About creating your own Complaints Choir (part two)
This is a continuation from Part One.
- Invite people to join. Distribute flyers, put up posters, send press releases. Everybody can join, no singing skills required! The more diverse the participants the better. Invite participants to send you complaints before the first meeting.
- Find the right composer (and accompanists): The musician has a difficult task. The song has to be composed within a few days and may have to be adapted over the course of the several rehearsals. The musician is also the choir conductor and leads the rehearsals. He or she has to be good in working with amateurs and total non-singers to make them enthusiastic and sing out loud with attitude.
- Group the complaints into categories.
- The First Choir Meeting: Making the Lyrics
Start with a warm-up complaining session, more good complaints will pop up. Introduce the categories and read the best complaints from each category to the choir. Ask people to divide up among the categories and edit, combine, and reformulate their material.
The results of each team are glued to cardboard. Rehearsal ends with every team reading their suggestions to the other teams.
- Making the Song: The musicians and a few volunteers from the choir combine the ideas and finalize the lyrics. The musician composes music to go with the lyrics.
- Rehearsing: About 3 to 5 rehearsals are sufficient to learn the song since a high level of polish is not necessary. Loudness and good enunciation are the primary goals.
At the end of each rehearsal food and drinks should be served.
- Preparing the Performances: With the choir members, decide on some locations. For some you advertise and invite an audience, but some can be spontaneous in public places. Arrange in advance for a videographer or two. The audio track for the video is generally recorded separately, in a quiet indoor space.
- Go out and sing: It will be a long day, so be sure you plan for food breaks.
Here's how we did it:
At the first meeting we organized and edited the complaints which would become our song. This must be a democratic process! I made us a logo for group morale (left).
People had sent me quite a few complaints ahead of time in emails. I printed those out, organized them by categories, and used glue sticks to paste them onto pieces of poster board. I stuck these boards up around the room.
When the meeting opened:
- Glenn and I introduced ourselves as the organizers, and then people introduced themselves.
- I invited the participants to go around the room and have a look at the various boards.
- We all sat down again. I introduced a "complaints warmup" song concocted from some of the earlier emailed complaints.
- Participants had an opportunity to compose more complaints - I had brought scratch paper squares for them, and glue sticks.
- People took their new complaints and added them to the correct boards.
- We invited participants to cluster near the boards which were nearest to their hearts. Those gathered around the Traffic board, for instance, used the next twenty minutes or so to discuss and edit complaints, starring the ones they liked best and crossing out the ones they rejected.
- We sat again. Then one representative from each board stood up and read the selected, edited complaints from their category.
- We ate, chatted, and said good-bye until next time!
- Glenn took the boards home with him and over the next two weeks wrote a song using about half the complaints; we rehearsed that half at the second meeting.
- I took the rest of the complaints and added them to the song, using modules of the song Glenn had already written. We practiced the whole thing at our third meeting.
Here are some thoughts from our experience:
I didn't understand why the founders emphasized that there should be "one musician," but we found out. I have worked with Glenn quite a bit in the past, but we were both used to running choruses and we each had our own method. We even disagreed on what "collaboration" means. He found my collaborative style intrusive - I wanted us to do things together, while he wanted to get his piece of the task and do that part entirely alone. Also, he teaches from the piano, because he's a pianist, while I teach by singing parts within the circle of singers (because I'm a singer). It got a little tense.
We had no sponsors of any kind and that was a mistake. Sponsors would have helped with promotion and advertisement, and maybe helped us find places to perform. Since this is all happening on one day, it's very important to advertise your performances effectively. We didn't do very well with that and didn't end up with big audiences.
It turned out to be hard to find legal public spots to perform. Lesson learned: many Complaints Choirs don't ask permission, they just show up somewhere and sing, figuring they'll be gone before the police show up with the paddy wagon. However, it would have been annoying to set up and be forced to disperse in the middle of our song. Also, if you do it that way, you can't advertise your performances.
You have to have a place to go after your performances to record the song (which will later be synched to the video). It should be quiet. And by the way, video synching is not so easy!
Our singers ranged from complete beginners - who didn't read music and had never in a group before - to experienced singers. We provided two kinds of learning aids, therefore: mp3 files for people who learn by ear and printed sheet music (Glenn and I both use Sibelius) for those who read music.
Glenn made midi files of the piano accompaniment for people to practice with - it turned out to be handy to use Audacity (a free program) to make mp3 files out of the midis. We posted everything on a website so people could practice between rehearsals.
Here's our song again in case you missed the first post:
Here's another one I like: The Complaint Choir of Wroclaw