The Viper & His Famous Orchestra return to one of the classiest joints that has the poor judgment to let us regularly darken their door: The California Clipper, in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois ( 1002 North California Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 | (773) 384-2547 | 10 p.m. | $5 cover).
AND we’re playing on the biggest party night of the year — the Wednesday mid-week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. French hens for everyone!
The last time we played at the Clipper was also around this time of year. We were anticipating a pretty small crowd when — bang! — all of a suddenly, a busload of Germans showed up on a week-long tour of music venues in the city featuring iconic Chicago styles (mad love for Chicago skiffle, yah?).
We didn’t know their story until after we’d finished, and we couldn’t figure out why this crowd that seemed to be enjoying the music and paying pretty rapt attention also didn’t laugh at any of our musical jokes about high-functioning alcoholism in Libertyville or whether to subvert an ASCAP copyright by going instead through BMI. “Vat iss this ‘Sharking?'” they asked us.
One guy, however — who turned out to be Austrian — was really excited about the fact that we had a song about Krampus, and so we sent him on his way with a free copy of our sheet music version of “Save Me A Krampus (For the Holiday).” In those dark days of Nov. 2017, we built a bridge across the sea on a stick wrapped in barbed wire and a kidnapping sack.
The Viper, His Famous Orchestra, his ukulele, his jug, his suitcase, and his liver all make their way to down to Lake Zurich, Illinois this Friday, Nov. 17, to offer up a pre-Thanksgiving cornucopia of musical nourishment to the students and families of the Lake Zurich Middle School North Orchestras.
This concert will inaugurate this school year’s edition of the Viper’s Composer-In-Residence tenure with LZOrk, with the students themselves participating in making some decisions about what pieces we’ll learn interactively and develop together over the course of the spring semester, based on what they hear and think they can work with this fall.
Of course, The Viper and His Famous Orchestra will revisit some of the pieces LZOrk has performed in the last couple of years as well — “Just That Good,” “Hotzeplotz Calls,” “Heartbreak For Beginners,” “The Monsters Are Coming” — with some very special guest appearances by past, present, and future orchestra students.
Anyone needing an introduction to the Viper or the Composer-In-Residence program could do worse than revisit this Q&A from the first year of the residence, titled “What Does The Viper Say?” And everyone else, we’ll see you on Friday!
The Viper and His Famous Orchestra create their own high-speed rail system in Wisconsin as they storm the state from Milwaukee to Madison over two days in late August.
First, on Saturday, August 26, 2017 (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.) (TIME CHANGE: 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.) we’ll be taking the early afternoon shift at the 2017 Washington Heights Boulevard Bash in the vicinity of the intersection of 54th St. & W. Washington Blvd. (Milwaukee, WI 53208). For The Viper, this is about as hometown as it gets — the neighborhood festival on the very grounds on which The Viper stomps daily. It’s a great all-day party that stretches through five of the loveliest blocks in Milwaukee, just West of Washington Park. You might even see our Mayor, who lives along the Boulevard and has been spotted at the Bash helping kids get soccer balls out of trees. Free! (Facebook event)
Then, on Sunday, August 27, 2017 (12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m.), we stake out the stage at high noon at the 52nd Annual Orton Park Festival 2017 (Orton Park | 1114 Rutledge St, Madison, WI 53703) on the third day of this four-day festival sponsored by the Marquette Neighborhood Association. The Viper briefly lived in this neighborhood as well, but its grounds are more regularly stomped by trombonist Rob Henn. Orton Park is on the near-East side of Madison, not far from Lake Monona, and is the park where on a summer day in or around 1993 or ’94, I crossed paths with a man jogging in a full-body knight’s armored suit, helmet and all. Also free! (Facebook event)
If you can’t make one, make both! If you can’t make both, make monkeys! If you can’t make ’em, train ’em!
Middle school denizens of the Northern territory of District 95, Lake of Zurich, United State of Illinois: The Viper comes in peace but he comes with washtub, jug, and, probably a cümbüş (don’t ask) in hand. Beyond that date, there be monsters. But fear not: we’re just that good.
I’m looking forward to my second annual virtual residence with the LZOrk-ers for your Spring 2017 concert. Mr. Broach and I have some fun and challenging music planned for all y’all, and I hope you’ll challenge us right back.
