a concept developed  by Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen in Helsinki. Perhaps it was due to the coldness of the day that they ended up discussing the possibility of transforming the huge energy people put into complaining into something else. Perhaps not directly into heat – but into something powerful, anyway.

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro". It means "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously. What a nice way of referring to what other people might refer to as a bunch of whiners, no?

Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!" They did, and it’s come to Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre. Though I can't sing, I signed up the second I heard about it. I do know how to complain.

As complaining is a universal phenomenon, Kalleinen and Kockta-Kalleinen thought the project could be organised in any city around the world. They offered the concept to different events where they were invited as artists – but it was only after Springhill Institute in Birmingham, England, got excited about the idea that the First Complaints Choir became a reality.

Birmingham (to some known as the "arsehole of England") was a perfect place to start the project. The participants – found through flyers and small posters – understood the concept instinctively.  Local musician Mike Hurley turned the complaints into a easy to learn song. Within two weeks time the song was rehearsed to perfection by the committed participants – despite the fact that only few were able to sing. A hit was born – with a chorus you can't get out of your mind: "I want my money back..."

The Complaints Choir concept was a success, so much so that Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen were invited to initiate complaints choirs all around the globe – Hong Kong, Philadelphia, Gothenburg, Buenos Aires Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, Chicago, Singapore, Copenhagen and Tokyo.

The choirs were such a success, other cities were encouraged to follow the Finnish prototype and set up their own Complaints Choirs.

Toronto has joined in. We now have our own Complaints Choir.

I went to my first meeting last month at Harbourfront Centre, and will be heading out to my next soon. All you had to do to become a member of the choir was send in your complaint to a Hotline. I did, and rattled off one of my pet peeves, about young people on our subway system, so plugged in to their iPods, that they never look up long enough to notice much older people standing and in need of a seat.

It was good enough to get me picked for the choir (though I think everyone who sent in a complaint was, in fact, invited).  At our first meeting, we received a sheet of all the complaints, lumped into categories, everything from the weather to local politicians. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty. Society is too competitive. It is impossible to get enough sleep. 

Fortunately, the choir is open to people of all ages and no singing experience is required. I figure I can lip-synch in a crowd, which is exactly what I’ll be doing. A musician has been hired to compile the best-of complaints and create an original, humorous but poignant song which the 100 plus people in the choir will learn and perform around the city in a flash mob (or two) in public spaces.

Though the originators of the Complaints Choir concept are still involved peripherally in the concept, they are no longer directly involved.  “I think we have listened to enough complaints,” Mr. Kochta-Kalleinen has said. I can only imagine.

The originators of the Complaints Choir want the choirs to continue though, and on their Web site is a nine-step process for forming a choir, which includes inviting people to complain, finding the right composer, planning a performance (“spontaneous” unpublicized public performances at places like train stations are highly encouraged) and compiling a video. They also intend to be a resource for people who want to start their own choirs, and then to post videos of their performances.

At our first meeting last month, we warmed up our vocal chords and winnowed down the massive number of complaints sent in (both humourous and serious) to a usable sum. A composer was asked to come back to our next meeting with a composition that we will be rehearsing for the next couple weeks until we take it out into the (anxiously waiting) world in the form of flash mobs.

I’m really looking forward to our first real rehearsal, even more to our performances.

Until I report back with further details, please remember: Your call is very important to us.


1 comment:

  1. You can watch the documentary here