Category Archives: those that from a long way off look like flies

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.

clyde

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!

Intermezzo

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).

https://viperblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/do-all-the-days.mp3

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

Chamber

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:

https://viperblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/leave-a-picture-chords.mp3

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:

https://viperblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/leave-a-picture-final-score.mp3

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)

Show announcement: Sep. 12, 2018 at the California Clipper, Chicago.

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.

Show announcement: Aug. 2, 2018 at the Art Center Highland Park

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.

Relative Connections Art Show and Sale
http://relativeconnections.info/

Art Center’s Facebook Event Page for the Show
https://www.facebook.com/events/233313137500035/

The artists’ Facebook Event Page for the Show
https://www.facebook.com/events/287799608632414/

Announcing 12-27-17 show at the California Clipper (Chicago)

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.

Who knows who’ll turn up this time? Maybe you!

On the Road Again. Probably Hwy 45 Mostly.

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!