From within the instrument-lined walls of his Sechelt music studio, performer and educator Steve Wright is plotting to turn hostility into harmony.
Wright, who sometimes appears under the stage name Steve Weave, is asking the public to share grumbles and grievances that will be performed by a mixed vocal ensemble later this year.
“I guess at the end of last year, I was just saying that we really need to do a project that’s going to bring people together, “ said Wright. “And to be honest, we really need to try to heal some of the divide that has been born out of the isolation, the COVID, the conspiracies.”
“This is a great way for people to come together and air their grievances. And when you’re singing, it’s naturally just lighter, you know?”
The Complaints Choir is a worldwide phenomenon with origins in Helsinki. Two Finnish artists, during a winter walk, mused that the energy people dedicate to complaining could be channeled into a more productive purpose.
The Finnish language has a word—valituskuoro—that literally translates to “a chorus of complaints.”
In 2005, the founding artists organized the world’s first Complaints Choir in the United Kingdom, plastering the city of Birmingham with posters to attract singers. Three other European cities (including Helsinki) joined in the next year. Wright himself assembled a chorale in 2008, which performed, guerrilla-style, at locations throughout Vancouver.
This year, Wright is recruiting singers as well as grousers. No auditions will be required. Performances of the original work by Wright will take place at the annual Rogue Arts Festival, a three-day multidisciplinary arts festival taking place in Sechelt from August 19 to 21.
“If we get 10 people, we get 10. If we get 150, we’ll make it work,” said Wright.
Volunteer choristers can enlist for the project, and complainants can sound off, via the Rogue Festival’s website at rougefest.ca.
Wright won’t guarantee that every quibble will find a place in the lyrics he writes for the jeremiad. But he’s noticed that beefs tendered by members of the public have certain thematic similarities, depending on where a Complaint Choir is located. He expects Sunshine Coast submissions to follow suit.
“So, in Copenhagen, they complained about too many people in the sauna,” he said. “You know, that’s not something that we do, but here you can be sure there’s going to be complaints about the ferries, about the highway, about housing, about tourists, all those things.”
Wright plans to assemble volunteer singers in late May and June. A few public performances will occur before the group reaches a crescendo during Roguefest.
“Maybe you’re singing lines you don’t even believe,” said Wright, “but somebody else does, beside you, and they’re your brother or your sister or your community member. So it’s really about supporting each other through something creative and interesting.”