A Viper’s Message to the Lake Zurich Middle School North Orchestras

Greetings from Earth, Orklings! Or at the very least, greetings from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is your Composer in Residence, the Viper, and I wanted to drop a note to you all (and to Mr. Broach, too) thanking you for your hospitality and for the opportunity to meet with everyone last week.

You’ve got a really good think going there at LZMSN, and it was a distinct pleasure hearing many of the little ol’ things I’d put together brought to life in the capable hands and across the resonant strings of the Chamber Orchestra, the Intermezzo Orchestra, and the Prima Musica Ensemble. I’ll be back again at the beginning of May, and then, of course, for the Spring Concert on May 19. Keep plugging away, listen to Mr. Broach, and eat your vegetables, and we’re going to sound great together!

To Intermezzo:

“Heartbreak for Beginners” is already sounding really strong. You have a solid command of the melody and the feel of the piece. (Here’s the first music I heard from anyone at LZMSN: it’s Intermezzo warming up on the “Heartbreak” melody. Sounds pretty nice! See, if you write something with a pentatonic scale, then no matter what part of it different musicians are playing at the same time, it sounds like a chord!)

With Mr. Broach’s coaching and with your voices good and loud, I think we’ll be able to heal a lot of heartbreak out there in the audience on the 19th.I wanted to let you know the story behind one of the piece’s little Easter eggs. Near the middle, where I sing “Thoughts arise unbidden in your Viper brain,” the melody leans pretty hard on one from the early 1960s that I swiped from “Rhythm of the Rain” by the Cascades. (Just in case anyone might recognize it, I came clean and actually included the first line of the song, “Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain.” That’s called footnoting, folks!)

To Prima Musica:

It was a special treat to play along with you on something I didn’t write: Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” That’s a wonderful arrangement you have for it, and it’s clear that you worked long and hard to make it sound as haunting and heartbreaking as it does. Who knew that all it still needed was a little washtub bass! Should you want to build your own, I can show you how in this 3-part video that is still, I believe, the first result you get when you Google “how to build a washtub bass.”

To Chamber:

We made a lot of progress on “Let Not Life Far From These Fingers Flee / My Dog Has Fleas.” It’s a tough, weird piece. But I’m confident that we’ll pull it off and blow some minds, especially if we keep the story in mind.

There’s a history to this kind of musical plot, it which a composer/soloist wants to go in one complex, serious direction, and the orchestra keeps saying “sez you” and playing something simpler, jazzier, or more joyful. Beethoven did it in the stuff that leads up to the big “Ode to Joy” choral part of his 9th symphony. George Gershwin did it with Paul Whiteman’s jazz band in “Rhapsody in Blue.”

But for the clearest expression of the mood that we’re after, you can’t do better than Bugs Bunny in “Long-Haired Hare” (from 1949, by Chuck Jones – he’s the best!). Make Mr. Broach let you watch it! In class! Then make him dress up like Leopold Stokowski!


See you in May!

The Viper