Complaints Choirs Worldwide


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 choir in which people sing about their complaints?"

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.

Birmingham (to some people also 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 an easy to learn song. Within two weeks time the song was rehearsed to near perfection by the committed participants – despite the fact that most choir members were so called non-singers. A internet meme was born – with a chorus one can't get out of ones mind: "I want my money back..."

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. In numerous letters people describe how exactly in Hong Kong, Philadelphia, Gothenburg, or Buenos Aires people complain perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. To date Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen have facilitated Complaints Choir workshops in Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, Chicago, Singapore, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Teutonia and Berlin/Dresden. The Singapore Complaints Choir got into political trouble when auhtorities de facto banned it
from public performance. The matter was later debated in the Singaporean parliament. The performances of those choirs are documented and presented as a powerful video installation in art exhibitions as well as on this web site.

In the meantime it became apparent that there was a much larger need for a musical outlet for people's gripes. The Complaints Choir project went "open source" in 2006 when on this site the "9 easy step method" to form a complaints choir was launched, inviting anyone to organize a complaints choir in their own city, within their organisation or within any other community of interest. The movement started with the Poikkilaakso Complaints Choir formed at a school in the outskirts of Helsinki by Matti Salo and Elisa Hilli, the Bodø Complaints Choir organized by Kari Koksvik and Mikael Rönnberg and the Pittsburgh Complaints Choir initiated by Jenn and Ray Strobel. The CBC radio station "As It Happens" also organized their own interpreatation of a Canadian Complaints Choir. Even Alaska has now it's own Complaints Choir aka Skunk Cabbage Complaints Choral, which is intened to become an annual cultural highlight in Juneau. The Budapest Complaint Choir aka Panaszkorus became a great success – Hungarians actually claim to be the "World Champions of Complaining". The did their best to prove this claim. In Hongkong there were so many complaints that a special 45 minute long Symphony of Complaints was performed. Cologne has so far the largest choir with more then 150 singers, while somewhere in the Canadian woods is the only 1 person complaints choir.

It is estimated that there are about 140 complaints choirs around the world (February 2014). We try to keep a track of all of them, but appologize that we are currently not able to publish all of their activities on this site. We plan to revamp the site in the near future to include much more choirs.

Our thanks goes to all those enthusiastic people that have made complaining such a rewarding activity.