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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Group sets gripes about Wichita to music

By Alice Mannette
Eagle correspondent

What’s there to complain about in Wichita? It turns out, a lot.

From the wind to the construction on Kellogg to bad drivers, Wichitans submitted than 400 complaints to the Ulrich Museum of Art.

Why, you might ask?

So Wichita State University’s director of choral activities, Tom Wine, could compose a Wichita-based complaint song for 14 WSU choir members.

Known worldwide as the Complaints Choir, this ingenious theatrical endeavor started in England in 2005. The idea caught on, and cities from Singapore to Chicago have started their own grievance choirs specific to their locale.

The Ulrich Museum is undergoing repairs, but that does not stop it from being creative. It’s just taking its art elsewhere for a few months. Emily Stamey, the Ulrich’s curator, saw a video presentation of a complaints choir in a New York City museum.

“It was funny and smart,” Stamey said of the presentation. “I was completely taken with it.”

Stamey enlisted Wine to compose a piece, residents of Wichita to give complaints, and students of WSU to whine, laugh and gesticulate as they perform the musical number.

“The melody came together as a flash of inspiration,” Wine said about the song. “But then I had to fit the pieces together.”

Anthony Perkins Jr., a baritone, was surprised when he first heard of the concept. Perkins, a vocal performance major who wants to pursue opera, realized that he is able to give a voice for other people’s frustrations.

“It’s funny,” he said. “It’s well-written, and it’s fun complaining.”

Shawn Gamache, a senior from Junction City, sings a duet about mosquitoes. Later on, he delves into the earthquakes that recently were felt in Wichita.

“I find it pretty funny,” said Gamache, a bass-baritone. “The song is really entertaining.”

Along with performing at designated times on designated days, the group will just show up at miscellaneous spots around town. Stamey calls these events guerilla performances. They might take place at a mall, a movie theater or a golf course.

Stamey said everyone should be able to connect with this light-hearted piece about Wichita and its occupants. Wine and Anthony said there were several comments that caused the group to laugh out loud and say, “Yes, that’s me.”

The music is a popular style consisting of solos, small groups and ensemble music. A bassist will play alongside the choral group, and one singer will accompany the group with a guitar.

Gamache, who is a music education major, finds this activity fascinating. He hopes to teach choir at a high school in Kansas and would like to bring the complaint choir concept to his future community.

Before the debut of the Wichita Complaints Choir, the documentary “Complaints Choir” is being shown.

“We probably complain when we shouldn’t,” Stamey said. “There’s something marvelous about taking something negative, complaining, and turning it into this great musical performance.”

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