I'd like to say that Paint Box is one of the best books I've ever come across. Lovely pieces, and the colour titles make it so much easier to feel the expression. Fabulous!
Sue Greenham, England
I have been immensely impressed by the Paint Box pieces - they are so imaginative and musical. Clare Spencer, England
I performed a concert in my home for my adult piano students and played The Nine Glens of Antrim to them. I had more positive comments about them thatn anything else I played! I love the sound worlds you create. Many thanks for these gems. Alison Killen, England
I absolutely love the books and pieces!!!!
Angie Tse, England
My pupil has now worked her way through more than half of Nine Glens and absolutely loves it! I am looking forward to exploring the new books with pupils. Dorothy Couling, England
Love Puffin Island and Paint Box! Aquamarine is my favourite and such a great variety of pieces in both books. Pauline Williams, Ireland
The music is SUPER. Jane Blackie, Scotland
June Armstrong's music is fantastic! - Elissa Milne, Australia
A very wonderful composer who understands what young people can relate to and learn well and enjoy - Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, USA
Imaginative and innovative compositions - Lucinda Mackworth-Young, England
Another vote for June Armstrong's utterly charming compositions. Paint Box and Toy Box should be part of every beginner pianist's repertoire - Louise Lampson, England
The compositions are absolutely gorgeous: pianistic, imaginative and original - Margaret O'Sullivan Farrell, Ireland
June Armstrong's work is inspired - everyone should have a chance to play it. Donal Gormley, Ireland
I was delighted to be asked to review, and play through, Stars, an alluring collection of pieces for young pianists by June Armstrong. All the compositions have enticing titles and covey the vivid images of a starlit night sky coloured and enhanced by a dream-like imagination; effectively musical paintings.
The harmonic world is evocative and refreshingly unpredictable with just a hint of Debussy, Phillip Glass and even Peter Sculthorpe (have a listen to his Night Pieces as a comparison, something for pupils to aspire to later on). All of them will nurture and inspire an ear for, and control of, pedalled tonal colour, as well as the importance for space, time and sonority. I particularly loved Unicorn with its magical stillness and ravishing tonal world, and was very taken with Sails, a descriptive and entrancing piece with the added bonus of encouraging good left hand scalic control and an ear for balance. Yes the collection has huge educational value and is excellent teaching repertoire, but many of the compositions transcend this in their originality and appeal. Anthony Williams - ABRSM examiner
Pianodao - Stars
I am sure you will be struck – as I was – by the variety of mood within the pieces. The tranquility of ‘Great Dog’, ‘Queen’ (beautifully melodic) and ‘Northern Crown’ soon give way to the jaunty canter of ‘Pegasus’, the gorgeous flow of ‘Sails’, and the menace of ‘Dragon’.
June composes with an evocative contemporary style, conjuring atmospheres of mystery, wonder, excitement and serenity from one piece to the next. She includes dissonance, chord clusters, pedalling effects and a post-tonal approach to harmony – but always keeping an approachable musical language. These are pieces which will surely enlarge player’s musical experience while building on foundations they are intuitively familiar with.
Technically, the pieces nicely fit the level that the composer is aiming for while including some techniques that will be new to players. For example, ‘Pegasus’ includes a passage in which the RH plays in thirds using legato scale fingerings that might normally come later, but which work perfectly well here. I am really pleased with the way the composer pitches the pieces at an appropriate level without conforming to it too literally.
I have no doubt that ‘Stars’ will be a big hit with my students – and not just the children. The overall presentation and extra-musical subject matter will surely also make these books highly appealing to adult players, and it is refreshing to find creative and inspiring music that’s suitable to share across all ages.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of these pieces, and in an increasingly crowded field of good piano music they stand out as a hugely worthwhile and imaginative addition to the intermediate pianist’s repertoire.
By now it will be clear that I have become a fan of June’s music, and with that I am off to explore more of her publications – and I encourage you to do the same. Warmly recommended! Andrew Eales Pianodao
Music Teacher - Toy Box
It is heartening to see piano teachers composing for their pupils. Expert piano teachers understand their own pupils, their personalities and capabilities. So who better to compose pieces for them? Also, if your teacher composes a piece for you, you are much more likely to enjoy learning and playing it than music by someone who lived 300 years ago in another country. June Armstrong is such a teacher and composer. She studied music at Queen's University Belfast and subsequently settled in Belfast and began to teach her sons to play the piano, developing a passion for piano teaching in the process. A desire to compose atmospheric pieces that focus on stylistic playing, developing a tonal palette and sensitive pedal technique, has led to several books.
Toy Box is a collection of 26 pieces of beginner to pre-Grade 1 standard. Armstrong's website also has audio tracks of all the pieces, free to download. And what a delightful toy
box this is, bursting with lovely little characterful pieces. There are musical representations of teddy bears, train sets, building blocks, fire engines, ballerinas and many others
besides. As I played through them I found myself thinking again and again: 'This is what I would compose if I was writing music for my grandchildren about toy soldiers or ballerinas'.
