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.
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.
The idea was to show how some fairly simple fragments, like the bass line + the basic melody figure (“call”):
… a response:
… and a 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:
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.”
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)
Announcing that The Viper and His Famous Orchestra will be playing Wednesday, September 12, 2018 (9:30 p.m.) at one of our favorite venues: The California Clipper (1002 North California Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 | (773) 384-2547. $5 the price of admission. See the facebook event page)
It’s Autumn in the city Rahm Emmanuel once called home, and (for now) calls his “f***ing home” — the Windy City, City of the Big Shoulders, Freight Handler to the world, the City of Angels, the Big Apple, the Big Easy, San Fran, the Twin Cities (minus one), the place where “Everything’s Up To Date,” the City of Lights, the place you’ll end up when you take the Ferry ‘cross the Mersey: Chicago!
And we’ll be there to let everyone know how Milwaukee/Madison/Highland Park rolls. Roll with us, if you please. Make your Wednesday mean something.
On Thursday, August 2, 2018 (5:30 – 7:30 p.m.), The Viper and His Good Looks will play as part of the opening
night festivities for the Relative Connections Art Show and Sale in the Cortesi Gallery of the The Art Center Highland Park (1957 Sheridan Rd | Highland Park, IL 60035 | (847) 432-1888).
The featured artists in this show include: Laura Temkin (Abstract watercolors), Jody Berns (Fine art photography), Terri Weinstein (Unique wearable art) and Steve Temkin (figurative painting in natural and digital media).
We’ll be playing in rare dynamic duo form with just The Viper and bassist Riley Broach, the best thing to happen to Highland Park since The Good Wife and Cards Against Humanity.
So get fancy, get free, get art! See the Viper in his native environment — surrounded by original art and the artists who’ve created it. What is art? Is this art? How about this? Now imagine a whole evening of jokes just like those and make sure you take off work early to get there in time to hear each and every one of them.