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"Douglas Yeo has become the major public defender of the serpent. . ."

The Boston Globe, April 17, 1998

For many years I have been a student and performer of the serpent, the ancient wind instrument invented in 1590 to accompany chant in the Roman Catholic Church and which later moved into military bands, Harmoniemusik ensembles as well as the symphony orchestra (Berlioz, Rossini, Mendelssohn, and Wagner, among others, wrote for the serpent).

For more photos, commentary, and audio files about the serpent, visit my gateway page to all of my website articles about the serpent.

The 2003-2004 Boston Symphony Orchestra subscription brochure contained photos and brief biographies of several BSO players, an attempt to make the players of the orchestra better known to people who come to BSO concerts. Photographer Michael Lutch took this photo of me on stage at Symphony Hall in Boston which appeared in the subscription brochure. I am holding my c. 1812 church serpent in C by Baudouin with (pre-ban) ivory mouthpiece by Keith Rogers of the Christopher Monk Workshop in London. The text which accompanies the photo reads as follows: DOUGLAS YEO (Bass Trombone). When Doug was a senior in high school in new Jersey, he had the privilege of playing bass trombone for the first time as part of the All-Eastern Orchestra, which was held at the old Hynes Convention Centerin Boston. "That experience was such a thrill that moment, I knew than an orchestra career was for me," remembers Doug. He is greatly looking forward to several programs this season - Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5, in which he will be playing the serpent (pictured). The serpent, one of Doug's passions, is a rare medieval instrument that is played by only a handful of musicians worldwide. When Doug is not performing with the BSO, he and his wife Pat like to venture outdoors to ride their 21-gear tandem mountain bike in Acadia National Park in Maine and on paths and trails around Boston. Doug is also a big New England Patriots fan, and is passionate about Gothic church architecture and the works of American sculptor Daniel Chester French." (Photo: Michael J. Lutch)

On April 22, 2002, I had a recording session at Symphony Hall in Boston, the first of three sessions for my CD Le Monde du Serpent. Assisting me in this session were Deborah DeWolf Emery, piano, and Craig Kridel who played both serpent and (shown in this photo) bells. I am playing my 1996 Christopher Monk Workshop serpent in C (1 key, after Baudouin) made by Keith Rogers.

I was pleased to give a presentation on the serpent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in May 2004. I have visited this museum many times since I was a young boy (I grew up in the New York city area) so it was especially nice to be asked to give a lecture and performance on the serpent at the Metropolitan Museum. In this photo I am holding my c. 1812 Baudouin serpent; on the table behind me are three serpents from the Museum's collection which show some of the evolution of the serpent over the years.

In 1997, I performed Simon Proctor's Serpent Concerto with the Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams, conductor. This was only the second performance of this, the most difficult piece ever written for the serpent and the first concerto written for the instrument (the premiere was given by Alan Lumsden, then a member of the London Serpent Trio, as part of the Serpent Festival of 1989 in Columbia, South Carolina). This photo shows me taking a bow after the performance with Simon Proctor and John Williams.

10 years after my performance of Simon Proctor's Serpent Concerto with John Wililams and the Boston Pops Orchestra, John and I posed for this photo which was a gift for Keith Rogers, celebrating the serpent he made for me in 1996 on which I have played all of my performances of the Concerto.

In October 2003 I was asked to perform Simon Proctor's "Serpent Concerto" with the South Dakota Symphony. As part of my trip to South Dakota for that concert, I was asked to give a talk and demonstration of the serpent at the National Music Museum (formerly the Shrine to Music Museum) in Vermillion, South Dakota. This trip was especially nice as I was able to try a number of the museum's instruments including the two ophicleides pictured here.

In September 2010, I played Simon Proctor's "Serpent Concerto" with the Terre Haute Symphony, the sixth orchestra with which I have played the piece (the others are the Boston Pops Orchestra, Boston Classical Orchestra, Connecticut Valley Chamber Orchestra, Wheaton (IL) College Symphony Orchestra and the South Dakota Symphony). This performance was particularly special because I collaborated with my Wheaton college classmate, David Bowden, who is music director of the Terre Haute Symphony. In this performance I played my 1996 serpent by Keith Rogers. (Photo: Carl Bender)

I have a happy, active and ongoing relationship with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and in 2002, I gave three presentations at the museum: a lecture to the meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) on "Playing Characteristics of Serpents by Baudouin," a lunch time talk on "Serpents by Baudouin," and a talk for the Museum's "Friends of Musical Instruments" group on "The Serpent and Ophicleide: Early Romantic Brasses." This photo shows me during my talk in the MFA instrument gallery, playing my Baudouin serpent. On tables to my right may be found the museum's own Baudouin serpents. For more photos of my talks on the serpent at the Boston MFA, see my article on Serpent Night at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In December 2001/January 2002, I performed Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" with Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, conductor. After the concerts, the ensemble recorded the piece (along with Handel's complete "Water Music") at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. The horn players, from left, are Robert Marlatt (horn 3), Jean Rife (jhorn 2) and Richard Menaul (horn 1). I am playing my c. 1812 Baudouin serpent in C (2 keys) with bassoonists Marilyn Boenau (bassoon 2) and Andrew Schwartz (bassoon 1) further to the right. Martin Pearlman is conducting; Peter Sykes is playing harpsichord.

In February/March 2002, I was an "in residence" visiting artist with the Clear Lake High School Band in Houston, Texas. While I did not bring my serpent with me for the trip, the students at the school, including my nieces, Laura and Sarah, knew of my serpent exploits and decorated the band room with several posters welcoming me to the school, including this evocative image of a serpent.

Soprano Jennifer Ashe and I are shown rehearsing Drake Mabry's "Quatre Tanka" for soprano and serpent which we performed in a recital I gave at the 2000 Early Brass Festival.

I participated in the 2009 Historic Brass Festival at Connecticut College, where I gave the world premiere of Therese Brenet's Le Bronze et de Lumiere. My accompanist was John Anthony (Photo: Paul Johnson).

I visited my undergraduate alma Mater, Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) in 1999 for a residency which included masterclasses and a recital on trombone, as well as a performance of Simon Proctor's "Serpent Concerto" with the Wheaton College Orchestra. My oldest daughter, Linda, was a student at Wheaton at the time, and we are shown here backstage after the concert where I played the "Concerto" as well as Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique" (during which I got to sit next to Linda on stage).

I participated in the 1999 International Trombone Festival, held at the campus of S.U.N.Y. Potsdam, New York. As part of my time there, I gave a clinic during which I demonstrated the serpent.

In October 2009, I traveled to Michaelstein, Germany, to present a paper on Joseph Haydn's use of the serpent. As part of the Symposium, I played a recital of serpent solos and duets with the fine French serpent player, Volny Hostiou.

Here I am shown playing serpent in the Boston Symphony, in Richard Wagner's Overture to "Rienzi," conducted by James Conlon (summer 2001). Wagner's opera calls for the serpent to play at the bottom of the bassoon section - from front can be seen principal clarinet William Hudgins, associate principal bassoon Richard Ranti and second bassoon Suzanne Nelson.

In the summer of 2001, I joined with students at the Tanglewood Music Center for a performance of the harmonie arrangement of Haydn's "Oxford Symphony" conducted by Stefan Asbury in Seiji Ozawa Hall. I am playing my c. 1810 Badouin serpent in C (2 keys).

In 1998 I presented a recital at Tanglewood featuring serpent in harmonie ensembles, in performance with eight of my Boston Symphony colleagues. This photo was taken backstage of the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood before an interview I gave with Berkshire Eagle music writer Andrew Pincus. I am holding four serpents made by the Christopher Monk Workshop: the largest is the contrabass serpent "George" in CC which was one of the last instruments Christopher Monk made (it was commissioned by the late Phil Palmer in 1990 and I subsequently purchased it from Phil Palmer's wife, Connie, in 2000), my 1996 Monk Workshop serpent in C made by Keith Rogers and Nicholas Perry, a tenor serpent by Christopher Monk called a "serpet" and a small "worm" serpent by Christopher Monk. (photo: Walter Scott)