Here’s a glimpse at what we’ll be doing. And if you’d like a deeper dig into just what this Viperity is all about, you can read here about what last year’s students (which includes some of you!) asked about what to expect and what I wrote back, in a post called “What Does The Viper Say?”
“Just That Good”
The Intermezzo Orchestra will be working with a little trash-talking piece I wrote as the type of thing that should take five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. (Like Othello!) It’s about as simple as it gets — a twelve-bar blues in a ragtime/stride style — and our work with it should be a good example of the way most non-classical musicians learn and develop new music.
You’ll have a written template for the melody. But, truth be told, most of the “information” to be transmitted about this tune and its style is something you’ll have to learn by ear: you’ll hear me play the melody and “figure out how it goes” by playing it back and then memorizing it.
We’ll also try to work out ways, as a group, to produce bass lines and other accompanying parts and to introduce some development to this basic theme — including, if all goes as planned, a little “concerto mini-grosso” band-within-a-band bit for two washtub basses and jug. Whatever we end up doing, our performance will be a unique arrangement and orchestration of the piece — something that’s never been played quite the same way before, and won’t ever be played the same way again.
Here’s a “scratch track” version of the song as recorded by the group that Mr. Broach and I perform in together, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra. A scratch track is a rough-and-ready reference recording that a composer or a group makes in rehearsal — basically, so they can come back later and remind themselves what they figured out. This is faster than we’ll do it, but you’ll hear how this song works as a kind of conversation between all the performers.
“The Monsters Are Coming”
With the Chamber Orchestra, we’ll be working on a piece that has been described as “the worst song ever written” (it was described that way by me!) and one that, when performed before an audience of children, produced cries of “Liar!” (I had to explain to those kids that sometimes the truth hurts).
This is an example — or maybe even a parody of — a style of music that composers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass developed in the second half of the Twentieth Century under the rubric of “minimalism” (though, as we’ll talk about, their work echoed some parallel developments happening in popular music as well). The idea is that we take some super-basic piece of melodic material…
…and see just how little we can do with it and still end up with something that sounds like something that actually sounds like something!
The development might not be melodic — indeed, with this piece, the refusal to move away from the basic theme is really the joke — but instead might be in terms of the dynamics, or the sonority of the particular mix of instruments, or bowing/plucking techniques, or playing the melody backward (“retrograde”), upside-down (“inversion”), or, for the truly brave of heart, backwards AND upside-down (“retrograde inversion”), etc., and we will work this out in our rehearsals.
Truth is, even prior to the last century, there was a tradition of this kind of thing, whether we’re talking about monks chanting, or Indian ragas or Turkish taksims, or Beethoven’s meditation on a minor-third interval with a short-short-short-long rhythm in his 5th Symphony. But, trust me, Lake Zurich ain’t heard nothin’ like we’re going to lay on them with this.
Here’s a three-person version as performed by The Viper, Mr. Broach, and our colleague, Rob Henn. Now think of what we can do with a full orchestra!
The Monsters Are Coming, Var Gallery, Milwaukee, July 2016
The Viper and His Famous Orchestra will be ruining the perfectly lovely atmosphere of two of our favorite venues in early November 2016 as we surround election day with shows on Saturday, Nov. 5 in the brewpub backgroom of the Parched Eagle in Westport, WI (just outside of Madison) and then on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at the classiest cocktail lounge in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, the California Clipper. (Details below.)
NOTE: With these shows, we’re welcoming the newest member of the Viper’s extended familial entourage: bassist Riley Broach has recently achieved proud father status with the birth of his daughter, Lyra Paulina (the “y” and “i” are both pronounced like a long “e”). So walk right up to him and give him a great big kiss when you see him.
Saturday, November 5, 2016 (7:30 to 9:30 p.m.) Parched Eagle Brew Pub 5440 Willow Road #112, Westport, WI 53597 | (608) 204-9192
The Viper & His Famous Orchestra are back at this Westport hotspot to rock the back room for this pre-election blow-out. Don’t miss it!
Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (10:00 p.m.) The California Clipper 1002 North California Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 | (773) 384-2547
The Viper & His Famous Orchestra are back at this Humboldt Park hotspot to rock the front room for this post-election blow-out. Don’t miss it! With DJ Lawrence Peters and his vinyl 45s. $5 Cheap.
the kind of music your great-great-great-grandparents warned your great-great-grandparents about