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FIU 'Complaints Choir' Shows The World Its Whine List

Christine DiMattei

Holiday rerun: This story was originally published March 19, 2014.  

"We will run out of resources!
Miami drivers all stink!"

The young men and women are standing in a practice room in Florida International University’s School of Music, singing a whole string of gripes and lamentations.

A litany of complaints, as it were.

"People don't know to turn right on red!
They never use their turn signals either!"

They're all members of FIU’s newly formed "Complaints Choir," a group of singers whose sole purpose is taking common everyday annoyances and setting them to music.

The idea for the choir sprang up after the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum chose the positive side of complaining as this year's theme for its annual Power of Design festival. Professor Regina Bailey received a tip from a colleague about a growing worldwide trend of complaints choirs. She then turned to YouTube for a crash course.

"It was a way of protesting, but a very pleasant way," says Bailey.

The first step was getting some valid complaints from the students on campus. For that task, Bailey turned to Dominick Giombetti, student programs coordinator for FIU’s Honors College.

Last fall, Giombetti and three of his students fanned out across the university’s main campus to compile a list of grievances from students.

"We set out about a three-week window where we put ourselves in strategic spots and collected the complaints," says Giombetti.

They ended up with a list of 500 -- about everything from the lack of parking on campus to bowling newbies who always get strikes.

The first documented complaints choir was started in 2005 by two visual artists from Helsinki. Today, there are about 70 worldwide.  A search for “Complaints Choir” on YouTube will turn up dozens of the chorales from Alaska to Tasmania.

Tokyo’s chorus looks cheerful enough, until you read the subtitles: "I don't know how to use my iPhone... I caught the flu in the waiting room at the hospital... my Grandma thinks she’s American."

But FIU's choir goes further than just letting off steam with a musical score.  The Honors College volunteers asked students to offer solutions along with their complaints.  And amid the gripes about South Florida’s aggressive drivers and the general unavailability of Mountain Dew in many convenience stores, the FIU faculty was pleased to see the students expressing concerns over issues like climate change, domestic violence, poverty and world hunger.

FIU music professor Mark Aliapoulis had no previous experience with complaints choirs before he was asked to conduct this one. But he says there's a certain symmetry in setting complaints to music.

"When we started the project, I wasn't sure,” says Aliapoulis.  “But now as I look at it, I think, 'What a beautiful way to make change. Instead of yelling and screaming, we're gonna sing it.' "

WLRN wants to hear YOUR favorite complaints put to music!  Please sing us your gripes, mutterings, beefs, bellyaching, etc.  Click here for more info.

Power of Design: Complaints -- Organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU in partnership with WLRN and The Miami Herald Media Company, March 20 to 23.

Years ago, after racking her brains trying to find a fun, engaging, creative night gig to subsidize her acting habit, Chris decided to ride her commercial voiceover experience into the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting. She started out with traffic reporting, moved on to news -- and never looked back. Since then, Chris has worked in newsrooms throughout South Florida, producing stories for radio broadcasts and the web.