Sad Trombone

for clarinet, trombone, cello, piano, and electronics

Commissioned by gnarwhallaby
Premiered March 29th, 2015, Neighborhood Church, Pasadena, CA



The genesis of Sad Trombone is the quintessential sound of failure, the chromatic descending four-note motive that often accompanies a wrong answer on a game show, a pratfall, or a botched opportunity. Variations of this descent pop up here and there throughout music history, like the ground bass that underlies Dido’s gorgeous lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. But at some point between then and now, this motive transformed from a sound of despair to one of disappointment, precariously balanced between comedy and melancholy.

Unsurprisingly, the trombone is the sort-of-soloist of Sad Trombone, constantly trying to air its grievances while being thwarted by other actors. Various transformations and escapes are attempted, but in the end, failure wins.

Sad Trombone is written for and dedicated to the ensemble gnarwhallaby: Matt Barbier, trombone; Brian Walsh, clarinet; Derek Stein, cello; and Richard Valitutto, piano.


To purchase full score, parts, and electronics patch, contact the composer.

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