Hate your job? Why not join a complaints choir

Hate your job? Why not join a complaints choir
Sing away the pain — From cramped offices to crumbling public services: the Complaints Choir wants to turn people’s problems with work into song. But is it really effective?

Bad bosses, poor pay, that colleague who always eats with their mouth open – from the structural to the quotidian, pretty much all of us have something to complain about when it comes to work.

What exactly we should do with that pent-up rage, however, is a different matter altogether. Some of us vent to our partners or friends, others to trusted colleagues in secret WhatsApp groups. Some of us have a glass of wine at the end of the day, others take out their fury in the gym, while some of us say nothing at all, swallowing our disgruntlement entirely. Most of us employ a combination of the lot.

What you’re unlikely to have done is turn your complaints into song. But that’s exactly what one group in Liverpool have recently done. The aptly named Complaints Choir – originally founded in Finland in 2005, and recently performed at FACT Liverpool – is led byJennifer John. John was tasked with turning the choir’s complaints about work into song.

“The initial session was for people to talk about their beef – their gripes with the jobs they have,” John explains. “They ranged from feeling like their office was too small, to the effects of the Conservative government on the NHS, and everything in-between.” John then took the complaints away and turned them into a piece of vocal music.

“My job was to get the singers to really think about themselves in terms of how they express the emotions that complaining can evoke,” she says. “So we explored anger, we explored the sound of isolation, of sadness, and frustration.” You can sense this rage in John’s song, too. Starting with sighs, the song soon soars into an angry crescendo of claps and stomps: they’re fed up with work and they’re not afraid to tell you. 

Inspiration for the choir came, for the two artists who created it, from a phrase in their native Finnish: valituskuoro. In literal terms, the phrase means ‘complaints choir’; more abstractly, it refers to a group of people complaining simultaneously. This double meaning intrigued them – what would happen if the complaints choir was real? Since its inception, various iterations of the choir have performed hundreds of times across the world. 

Taking part in the project, fairly obviously, does not change the structure of your work or life: if you’re subject to unfair labour practices or intolerable conditions then you need a union, not a choir. But having somewhere to vent – somewhere to put those complaints, rather than letting them fester – is a powerful thing.

“It’s therapeutic,” says Sharon, a member of the choir. Working in the NHS, Sharon is faced with complaints herself: people who can’t get an appointment or have been placed on seemingly endless waiting lists. At work, she has to be patient: “you can imagine the abuse I get on a daily basis,” she says. But in the choir, she can let loose; “complain in a positive way”. “And what a medium to be able to do it in!” she says. 

“It really has highlighted problems that need addressing,” she continues. “Your personal and your work and the political all intertwine.” Her ‘everyday’ complaints, she says, are inherently political – people telling her they can’t get seen by the NHS because of cuts, that their operations have been cancelled or delayed. It’s all part of the same thing, she says. 

John also believes that the creativity of the choir can help people come to terms with stressful situations in their life. “People can be so reserved,” she says. “So allowing them to have a voice to vent is really, really good. Choir members have said they’ve found it really cathartic – it’s a stress release to combine complaining with singing. It can be really liberating.” Those feelings of catharsis are evident in the song, the stomping and sighing that characterises its rhythm building into something both incredibly intense and deeply relatable. Who hasn’t felt the need for that kind of release? 

As for Sharon, she’s found the process incredibly freeing.

“People are scared of complaining,” Sharon concludes. “They don’t want to lose their jobs. So it’s really good to express this through song, and in a positive way. I know they might be negative comments, but you can sing them positively, if you know what I mean.”

“If you’re singing something, then you’re happy.” 

Follow Emily Reynolds on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Latest on Huck

Exploring the football fanatic culture of the Middle East
Outdoors

Exploring the football fanatic culture of the Middle East

New photo book ‘Football كرة القدم’ draws together pictures from over a dozen photographers to explore the region’s vibrant football culture.

Written by: Isaac Muk

Drag artists unite to get out the vote, babes
Election 2024

Drag artists unite to get out the vote, babes

East London legend Crystal talks to Huck about her new campaign, Vote, Babes! which brings together over 20 drag artists to encourage young people to use their vote.

Written by: Ben Smoke

In Photos: Riding high at the Appleby Horse Fair

In Photos: Riding high at the Appleby Horse Fair

Since 1775, the sleepy Cumbrian town of Appleby has played host to the annual Appleby Horse Fair – the largest gathering of Travellers in Western Europe.

I interrupted Keir Starmer’s manifesto launch – here’s why
Election 2024

I interrupted Keir Starmer’s manifesto launch – here’s why

One of Starmer’s constituents, Alice tried every way to talk to her then MP about the crisis facing her generation, but he did not listen she writes exclusively for Huck.

Written by: Alice, Green New Deal Rising

Bashy: “My dad kept me alive”
Culture

Bashy: “My dad kept me alive”

In our latest Daddy Issues column, award winning actor and MC Ashley “Bashy” Thomas talks traditional masculinity, learning survival skills from his Dad and ‘making it’.

Written by: Robert Kazandjian

How communities of colour fought back
Election 2024

How communities of colour fought back

Micha Frazer-Carroll examines the challenges that the UK’s minoritised communities have faced over the last five years, and reports on the ways that they have come together to organise, support and uplift one another.

Written by: Micha Frazer-Carroll

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now