The Greatest War – Sneak Peek

On November 11, 2019, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra will be in Madison to perform as part of The Greatest War: a multi-band, multi-media, multi-mood exploration of the legacy for Wisconsin and the world of the first World War and it’s subsequent, uneasy Armistice that also features The Kissers and The November Criminals.

The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why It Still Matters | Monday, November 11, 2019 7:30 PM | Shannon Hall, 800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI |

Here’s a taste of what to expect — from us at least — based on what we did at last year’s first, centenary edition of this event.

We’re lucky: we get to cover both the beginnings and endings of everything. The first shots fired happen somewhere between the closing notes of “It’s A Long Way To A World War” (to the tune of “Tipperary” with some new lyrics by show organizer Ken Fitzsimmons and The Viper)…

It’s A Long Way To A World War
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

…and the first banjo-string-flams on a bit of wishful thinking from the 1914 pen of Alf “Paddy” Ellerton called “Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser.” (Fans of Richard Attenborough’s 1969 musical Oh! What a Lovely War will recognize this song.)

Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

Then it’s all about Paris 1919, as the Midwest welcomes back some young fellers who may have learned a thing or two overseas in “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”

How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm
(After They’ve Seen Paree)?
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

And we wonder whether there might be any long term consequences to the way Mr. Weelson and the other world powers gathered in Versailles, Sèvres , and Lausanne to divvy up places like, oh, say, Iraq, Palestine, or Kurdistan as we wrap up our set with “They All Made Peace (What Is Peace).”

They All Made Peace (What Is Peace)
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

On all of these recordings, the performers are The Viper, Rob “Rose Brass Bell” Henn, and Riley “Riley” Broach. But this year, we’ll up the ante with guest Irene “Vipersdottir” Jerving on the violin for the second set. If you listen closely, you can almost hear her wistful grace notes now…

So listen in, enjoy, and then come out and see the show!

Upcoming shows: Fall 2019

People of earth, we have two shows to announce for the Fall 2019 season that find us back among some favorite places and friends in Madison, Wisconsin. They’re both kind of event-y, meaning you get a lot more than just The Viper and His Famous Orchestra. Can you handle it? Are you ready for this jelly?

On Friday, September 20, 2019, we play as part of the bi-monthly Adult Swim event at the Madison Children’s Museum (100 N Hamilton St #100, Madison, WI 53703 | (608) 256-6445). Because grown-ups are people too, you know! There we are in those pictures above from the last time we did this, sailing over a cardboard sea.

This time around, the theme is Downtown Abbey (yes, the movie opens that night as well). And between 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., The Viper & His Famous Orchestra join a cast of scores for “a special aristo-radical themed twist! General admission includes access to museum exhibits, live music, games, plenty of arts and crafts, and a little bit of friendly upstairs-downstairs competition.” $15 cheap ($12.75 advance).

Then, on Monday, November 11, 2019, we return for more of The Greatest War: a multi-media look back at WWI and its impact on Wisconsin and elsewhere, organized and led by The Kissers, and featuring music, photographs, and readings by us, Sean Michael Dargan, John Wedge, The November Criminals, and others.

This is a command repeat performance of the one staged at the Barrymore Theatre to a sold-out crowd on the November 11, 2018 centenary of the War’s armistice. And I don’t know if everyone who was involved in last year’s show is returning, or who might be joining the fray anew, but the show was spectacular and moving and really quite an experience and might be even more so in this year’s location at the Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall (800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI 53706 | (608) 265-3000). Just look at this press from last year!

The title for this video is a little ominous, no?

Just About 41

Saturday, June 29, 2019 (5:00 p.m.)
The Viper and His Famous Orchestra
Riley Broach’s Backyard (right next to the air conditioner)
Highland Park, IL 60035

Were you, were you, in Highland Park, IL, this past Saturday , June 29 to witness The Viper & His Olds Orchestra celebrate the 41st anniversary of a birth of a very special bassist known as Mr. Broach? “The older I get, the younger I feel,” didn’t say Riley Broach as he adjusted his age-appropriate flip-flops. Meanwhile, Rob Henn wore “ironic” dark socks and the Viper’s $7 glasses from Zenni helped him nail this C major chord.

Meanwhile, a new generation of Bermuda-shorted bass players said “put me in, coach.” And put him in, we did. And we were reassured that there was, still (and despite any tariff impacts), a farmer in the dell.


