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Homo sapiens trombonensis

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Matthew C. Saunders

Matthew Saunders

General Info

Year: 2005
Duration: c. 13:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Matthew Saunders
Cost: Score and Parts - $60.00   |   Score Only - $10.00


Full Score
Solo Trombone
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophones I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V-VI, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Cowbell
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Glockenspiel
  • Ride Cymbal
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Timpani
  • Tam-Tam (gong)
  • Tom-toms
  • Triangle
  • Tubular Bells (Chimes)
  • Wood Blocks


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Homo sapiens trombonensis is by no means intended to make good the gaps in the trombone solo repertoire which were left by the stubborn refusal of the “great composers” to even consider the trombone as a serious instrument. (Trombonists have no Mozart, no Brahms, no Beethoven which they can call their own; even a self-proclaimed first-rank second-rate composer like Richard Strauss simply “couldn’t find the time”). The title explains the piece best -- Homo sapiens is the scientific name for modern human beings, and the appellation trombonensis suggests a subspecies of human being whose story might go something like this:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth ... and on some subsequent day, He said that “It is not good for man to have only music played by the scraping of strings, or the beating of one object against another or the yowling and bawling of his own vocal chords. Nay, let there be music made but with the breath of man, and let it be of two kinds: that which requires the delicate movement of fingers and the careful grooming of tiny slivers of slowly rotting wood, and that which requires only a hollow tube and the perfectly executed raspberry.” And God looked upon the orchestra and saw that it was good...

...And, yea, it came to pass that in the seventeenth year of the reign of King Blazhevich, many men and women playing instruments made of cow’s horns (with the cow removed) began to complain of the limited number of tones available to them and of the thin and feeble sound of their instruments. The prophet Arban suggested the shell of the conch as an alternative, but the people grumbled, and stoned him to death. The king then decreed that throughout the land no man or woman should play any longer on the horns of ungulates or the shells of mollusks but that horns of brass should be made in the shape of large paper clips with tubes that fit one within the other for the adjustment of the tone to its most pleasing sound. Furthermore, the king decreed that only the noblest and wisest men and women should be suffered to perform upon these new instruments...

As this tale from the Apocryphal Book of Slide-o-Mix illustrates, not everyone is cut out to play the trombone. It is said to require long arms, an excellent sense of pitch, the ability to count rests, and a tolerance for both whole notes and the perpetual jokes made at the expense of one’s instrument. (Q. What’s the difference between a dead country singer in the road and a dead trombonist in the road? A. The country singer might have been on his way to a recording session.) The trombone suffers from an image problem dating back to its origins as the medieval sackbut. (No need to explain that).

Practitioners of the highly musical art of playing the trombone (and at least some of their family members) agree that one of the most enjoyable aspects of trombone playing is the variety of styles and ensembles in which one may take part. Without the trombone, jazz saxophonists would be able to impress only themselves in jam sessions, and salsa bands would sound not quite so rhythmically gifted as they do when a trombone player is on hand to take the blame. Tuba players in brass quintets would have to blame French horn players for bad intonation, and thousands of empty chairs in orchestra halls around the world would be spontaneously flying through the air without the (at times ample) derrieres of trombone players holding them in place. In these same orchestras, horn players, with only the trumpet section to keep them at work, might become insipidly lazy, and woodwind players, having fewer brass players to complain about, might turn on each other a la Easter Island, with mass hysteria ritual warfare ending only in cannibalism and eventually, environmental collapse. The string players would probably only notice that they could hear themselves somewhat better; this fact would have little effect on their intonation.

Thus the need for trombone players. And if there are to be trombone players, there must be the occasional trombone solo with wind ensemble to keep them interested, or at least off the streets and in the practice room. Thus the present composition, Homo sapiens trombonensis, which is an anthropology, nay, an ethnography of the American trombonist. In this twelve-minute extravaganza, you will hear the trombone soloist in collaboration with the various sections of the wind ensemble, taking from them stylistic and motivic cues, just as trombone players everywhere look to music performed by other instruments to just sort of “see what their take on it is.” Jack of all trades but master of none, the solo trombone finds itself in many of the varied situations mentioned above -- wind ensemble, salsa band, jazz ensemble, and some combinations thereof. The trombone player who dreams of rock stardom will find fifteen seconds or so of heavy-metal glory (which will duly be deducted from his fifteen minutes of fame). Likewise, for a moment, the trombonist is allowed to slip the surly bonds of jazz to experience the feeling of performing some of the great concerto themes of the past, even if he is then rudely awakened from this reverie by the saxophone section. In short, there is something for everyone here (and let us hope that everyone takes what they are supposed to have. Otherwise, it will end up in the Lost and Found and one of the percussionists will use it to line his birdcage. Incidentally, like all trombone music, this piece is wrinkled by that combination of gravity and the pool of condensation (IT'S NOT SPIT!!!) found beneath the music stand in a practice room after a trombonist has put in a good solid twenty minutes of work.

In all seriousness, Homo sapiens trombonensis was written in 2005 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music at The Ohio State University. It was premiered March 6, 2006, by the Ohio State University Wind Symphony under the baton of Dr. Russel Mikkelson with the composer as trombone soloist. The composer wishes to thank his advisor, Professor Donald Harris, along with the other members of his faculty committee, Professors Joseph Duchi and Dr. Gregory Proctor.

- Program Note by composer


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Denison University (Granville, Ohio) Wind Symphony (Mark Wade, conductor Matthew Saunders, trombone) - November 2013
  • Ohio State University (Columbus) Wind Symphony (Russel Mikkelson, conductor; Matthew Saunders, trombone) - 6 March 2006 *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer