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…and it WAS another day.

A couple weeks ago now, The Viper showed up on May 17, 2018 and did his duty as Composer in Residence with the Orchestras of Lake Zurich Middle School North under the direction of Mr. Riley Broach.

You can read about this program and how we all approached it this year in my previous post, but in this space here I plan to turn the page over to the words of the 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students (now about to become 7th, 8th, and 9th-grade students, some of whom I’ve worked with for all three years of their middle-school careers) who performed full string orchestra versions of Viper-made songs “Winnebago Bay” and “Another Day.” I really appreciated reading everyone’s comments, which — enjoyably gentle insults aside! — showed a lot of thoughtfulness and appreciation for the uniquely challenging approach Riley takes setting up and teaching his orchestra courses.

So here’s the questions that Mr. Broach posed to them, post-concert, followed by a word cloud showing the words they used with the greatest frequency (as a group) in their responses. (You can find a fuller rendering of many of these comments on the LZORK page right here.)

Q: What did you learn from The Viper?


Q: How do you describe the Composer in Residence thing we do in orchestra?


Q: Tell me about the song you might compose over the summer!


Q: Write a message to The Viper!


Thanks again to Mr. Broach and to the students in the Orchestra program of Lake Zurich Middle School North for all their great work and tremendous patience with me this year. I’ll be back — but for now all I have to say is:

Pardon our dust… under new management

The Viper & His Famous Orchestra
The Viper & His Famous Orchestra

Say, has everyone noticed the really nice job that Riley Broach has done in redesigning our web site? Let him know what you think:

The Viper likes to play

Some upcoming opportunities to see The Viper and His Famous Orchestra ply their trade: an all-day series of events in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; and a five-song spot at a benefit concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On Saturday, November 2, we’ll be playing at the 5th Annual C-U Folk & Roots Festival in Urbana, Illinois. Four different events between 2:30 p.m. and 12:35 a.m., all within about a one-block radius of one another.

  • From 2:30 – 3:30 p.m., we’re doing a Build-a-Band workshop at the Common Ground Food Co-op (300 S. Broadway Ave. #166 | Urbana, IL 61802 | (217) 352-3347). As we’re telling them, this is “The ultimate ‘green’ musical experience, you’ll learn how to make fully-functioning instruments out of recycled & re-purposed household materials (boxes, jugs, superballs, etc.). Practice playing along with others as we learn a song to lead the Festival’s ‘Musical Mayhem Parade’ around the block and to the site of our kids’ show at the Landmark Hotel Ballroom. One lucky kid will go home with a freshly put-together bucket bass.
  • Then from 3:30 – 4:00 p.m., it’s the aforementioned Musical Mayhem Parade through Urbana’s mean street, starting at the Common Ground Food Co-op (see info above) and leading to the Landmark Hotel Ballroom, where we’ll be playing our family-friendly set. Jump in the line and rock your body in time.
  • At 4:00 – 4:45 p.m., we’re playing a Kids + Adults show at the Landmark Hotel Ballroom (210 S. Race St. | Urbana, IL 61801 | (217) 384-8800). This show is sponsored by the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.
  • And, finally, from 11:15 p.m. – 12:35 a.m., we play an Adults show at the Iron Post (120 S. Race St. | Urbana, IL 61801 | (217) 337-7678). We get to do all the things we can’t do/say at the earlier kids show, and we get to finish at a really specific time.

On Saturday, November 9 we’ll be taking part in the 9th Annual Kneel to Neil concert At Linneman’s River West Inn (1001 E. Locust St. | Milwaukee, WI 53212 | (414) 263-9844 ). The show is a celebration of Neil Young’s birthday, with his music being covered by a whole host of Milwaukee-area musicians. Proceeds benefit the Bridge School and WMSE. The whole show goes from 8:00 p.m – 12:00 a.m., and we’ll be playing a four-or-five-song set at a time in the evening yet to be determined.

Rob Henn and Edward Burch with The Viper & His Famous Orchestra, Kneel to Neil (Young) benefit for The Bridge School and WMSE, Linneman's Riverwest Inn, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photograph by Sue Peacock.
Rob Henn and Edward Burch with The Viper & His Famous Orchestra, Kneel to Neil (Young) benefit for The Bridge School and WMSE, Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 2011. Photograph by Sue Peacock.

Mister Sandman

Here’s The Viper with Edward Burch and Riley Broach of The Famous Orchestra playing “Mister Sandman,” a Pat Ballard song popularized in 1954 by the Chordettes — a vocal group from The Viper’s own hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (and who namecheck Liberace in the 3rd chorus, a fellow Southeastern Wisconsin performer).

right click to download .wav file | right click to download .mp3 file

We recorded this as a scratch track on my tiny little Tascam DR-05 for Riley’s mother and the rest of the sisters Halverson to use as they practice singing this song for Riley’s wedding, coming right up in July!

Edward Burch, Riley Broach, and The Viper rehearse in Champaign, Illinois, June 2013.
Edward Burch, Riley Broach, and The Viper rehearse in Champaign, Illinois, June 2013.

Y Stijn Debrouwere, el rey del América

Madison Match-up Madness, culminating in this moment of mental chess between Milwaukee, WI’s The Viper and Ghent, Belgium’s Stijn Debrouwere. Photo by Rob Henn.

In the summer of 2009, when The Viper and His Famous Orchestra started playing together again after my return to the Midwest, an innocent self-search on Google turned up the fact that a trad jazz band out of Belgium had posted a cover of “Ich Bin Berlin (The Sundown Song),” a Viper and His Famous Orchestra tune recorded for our Everything for Everyone long-playing CD.

What followed was some frenzied e-mails among the members of the Orchestra, some excited comments to the YouTube video, and a correspondence with the Rambling Boys singer/ukulelist, Stijn Debrouwere (including an e-mail interview that you can find here).

On Saturday, August 18, 2012 we finally got to meet up in person. Stijn travelled to Madison, Wisconsin from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (where he’s been working) and The Viper travelled to Madison, Wisconsin from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (where he hasn’t been working).

After dinner with some friends, we all retired to the Spaight Street home of Orchestra trombonist Rob Henn to make some music: everything from Bob Wills, Roger Miller, and Hank Williams through some Stijn Debrouwere orginals and Viper stand-bys.

Rob documented some of this through his laptop camera/mic and posted the results, with some context, to YouTube, which you can see here. This is the long awaited international, trans-Atlantic intersection of The Viper and His Famous Orchestra and The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, playing “Ich Bin Berlin (The Sundown Song)” for your orchestrated pleasure.

August 18, 2012 – The Viper (plus Rob Henn) + Stijn Debrouwere
Madison, WI

October 1, 2011 – The Viper and His Famous Orchestra
PRF Auktoberfyst 2011, Cicero, IL

August 10, 2009 – The Rambling Boys of Pleasure
Ghent, Belgium