Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Complaints Choir Complains!

We, the Toronto Complaints Choir, took our show on the road today. First stop, St. Lawrence Market, to entertain the unsuspecting noon hour lunch crowd.  We certainly complained, and, I hope, entertained. It sure looked like it. A look of recognition seemed to resonate through the crowd as we rattled off complaints, one by one (melodically, of course), By the last stanza, spontaneous  sing-alongs were in evidence.

For those of you who may not have read a previous blog I wrote about Complaints Choirs around the world, I’ll give you a brief rundown now.

The concept was developed in Finland by two musicians who thought it would be fun to transform the huge energy people put into complaining and turn it into something fun and creative.

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro," meaning "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously?

The musicians thought, "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!" And they did. They solicited complaints (about anything people wanted to complain about), put them to music, solicited choir members, rehearsed and held spontaneous performances in public places throughout the city.

Their success in Helsinki prompted the organizers to encourage other major cities in the world to do the same. This winter, a Complaints Choir was formed in Toronto through the World Stage Theatre at Harbourfront. After receiving more than 1000 complaints from Torontonians, a composer was hired to take The People’s Fodder and turn it into something musical.

Local musician Bryce Kulak rose to the challenge and composed a delightful, fun, and charmingly melodic song, squeezing in as many complaints as he could. People like me (non-professional complainers!) signed up, and after weeks of rehearsals, the first performance was belted out today in front of Future Bakery at St. Lawrence Market.

The audience? Whoever was in the vicinity at the time. Noon-day lunchers, strolling shoppers pushing bundle buggies, peameal-bacon-eating children and wandering souls taking sushi and fried veal sandwiches back to the office.

There were about 50 or so of us in the choir today, our musical accompanists, and our fearless leader, Bryce, directing us from a podium set up in an aisle between coolers of raw meat and bakery shelves filled with plump ryes breads and oozing butter tarts.

Bryce created something akin to a Broadway musical hit song. It was so catchy, that by the end of the seventh (and last) stanza of the song, I saw dozens of people singing along with us. Smart move on the organizers’ part to hand out song sheets to the crowd. It was particularly smart because the cavernous market place seemed to suck up a lot of our sound. In such conditions, it’s hard for people to make out the words. And though the melody we sang is so compelling, it’s the words, aka the complaints, that make the song so special.

So what did we complain about?  You name it.

How I wish you could hear the lines sung, as they should be, rather than read. Well, you can. The video is near-perfect for a singalong. So let me give you some  idea of what Torontonians have to complain about, and did. We’ll be complaining again tomorrow after 6:00 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Here are some excerpts.

Nobody signals in their cars
No good 30s singles’ bars
Why do the Maple Leafs always lose?
I hate getting tiny rocks in my shoes.

Stickers on pears pull the skin right off
Please use your sleeve when you sneeze and cough
Please stop hogging that subway pole
I wish I didn’t have this unsightly mole.

The TTC is not o great
Crowded, expensive, and always late
Where are all the bicycle routes?
Upstairs neighbors walk in boots.

Where are the attractive single men?
Bugs are invading my house again
We are people not sardines,
Not everything is about you, teens!

Why don’t my children ever call
They take all my money and spend it at the mall
Why should I cook for you every night
When washing the \dishes is such a fight?

Toronto’s G-20 was a police state
I can’t get laid and I can’t get a date
Why can’t artists make a buck
Standing ovations for shows that such

Double –wide strollers are in my way
Too timid to say what I have to say
Nobody cares about your status updates
Nathan Phillips Square should sharpen their skates.

Each of these stanzas are punctuated with a rousing chorus where we harmonically repeat a decisive and common rant, including Rob Ford (Rob Ford, Rob Ford, Rob Ford),  Litterbugs, etc., Escalator Blockers, Dog Poo and Pee on the Seat.

I’ve greatly enjoyed being part of the choir and watching the creative process take shape. Bryce (and the organizers) did a fabulous job taking 1000 raw complaints and turning them into something fun and so very creative.

In a world filled with so much turmoil, from the earthquake and nuclear breakddown in Japan, the mess in Libya, and, closer to home, yesterday’s murder of a developmentally handicapped 80 year-old, it’s hard to take ourselves too seriously. Fortunately, we don’t. By playing with these complaints, we acknowledge they’re real, universal and deserve mentioning. Complaining feels good some times. It’s a nice outlet. We all need it.

And as the Complaints Choir’s fearless leader, librettist, composer and seemingly all around good-guy has written:

There isn’t anything wrong about it
Should be a complaining song about it
I hope you’ll all sing along about it
It’s time to finally shout about it.

Complain! Complain! Complain! Complain!

But not too much, okay?  It can get pretty boring after awhile.

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