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Complaints Choir Gripes About Chicago

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Complaints Choir Gripes About Chicago

All the world loves to complain. No matter the language, people like to gripe. One group of musicians is trying to elevate the complaint to an art form.

Think you’ve got a beef?

FOX: Recently the Chicago Transit Authority, watching it crumbling around.
MAUCERI: We need to stop referring to freeways by their popular name. I’ve no idea how to get from the Dan Ryan to the Stevenson or whatever their calling it.

HORBERG: People walking to slowly on MI Avenue, basically paper-doll style with their whole family taking up the entire sidewalk.

Oh yes, the world is full of complaints, and we all spend a lot of time sharing them. Finnish performance artists and husband/wife team Oliver Kochta Kalleinen and Tellervo Kelleinen realized there was a lot of energy worldwide expended on complaining. So they decided to channel a chorus of complaints into an artistic endeavor. Two years ago they were on a walk in their hometown of Helsinki, when Tellervo says the idea just came to them.

TELLERVO: We came up with the idea of complaints choir and the idea came very easily because in Finish we have a word called “Valituskuoro” which means literally complaints choir and is used to describe a situation where people are just complaining and complaining and we thought let’s take this word and make a complaints choir.

So the two of them began their quest to organize Complaints Choirs around the Western World. The duo invited ordinary citizens in various cities to submit complaints and join a Complaints Choirs tailored to each town. Anyone can join. But all participants register a complaint and help develop them into a song. Finally, the choir then performs the song in a public setting.
music: Gabriola Choir Music

Tellervo and Oliver have organized Complaints Choirs across the globe: From Birmingham, England to St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland to Gabriola, Canada. The phenomenon is growing; renegade Choirs have sprung up organically. The artists now have posted on their website detailed instructions for how to organize your own Complaints Choir. And they’ve organized the first official one in the United States right here in Chicago. Oliver says picking the Windy City was no accident.

OLIVER: we got the information that Chicago is the complaints capitol so we thought it would be good for the project All joking aside, Chicago is an ideal locale, according to Smog Veil Records owner Frank Mauceri. He first beckoned the artists to hold a Complaints Choir here.

MAUCERI: We have a lot of people here that like to speak their mind. And uh that’s an accepted part of our society and our culture here in the city. So just what kinds of people join the Complaints choir? Oliver and Tellervo say they’re people who don’t take themselves too seriously .

OLIVER: the people who participate in complaints choir need a certain amount of self reflection and maybe self irony and a sense of humor. We had really one hard problem case in Birmingham -- this person dropped off after the first rehearsal because he felt that this is not the real thing, it’s not for the real professionals.

TELLERVO: Also in Hamburg we had one woman who was there really kind of seriously wanting to tell her political complaints and she was there without really any kind of sense of humor or self reflection and she just dropped out from the choir b/c she couldn’t deal with singing 1925 political ideas in the choir which also sings about underpants.

No such problem here. The Complaints Choir of Chicago is 50 strong - the second largest to date, next to Helsinki. Chicago Choir members Richard Fox and Mia Hamburg say complaining builds community.

FOX: Total strangers getting together maybe to get something off their chests.

HORBERG: I just thought it was really funny and just a great way to play on your own frustrations and look at things in a more lighthearted way.

Sure, we get it. Everyone raises a stink once in a while, but complaining has artistic merit, says Yolanda Cursach of the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MCA hosts Chicago’s Complaints Choir debut tomorrow.

CURSACH: this project really heightens the level of engagement between the public and the artist so that there’s less of a mystery of what the creative process is about for people to understand their own creative potential and um at the same time which is rare for an artist, the opportunity to encounter their listeners on a one on one.

The artists are on a mission to save America from the oppression of politeness. Oliver says they’re not stopping with that.

OLIVER: We want to stop the complaints-free world movement that’s our number one mission. On the other hand we would like to of course change the world to be a better place through complaining and to make some people that are notorious complainers to better develop more self irony and complain a little bit less, or complain a little bit more creatively.

Complaints Choirs may have a hard time gaining traction in more reserved parts of the country, but Chicago is a city that’s learned to embrace its inner cynic.

FOX: Advertisers who say by using their product you’ll save money.

HORBERG: proper flushing of the toilets, I just I don’t understand just look back and see what’s there, just flush it and maybe wipe the seat too.

OLIVER: This morning at 6 there was a helicopter hoovering around above our apartment, it was.

CURSACH: The double standard of how parks are used and when they’re privatized and who gets to say how the park system is used.

My complaint is that I’ve run out of time to complain.

For Chicago Public Radio, I’m Althea Legaspi.

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