JUNEAU EMPIRE March 8, 2007

Chorale offers community a chance to turn whining into a performance art

By Korry Keeker

Hither & Yon: A look at the idiosyncrasies and idiocies of life in Southeast Alaska

There are few weather-related certainties in our corner of the rain forest, but here's one of them:

When it snows more than two inches in Juneau, 85 percent of the town will spend so much time whining, you'll want to hijack a plow and drive it over their damn roof.

If it's not the snow, it's the slush, or the rain, or ... well it's always the rain. You'll find Satan and St. Michael sharing a twist cone at Udder Culture before you'll find anyone in Southeast moaning about the sun in their eyes.

We live in a city where people absolutely love to complain. Everyone's either pro-logging or has an ax to grind.

And that's precisely what makes it so shocking that the Skunk Cabbage Complaint Chorale - Juneau's very own "complaint chorus" - struggled to get off the ground this week.

Only eight singers braved the blizzard's second wave to attend Monday night's first rehearsal at The Canvas, 223 Seward St.

The arrangement, appropriately titled "It Blows," also turned out far more complex than imagined. That cast doubt on whether the chorus will debut at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the Capitol's steps during the Cabin Fever Arts Fest.

I must admit, I was apprehensive when I heard they were forming a chorale in which the lyrics would be Juneau-centric complaints. Did Christian fundamentalists really need yet another outlet to complain about pictures of dildos in the newspaper?

As it turns out, it won't exactly be that kind of chorus.

Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen hatched the idea of a "complaints choir" in Helsinki, according to www.complaintschoir.org.

To the great embarrassment of the Nordic World, their city dropped the ball; Birmingham, England, organized the first actual chorale.

Since then, complaint choruses have started all over the globe.

Helsinki finally got its act together and held a debut concert in March 2006 at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.

The performance, as documented on blog.wfmu.org, included the lines, "In the public sauna they never ask if it's okay to throw water on the stove," and the haunting refrain "Onmse niin fare," Finnish for "It's not fair."

Juneau composers Patricia Hull and Tony Tengs received roughly 30 complaint ideas for "It Blows." They ran from the weather to working a job solely for health benefits to - of course - the fact that the stewardess thanks us for flying Alaska Airlines when we've just paid $483 for a round trip to Seattle and had no choice about it.

"I want it to be an annual vernal equinox event," Hull said. "It isn't hard to find material."

No, but it is hard to find singers. And in this weather, the sidewalk.