by carl wilson

Musicking: Sciatic Skronk and Complaints Choirs

When I talk about participatory musical culture, the easiest example to bring up is the church or community choir. At the State of the Arts launch a few weeks ago, it came up that one of the fanciest high-end instrument stores in Toronto was originally founded to supply equipment to ethnic church-basement bands and choirs downtown, of which there were hundreds in the much-smaller city at the time. An amateur choir looks like one of the most pleasurable hobbies you could have, but there aren't many comfortable choices for a younger music lover. There are serious-as-hell classical choirs which require a level of skill and work to achieve results beyond what many hobbyists can muster. And then there are church choirs, which leave out the seculars, and cornpone nostalgia choirs. Given those options, no wonder more people are likely to start just-for-fun garage bands - but those are usually just clumps of friends, not anything big enough to connect you to a wider circle. One of my favourite things about The Hidden Cameras early on was their deliberate evocation of church folk choirs, though they've now moved away from that source in sound and concept. From time to time some other artist will use elements, such as Howe Gelb's recent collaboration with a gospel choir (with whom he'll be in Toronto this Sunday) on his excellent 2006 disc 'Sno Angel Like You. But the amateur-society choir still could use a makeover for the 21st century.

Here are two twists on choral cliches that I've run across in the past week. One is an unusual seniors' choir called the Young @ Heart Chorus in which you'll see oldsters taking on unexpected repertoire such as Radiohead or, in the below clip, Sonic Youth - which must be comforting to the aging members of SY, that rest homes across the land are being made ready for their eventual arrival. The style reminds me a bit of its opposite, the Langley-style elementary-school pop-music choir. Except rather less energetic. Or polished.

Another has been circulating on the 'net for a while and was covered in this recent Guardian story: The phenom of "complaints choirs," which began as an art project in Helsinki and has been emulated (or is in the works) in other cities around the world. Hearing mundane kvetching about civic inconveniences ("the employment agency only needs Java programmers ... tramline three smells of pee") in four-part harmony is amusing, as witness the Finnish original below, but it also immediately suggests potential variations: A choir could substitute for the community newspaper and sing about local bylaws and zoning variances; academics could found a Critical Choir that would harmonize on genealogies of micropolitics and close readings of Mary Shelley; fans of Lost could get together and set their FAQs about confusing plot twists to music; indie-rock kids could chorus about how they disliked the Shins back before disliking the Shins was cool...

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, December 12 at 3:38 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)



i'm sure you also know about the Finnish Screaming Men's Choir (Mieskuoro Huutajat) by now. if not... enjoy.

Posted by allana on December 18, 2006 12:48 PM



Carl, only you could make a feature on choirs seem so relevant! Very cool..thanks! I too enjoyed both these choirs (sent the link to friends in Finland)

I wonder if my "folk-choir" Cd, In the Future of Your Dream would be likeable to those curious Zoilus readers? I made up a six piece choir from a very casual local choir made up of actors, playrights and singers to perform a suite featuring the poetry of Peter McPhee.

you can stream it here:

**I will mail people a free copy if they email me. (


Posted by tim posgate on December 14, 2006 8:18 PM



the schizophrenia video is fucking surreal.

Posted by andrew on December 13, 2006 10:35 PM



I found that Young at Heart video incredibly moving and inspiring and profound. Thanks.

Posted by jks on December 13, 2006 3:27 PM



That choir is fantastic!

Posted by Matt Collins on December 13, 2006 12:33 PM



I liked what you said about Sonic Youth being welcomed by their eventual retirement homes.

But damn, have you seen Kim lately? She looks better than ever in the video for "Reena" on the band's site.

Posted by Marcus on December 13, 2006 11:34 AM



I just caught up with this post. I love the complaint choir!

Posted by Half on December 13, 2006 9:36 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson