Tag Archives: Hanukkah

Viper ringtones – just in time for Hanukkah!

If you’re looking for a holiday-specific ringtone — or just enough audio gelt to cover the gifts you’ll need for the first three nights of Hanukkah — then The Viper has got your back. I’m no Orrin Hatch (see below for the video), but I try.

Below are some 15-20 second-long clips from The Viper and His Famous Orchestra playing “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke (Hot Latke Cold Latke)” during our Champaign-Urbana show of August 9, 2009. They feature Rob Henn on trombone, Edward Burch and Victor Cortez on dueling suitcases, Kenneth P.W. Rainey on the electric 5-string mandolin, Riley Broach on the double bass, and The Viper on the cümbüş banjo mandolin. Three different bits have been selected for your pleasure and served up hot. Sour cream and applesauce are not included.

Instrumental verse
Featuring the mandolin and cümbüş . This is the ringtone the Viper is currently using.
mp3 | midi | wav

Vocal chorus
Sing along!
mp3 | midi | wav

Slow trombone chorus
It’s the plumber — he’s come to shvitz the sink.
mp3 | midi | wav

These are being provided in different formats (mp3, midi, and wav) since different phones have different needs. (Mine requires me to e-mail a midi file to my phone as a “picture” attachment and then save it as a ringtone.)

Here’s an mp3 of the whole recording, unedited and unequalized. (I’ll get around to archiving the whole show one of these days.)

The Viper and His Famous Orchestra, “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke”
Live at Mike N’ Molly’s, Champaign, Illinois, August 9, 2009

And for more than you ever wanted to know about “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke,” here’s the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 part series I wrote last year at about this time when I was in the middle of moving to Milwaukee and leaving behind Maryland and the Paint Branch Ramblers, the group with whom the song had its first livelihood.

And now, as promised…

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Hanukkah with the Viper, pt. 6

One of the findings that gave me the idea to extend this whole “Heyse Latke” Hanukkah thing way past the limits of reason – if you’ve been following along for the past five days, you now have a recording, the cheat sheet, a lead sheet, a scratch track, and a bit on the “Jerusalem Ridge” tune with which the Paint Branch Ramblers pair it – was finding in my files a long forgotten notepad document dated 1/09/08, on which I jotted down some notes about registering “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke” with ASCAP, the professional society that represents the copyright interests of songwriters and publishers.

I’d been a member of ASCAP since 2006, and I was in their database for partial credit on the Tangleweed song “Last Call Waltz,” but this was my first attempt to register a song I’d written. That’s right: “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke” was the first song – after more than 25 years of writing them – that I’d publicly claimed as my own. Go ahead: do a search for it here.

And it proved to be an interesting exercise as a first claimed song, mostly because of its weird mix of original and public domain material.

On ASCAP, 50% of the composing credit for any given song goes to the writer(s) and 50% goes to the publisher. “Heyse Latke” was self published (i.e., I do my own photocopying for the rest of the band). But I had to have a publishing interest I could name. Now, to become a member of ASCAP in the first place, you have to be able to say that some song you’ve written or published is available commercially. I had been able to do so as a writer because “Last Call Waltz” was on Tangleweed’s Where You Been So Long CD. But to register my publishing company, “All Wrote Publishing,” I had to wait until the old Viper CDs I’d sent in to CD Baby were ready, which they were by late January of 2008.

So with All Wrote registered as a publishing concern, I would now get 50% of whatever royalties “Heyse Latke” might generate through radio play or through being covered by some other band commercially (this works by statutory licensing, and it’s one of the few areas of copyright that makes any clear sense — if you cover someone’s song, they have to agree to let you do it, in exchange for 9.1 cents for every copy sold).

Now I had to figure out how to divide up the 50% writing credit. Half of that — i.e., 25% of the total credit — would go to me as the composer of the melody line. This left 25% for the lyrics (which I talk about in an earlier post). I had taken the lyrics from what was apparently a stock verse in common circulation in Yiddish folksongs at least as far back as the 19th century, but had changed the first line from “hot tea cold tea” to “hot latke cold latke” (because I liked the resonance with an old time song the Paint Branch Ramblers were doing at the time, “Hot Corn Cold Corn”). So I ended up claiming another 12.5% of the credit as a lyricist (for writing one new word, twice), and donating the final 12.5% to the public domain. So 87.5% for me, 12.5% for the folk tradition.

Technically, since I’m just sampling one part of one refrain, it looks like I could have claimed the lyrics all to myself. But doesn’t the public domain need a break? But does it get one?

I think, basically, that 12.5% just disappears into the ether. When ASCAP collects from the radio stations, or bars that play music, or Musak licensers, or whatever, I don’t think they actually donate the money that isn’t claimed by a songwriter or publisher to some enrichment program for the public domain. Though maybe they should, right? Funding some lobbying group that might have worked to fight legislation like the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act that, creepily, extended the term of copyright for another 20 years to the dead who apparently, zombie-like, weren’t satisfied with feeding on the brains of the living for simply 50 years after death?

