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February 11, 2008

Complaints Choirs

It all got started during a winter day walk of 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. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!"

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

After the Complaints Choir of Birmingham became a surprise success Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen have been invited to initiate complaints choirs all around the globe. They initiated the Complaints Choir of Helsinki, the Complaints Choir of St. Petersburg and the Complaints Choir of Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. Meanwhile several Complaints Choirs have been initiated by other people around the world.

More about Complaints Choirs on their web site. Listen to a piece on NPR about the choirs.

In the news today is an article about the government of Singapore banning the Singapore Complaints Choir:-

In Singapore there is no such thing as putting on a stage show and hoping people turn up. It's a drawn out and often painful process. All of the acts need permission from the government, transcripts of lyrics and plays must be submitted for approval and even the type of food on offer is subject to scrutiny.

Approvals in recent years have been easier to come by as the government attempts to build a metropolis with a diverse arts scene to entertain the growing number of expatriate workers in residence. But every now and then there is a reminder of the complicated web of rules that hangs uncomfortably over this seemingly modern city.

The Complaints Choir of Singapore was given such a reminder two weeks ago when the government banned it from performing unless six of its members - foreigners - quit the group. The government was not happy with foreigners publicly criticising Singapore, even though some of the lyrics were as trivial as "people put on fake accents to sound posh and queue up three hours for doughnuts".

The choir, one of a worldwide movement of singing groups set up to give voice to local gripes, was told that it was inappropriate because the lyrics touched on "domestic affairs" and "any public discourse in such matters should be reserved for Singaporeans only".

Perhaps the government was troubled by the refrain "My, oh my, Singapore. What exactly are we voting for? What's not expressly permitted is prohibited." But its objections did not stop the lyrics being heard. The choir, which refused to perform in public without all of its members, gave a private performance instead and broadcast it on YouTube. It has had over 15,000 hits.

Posted by acapnews at February 11, 2008 10:28 PM


A documentary film of the Chicago and Singapore Choirs is in the works...

Posted by: Frank Mauceri at March 10, 2009 1:09 PM

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