Doing All the Days with LZOrk – SPRING 2019

LZOrk Spring Concert: Thursday, May 16, 2019 | 7:00 p.m.Lake Zurich Middle School North | 95 Hubbard Lane, Hawthorn Woods, IL 60047 | (847) 719-3600

For the fourth year running — they haven’t caught me yet! — The Viper has sprung the Spring as a Composer in Residence with the Orchestras of Lake Zurich Middle School North under the direction of Mr. Riley Broach. When the white snows of yesteryear’s Winter have receded, when the vernal hours and aestival days begin to thicken, when single-serving snackbags bloom red, yellow, and dream-lucid blue on each and every Milwaukee curb and root-snag, well, then’s when’s I show up, four strings and all, to corrupt our nation’s musical youth with notions of collaborative composition, creative “borrowing”, head arrangements, and well-turned melody as equipment for living.

So that’s always fun.


The word cloud above is based on last year’s post-concert response asking LZOrk students to describe the Composer in Residence program, which you can read more about on Mr. Broach’s teaching site here.

This year, due to the arrival of the newest little conductor in Mr. Broach’s house, and his consequent paternity leave, my work with the students had the able support of Susan Phillips — and I wanted to be sure to recognize all her contributions to this year’s project here. I ask for some strange things and deliver rehearsal materials in some pretty unorthodox forms, so I’m very glad she was game for it!


For the 6th-grade group of musicians, I typically bring a simple lead sheet of the type that a small jazz, country, or rock band might use to make “head arrangement” out of a familiar song structure, like the 32-bar AABA pop song form of “Winnebago Bay” or “Heartbreak for Beginners” (recordings from the 2018 & 2017 Spring concerts, respectively).

In rehearsals, we’ll work out how many times the orchestra would go through the form in performance and figure out which instruments are going to do what, where to provide variety and the structural development of the piece — with the emphasis on how the music itself (as distinct from the lyrics) can tell a story that starts somewhere and ends up someplace else.

A couple years ago, with “Just That Good” (see workshop video above), we found the 12-bar blues form worked pretty well in this regard. So this year I brought them a Spring-into-Summer seasonal celebration song called “Do All The Days With You,” which puts a New-Orleans-rumba-Professor-Longhair-style twist on the 12-bar form, including the distinctive habanera rhythm for the bass figure you see in the “rumba” line (lower staff) below.

Do All the Days Fragment - Rumba

The idea was to show how some fairly simple fragments, like the bass line + the basic melody figure (“call”):

Do All the Days Fragments - Call

… a response:

Do All the Days Fragments - Response

… and a counterpoint:

Do All the Days Fragments - Counterpoint

…could be layered on top of one another to produce some rather complicated and funky polyrhythms, which themselves would take on a different character when played in different permutations and combinations by the different instrument sections.

We figured out that with five instrument groups (violins 1 & 2, violas, cellos, and basses) and 5 different parts (which might include playing nothing at all!) there were 3,125 different ways we could play the first two measures alone!

Here’s the arrangement we settled on (pdf here): the text tells the player what to “go fetch” in terms of their fragment for each time through the form:

Do All The Days - Structure Notes

And here’s what a couple of combinations could sound like, as sketched out for our final two instrumental “out” chorus (in all the glorious midi sound of my MuseScore software).

Looking forward to hearing how it all pulls together on Thursday night!


If the work with the Intermezzo group focuses on arrangement, I like to get the older group of 7th/8th graders involved at the level of composition itself. And, again, this follows the model I might use with my own Famous Orchestra, in which rehearsals become the lab in which some germ of an idea I’ve had gets worked up into something fuller. With the Chamber Orchestra, this often takes the form of testing out ways of taking a bass riff and changing it up the rhythm, the ornamentation, or the harmonization, as we’ve done with The Monsters Are Coming” or “(It’s Gonna Be) Another Day” (2017 & 2018 Spring concerts, respectively).

The piece I brought in for them this year, “Leave a Picture (Take a Person),” is something I wrote literally the day after last year’s concert, based on an idea of creating a loop that would undergird variations. But then I had to wait a whole year to hear how it would develop with the whole orchestra!

It’s a simple, mostly through-composed piece that takes a slow Beatle-y melody, adds in some Bollywood-ish call & response, and punctuates the verses with a two-measure, four-chord progression I creatively borrowed (i.e., stole) in equal parts from George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and Big Star’s “Feel.”

Leave a Picture (vamp chords)

Which sounds like this:

In the instrumental middle of the song, that bit becomes a looped “vamp” over which the orchestra riffs based on some rhythmic and harmonic ideas that came out of the workshops. And we end up stealing some other bits and pieces from other recognizable places — see if you can hear where in this midi-rendering version of the full score:

Can’t nobody tell us nothing. At least until Thursday! See you all then.

The Viper appears as Composer-in-Residence and soloist with the Orchestras of Lake Zurich Middle School North  (LZOrk) for their Spring 2019 concert on Thursday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m. (95 Hubbard Lane, Hawthorn Woods, IL 60047 | (847) 719-3600)

the kind of music your great-great-great-grandparents warned your great-great-grandparents about