I won’t get into the whole how-weird-is-copyright-in-the-first-place thing here. I’ll just quote – freely, since it’s public domain – what Thomas Jefferson wrote long ago, and which has been quoted ad nauseum by critics of intellectual property,* a nausea to which I’ll add my bit of technicolor yawn:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

And so to the public domain – the shamash that illuminates the rest of creation – let’s all raise a Hanukkah cheer. L’Chaim!

* Truly. A Google search for “”If nature has made any one thing less susceptible” turns up 14,200 results, the great bulk of which (at least if the first 20 results I looked at are any indication) are from your basic IP critique.

Hanukkah with the Viper, pt. 5

Though you wouldn’t know this from the scratch track, lead sheet, or cheat sheet, you would know from the recording that I posted on December 21 that the Paint Branch Ramblers pair our Hanukkah original “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke” with another song, one composed by Bill Monroe and called “Jerusalem Ridge.”

Though the pairing seems obvious, in terms of relative keys, modal feel, and subject matter, it should be noted that “Jerusalem Ridge” is actually a 1970s tune based on the family farm in Kentucky where mandolin player and bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe grew up, and the site of an annual bluegrass festival.

Here’s Bill Monroe with violinist Kenny Baker playing “Jerusalem Ridge.” The video starts in media res with the recording and starts with a montage of photos, but halfway through switches to footage of Monroe and Baker actually playing.

Hanukkah with the Viper, pt. 4

So now you’ve got everything you need to enjoy Hanukkah with some “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke”: a recording by the Paint Branch Ramblers, a cheat sheet for singing and playing along, and even the lead sheet if you want to play the melody. What’s next?

Well, for the fourth night of Hanukkah, I’m posting a scratch track that I made very simply (recorded straight into the computer’s built-in mic) for the Ramblers to be able to hear and practice with when we were learning it. This is a slightly older version of the melody with one phrase that turns a different direction in the 7th bar than we do it now (see yesterday’s post for the details).


The instrument you’re hearing is the skin-head banjo ukulele I picked up some years ago at an antique shop in Kewaskum, Wisconsin.

In fact, the song was written not for the mandolin/violin tuning I use on the cümbüş, but for the basic D ukulele tuning (A – D – F# – B) of the 1927 Regal tiple that I used to have. A tiple – at least the early-20th-century American instrument that was called that – is a 10-string ukulele (four courses of 2 – 3 – 3- 2 strings each) that sounds like something halfway between a mandolin and a 12-string guitar. I’d found the instrument on e-bay and arranged to meet the seller in person on his way through Effingham, Illinois, at a Cracker Barrel restaurant (his idea). So, like the banjo ukulele, and like the vast majority of every instrument I’ve ever owned, I bought it without ever playing it first.

I’ve had pretty good luck with that, actually.

The melody of “Heyse Latke” falls very nicely into the ukulele tuning, and I’d written the song for the set I was going to play at my George Washington University Writing Program office holiday party, probably in 2005 or 2006. At that time, it was just an instrumental.

But while I was in another room socializing, I heard the the tiple, which I just had propped up against a wall, falling to the floor with a sickening sound. When I went in, I saw that the headstock – as heavy in relation to the body as you’d imagine a headstock on a 10-string ukulele-sized instrument would have to be – had very cleanly snapped off in just such a way that no one was ever going to be able to fix it.

So “Heyse Latke” had to wait for the Ramblers to come along to get a public hearing. (From the set list notes we keep on our band’s wiki, it looks like the first performance of it may have been on July 31, 2008 at the Riverdale Park farmers market. Nothing like Hanukkah in July.)

Hanukkah with the Viper, pt. 3

For the first night of Hanukkah, I posted a recent Paint Branch Ramblers recording of “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke.” And yesterday, I posted the cheat sheet for singing and playing along in accompaniment.

But what if you want to play the melody itself? Well, today’s post offers you a PDF of the handwritten lead sheet that Peter Jensen and I use to make our contribution on the violin and the cümbüş, respectively. Ignore the chord changes, which are hopelessly more complicated the ones we actually use. You can find the ones we use on the cheat sheet from yesterday’s post.

You should also note that we have made two small changes in the way that we actually play it and make those corrections on the music.

  • In measures 4 & 8, you can add a short cadenza to the final f# note, so that it runs down the D major scale (F#, E, D) following the same two-sixteenth one-eighth note figure that you’ll see at the start of measure 7. On this one, it creates a nicely heterophonous effect if NOT all the players do this every time.
  • The more important change is the reversal of the 2nd and 3rd notes in measure 7, so that it goes G, A, Bb rather than G, Bb, A. It’s a really small thing, but it makes a big difference in the way the textured pattern of that part works out.

    We don’t really solo over this, but if you wanted to try, the song basically uses two modes. I don’t know the names of either. For most of it – the parts where the chords is D major – it uses what I think of as the basic klezmer mode (i.e., the one that you’ll hear in “Hava Nagila” or “Misirlou”) of a scale built on D using the notes D, Eb, F#, G, A, Bb, C#, D. For measures 7 & 8, 11 & 12, and 15 & 16 (where the chords go D, C, C, D), it straightens out the scale a bit, so that you’re using D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, D. Though, frankly, when I ad lib, I don’t worry about that.

    And we don’t think you should either. Come back tomorrow night for more latkes, served up hot and cold.