Penguins was written in the summer of 1980 when the composer 14 years old. The idea was originally started as a trombone quartet and the theme was St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel. The composer quickly saw that if he increased the tempo and added a swing element to the rhythm, that there was a waddling feeling to it. As a bassoonist and an avid collector of all things “penguins” the simple connection was made, and the piece morphed into what it is now.
It is also no coincidence that another bassoon quartet, Pigs by composer Alan Ridout, was already in the repertoire of the school bassoon quartet that Garrett led. Ridout was composer in residence at Garrett’s school and would later take Garrett on as a composition student. So while there might be few similarities between penguins and pigs, and while meetings in the wild might be highly unlikely, they are – as with all things – connected.
The first performance of Penguins in 1980 received a favourable review in the local newspaper under the headline “Ditton Garbutt and his quartet of trombones”; the “quartet” piece was correct and perhaps the “trombones” were an example of mental archaeology by the reviewer, however Ditton Garbutt has, to this day, never been found!
By request from the composer £2 from every copy sold will be donated to Help Musicians UK (previously known as the Musician’s Benevolent Fund).