Artscape: The Assembly of Light Choir

PROVIDENCE, RI – On Monday evenings on the west side of Providence, composer, musician Chrissy Wolpert opens her small, tidy apartment to a dozen or so women. The 20 and 30-something women trickle in, catching up on school work and jobs before getting down to business. On this night 13 women show up for practice, make a cup of tea, pet Wolpert's two, frisky cats that are darting around the room. Then the women gather in a semi-circle in the living room where Wolpert conducts them from behind her electric piano. This is pretty much the routine, "we start with gabbing and then we go into warm ups," she says.

Wolpert's apartment is sandwiched in the 2nd floor of a triple-decker. To say she has patient neighbors is an understatement. "My neighbors are wonderful and really patient," Wolpert says. "When we moved in I was so I have this choir we meet on Mondays about two hours' and so far everyone's been understanding and nice. The only comment I heard is that they get bored listening to the warm ups."

Wolpert writes everything the choir sings. And besides the fact that this choir has toured with a heavy metal band, another way that it's different is that none of the songs have words.

"I'm not someone who writes with words so music creates pictures and music is so personal and with the voice you can do so much, go from joy to sadness in the matter of a measure," says Wolpert.

Wolpert's process is organic. She starts by scribbling notes on composition paper, refines the notes into a couple of pages articulating the melody, and then she scans the composition paper into her computer to produce the professional pieces of sheet music she hands to the choir.

"I tend to write kind of small minimal lines and then I stack them all up together that create these harmonies that come out," says Wolpert. "And I think for my own practice I'm trying to, as much as they're learning I'm learning too, and I'm trying to expand things a little more."

Part of why she doesn't write words, is that she wants her music to convey pictures or feelings. This piece, she says, represents smoothness.

For an hour straight Wolpert drills the choir over and over, having a section repeat lines four or five times as she listens for where the piece comes together or falls apart. For this piece, she's pleased with the beginning but feels the alto section is too basic and needs retooling. Sometimes though, they spend the entire night on a piece she ends up tossing out. And the women of the Assembly of Light Choir -they're cool with that.

"I can't even tell you how lucky I am I don't know a lot of composers who have people who will meet at their home and sing, sing, sing," she says. "They are a fascinating group of women and they don't have any idea how much they push me."

Wolpert 's amazed at how the Assembly of Light Choir has grown. They've gone on tour and will travel out west this summer to cut a record. These are just two accomplishments she could have only imagined four years ago when she brought a handful of women together to see what would happen if she started a choir.

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