One of the most remarkable serpents in the world is the original contrabass serpent, dubbed the "Anaconda," which is now in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments. Made in 1840 in Huddersfield, England, by two brothers with the last name of Wood, it was frequently played by Andrew van der Beek in the London Serpent Trio and made a famous appearence at Royal Albert Hall during the November, 1956 Hoffnung Music Festival Concert (when, sad to say, it was badly damaged). Here is the "Anaconda" in situ at the museum, in a crowded case with many other serpents and related bass wind instruments.

Because of my ongoing interest in not only the history but the playing characteristics of serpents, and the fact that I own one of only three contrabass serpents in the world (putting aside the "American Anaconda" which was made by Steve Silverstein of PVC pipe!), I was given a rare opportunity to play the "Anaconda" during a visit to Edinburgh in August 2001 thanks to the generosity of the museum collection's curator, Arnold Myers. The "Anaconda" is awkward to hold in the extreme (it is also very heavy!), but has an undeniable charm and a rare sound. For more about the "Anaconda," including photos and sound clips of Andrew van der Beek playing it, visit the website of the Edinburgh University Museum.

While visiting the Edinburgh University Collection, I used a variety of mouthpieces while playing and testing several instruments. Pictured here are several serpent mouthpieces I used (from left): a wooden mouthpiece which formerly belonged to Christopher Monk, my resin copy of a mouthpiece designed by Christopher Monk, two mouthpieces made for me from historic (pre-ban) ivory by Keith Rogers at the Monk Workshop, the original mouthpiece made for the "Anaconda" (brass, sliverplated) and a copy of the original "Anaconda" mouthpiece made for me out of boxwood by Keith Rogers. Hanging from the stand are several strands of dental floss which are wrapped around serpent mouthpieces in order to get them to fit in the bocal. Also on the stand is a fingering chart for the "Anaconda" made by Andrew van der Beek.

The Christopher Monk Workshop is a fascinating place and this photo shows me in the shop holding a church serpent made by and for Keith Rogers who does much of the work in the shop making serpents. This serpent is quite unique as it is covered by a genuine python skin; it was made by Keith for his own use (the python skin is decades old, having been acquired by Christopher Monk legally from a gentleman who brought the skins back from Africa at the end of the British colonial era). Clifford Bevan, of the London Serpent Trio (see the final photo below) has the first python covered serpent which he named "Monty Python." In the background Keith Rogers can be seen wrestling with my Monk Workshop serpent as he had just rewound the string on my serpent bocal.

During a visit to the Cardiff (Wales) Museum of Welsh Country Life in the fall of 2002, I saw this extraordinary military serpent with 14 keys (12 on the front and two on the back) - the largest number of keys every made for a serpent . This instrument was made, appropriately, by Thomas Key, 20 Charing Cross, London (c. 1830-40) and was used in St. John's Church in Cardiff. Another serpent by Thomas Key with 14 keys is found in the Metropolitain Museum of Art's collection in New York City although it is not currently on display). A military serpent such as this one (and the instrument below) would be held horizontally to facilitate marching or walking while playing.

Francis Pretty was a prolific maker of English Military serpents in the early 19th century. This instrument by Pretty, sold at auction in 2002, was badly damaged (see the photo above, left, that shows unraveling of the leather in the first bend under the bocal, an additional brace between the first and second bow, among several problems) but the bell mount, shown at left, is quaintly engraved with Pretty's self description ("Inventor & Maker") and the location of his shop, "Waterloo Road, Near the Obelisk, London." The instrument has five keys (three on the front, two on the back) and has key guides made of ivory which assist the player in locating the holes. Andrew van der Beek of the London Serpent Trio plays a serpent by Pretty (see photo below of the London Serpent Trio where van der Beek is holding his Pretty serpent). In 2005, the instrument's new owner, Nick Parkes, had it restored by Keith Rogers of the Christopher Monk Workshop. The same instrument is shown above at right. Rogers' restoration was quite comprehensive (including a new bocal mount, replacement of some wooden segments, sealing wormrot throughout, oiling and leathering) but in doing so, he solved all of the major structural problems in this beautiful historical instrument. Having been given new life, it is now being played regularly by Nick Parkes.

A festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of the invention of the serpent was held in England in 1990. This photo shows many of the participants at the Festival including, from right, Paul Schmidt, editor of the Serpent Newsletter, the late Philip Palmer with the contrabass serpent "George," Andrew van der Beek with the original contrabass serpent, the "Anaconda," and the late Christopher Monk.

In 1989, a festival celebrating the 399th anniversary of the invention of the serpent was held at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. As part of the festivities, participants joined the University of South Carolinia Marching Band during a USC football game playing "Under the Boardwalk."

I took part in the biennial "Serpentarium", held at Cape Cornwall, England, in May, 2009. This was a wonderful gathering of serpent players from around the world, led by my friend Phil Humphries. This group photo shows all of the particpants:

Top row (left to right:): Chris Gutteridge (England), Lizzie Gutteridge (England), Michele Lomas (England), Murray Campbell (Scotland)
Middle row: Christian Kšrner (Germany), John Weber (USA), Shirley Hopkins Civil (England), Harry Woodhouse (England), Stephan Berger (Switzerland), Nigel Nathan (England), Wic Bohdanowicz (England)
Bottom row: Douglas Yeo (USA), Phil Humphries (England), Paul Schmidt (USA)

This chandelier, made of 10 serpents, originally hung in a Brussels firehouse (with candles in the upturned bocals) before being moved to the Conservatory in Brussels. Here the chandelier is shown in situ when it hung in the Conservatory - notice the light bulbs near the ceiling which illuminate the chandelier. Surely it is the most unusual use of serpents to be found!

Here is the serpent chandelier shown in its current location, the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, Belgium.

In 2008, I gave the premiere of Gordon Bowie's Old Dances in New Shoes for serpent and orchestra; the performance took place in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall with the Boston Classical Orchestra conducted by Steven Lipsett.

French serpentist Bernard Fourtet is shown here with an unusual serpent with both a carved head and a carved bocal receiver.

In June 2009, I travelled to South Carolina to film my DVD, Approaching the Serpent: An Historical and Pedagogical Overview. This photo shows me with my friend (and co-director of the DVD) Craig Kridel, as we stand in front of all of the instruments that are demonstrated and shown on the DVD. It was a rare opportunity to display a large array of serpents of various sizes and shapes.

My friend, serpent maker Keith Rogers, passed from this world to the next in 2008; I invite visitors to read my tribute to Keith that appears on my website. Later that year, a special concert was held in London in his memory. I participated in the concert in a number of ways, including playing in a serpent ensemble (shown above) with Murray Campbell and the members of the London Serpent Trio, show, from right, Clifford Bevan, Stephen Wick and Philip Humphries.
"George," the contrabass serpent made by Christopher Monk in 1990 and which is now part of my collection, was inspired by the "Anaconda" that is now in the Edinburgh University Museum collection (see photos above). Christopher Monk, however, decided not to duplicate the "Anaconda" but rather make an exactly 2X as large copy of a traditional church serpent. In the late 1990's, Matthew Bettenson asked Keith Rogers of Christopher Monk Instruments to make another contrabass serpent, dubbed "George II." At the 2008 concert in London in memory of Keith Rogers, I played "George II" in a performance of "The Elephant" from Carnival of the Animals with Jonathan Rea at the piano.

In 2010, Michael Lutch took this formal photo of me with my English military serpent made for me by Keith Rogers in 2007. It was taken in the second balcony of Symphony Hall, Boston. (Photo: Michael J. Lutch)

The London Serpent Trio was and remains a prime force in the modern revival of the serpent. The original membership of the group is shown here from left, Alan Lumsden, the late Christopher Monk, and Andrew van der Beek. At right is the fourth member of the trio, Clifford Bevan. Bevan joined the group for quartets and usually played ophicleide, as shown.

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