These are pianistic and imaginative pieces that I am sure young beginners will love playing.' Fiona Lau
Piano Professional - Paint Box
Cameos, such as Pillar Box Red, Dusty Blue, and Emerald Green, actually 'sound' like their colours! Armstrong is endlessly imaginative despite the simple hand positions. The style
is a mixture of diatonic, whole-tone, Celtic, minimalist, jazz and impressionist. Nothing jars and all seems inevitable and yet fresh. Each one is a gem. Short paragraphs on the
pieces introduce concepts like suspensions, counterpoint, triads and note clusters in a disarmingly natural way. Nancy Litten
- The Nine
Glens of Antrim
This is a collection featuring nine distinctly Irish-themed original compositions by renowned composer and teacher June Armstrong for grades 2 to 4 standard, designed to teach and
reinforce technique and stylistic interpretation. The composer has taken the Glens of Antrim in Ireland as the inspiration for nine new piano pieces that attempt to capture the atmosphere
of the varied landscape. From the astonishing monuments of caves and valleys to calmer, more tranquil waterfalls and rivers, Armstrong has successfully composed pieces to help a student
imagine and evoke the natural beauty of a landscape through the musical medium. The concept that Armstrong has tried to incorporate is that the expressiveness of the piano as an instrument
is something that students should be familiar with, and so this book will teach you how to create atmosphere while using the musical theory you are familiar with.
One of the most impressive things about The Nine Glens of Antrim is the hard work that the composer has put into creating these pieces as well as incorporating Irish music and the Irish landscape. At the beginning of the book Armstrong goes into great detail about what each piece symbolises, as well as a small amount of Irish history and legend. she intertwines this with detailed playing instructions, making learning entertaining and informative as well as inspiring. In the notes for the piece titled Layd Church the student is told that 'A small stream runs along the side of the church, the sound of which, together with birdsong, is the only music you will hear there now. If you wish to play this successfully, you will need to listen to birds singing!'
It is this personal and friendly tone that makes learning from The Nine Glens of Antrim a joy. The pieces themselves are subtle, pretty and precisely composed, perfect for a student who already has a good grasp of playing in a variety of keys, at different tempos and in alternative time signatures. Armstrong also leaves certain expressive elements up to the performer, so the flexibility would suit a student who is keen to bring some character and feeling to the piece. Each song represents a different challenge, and attempts to introduce a novel style and technique, so the use of the natural beauty of a landscape provides an anchor for students to connect the theory with the practice.
EPTA Piano Journal - Strangford Sketchbook, The Nine Glens of Antrim and Causeway Coast
June Armstrong has published three volumes of charmingly atmospheric pieces of varying levels of difficulty. All the pieces are inspired by Irish landscapes and the Introductory note
explain the characteristic of each place helping the listener or performer to batter understand the character of this lovely music. June describes each Glen in great detail which enhances
the musical expression. Often haunting, always enchanting with a strong Irish flavour, all the pieces offer technical and musical challenges to the students of the prescribed level of piano
playing. There are some 'takes' on Satie, Jimmy Kennedy and Wagner but with June's individual musical stamp superimposed, the end result is most successful. These books are absolutely
ideal for teachers and students of all grades who are looking for new repertoire to add to their programmes.' Nadia Lasserson
Piano Professional - Puffin Island
The jaunt begins with an exhilarating ride on the ferry, the first views through the Morning Mist, and ends peacefully with Sunset over Donegal after a 'knees up' in The Ceilidh. The magical tour of Rathlin includes glimpses of gannets, hares, seals, puffins, sea anemones and curlews, all deftly painted with musical sounds. There is not one wasted note. Hare Running would bring a smile to anyone's face as he lollops into view and then 'hares off'! Waves on the Sand uses a similar harmony throughout, based on C6, but in novel ways. It was inspired by watching waves rushing in and drawing slowly back on the beach, and calls for some tempo rubato. Nancy Litten
Piano Professional - Enchanted World
The world of Pooh and Christopher Robin is evoked. From the call of the cuckoo in The Forest, to the happy hums of Nothing To Do Until Friday, the
characters are vividly portrayed. They are not named, for copyright reasons, but Armstrong gets round it by thinly veiled titles such as An Outdoor Song for Snowy Weather, and
performance directions ('Rather fiercely, like a heffalump'). The rising and falling hairpins of On the Bridge describe the eddying Pooh-sticks clearly enough. Baby Roo
nearly jumps off the page; wise old Owl misspells Happy Birthday (wonky intervals) and Finding the North Pole has allusions to 'We're Off to see the Wizard'. Busy Day is
fast, but in order to acheve it a child would conquer the technique. It also sounds harder than it is, always helpful!
Piano Professional - Magical World
As with 'Children's Corner' and 'A Prole do Bebe', the pieces conjure up childhood rather than being easy enough for small children to play. they are inspired by A A Milne's 'When We Were Very Young' and 'Now We Are Six'. From the freshness of the Spring Morning (the quirkiness of beginning in F# major and ending on the dominant while being in the key of C# minor!) to the limpid Water-Lilies, Armstrong creates an ambivalence of key and time signature (Vespers is marked 2/4 3/4) which sounds charmingly natural. You can almost smell the yellow daffodils in Daffodowndilly; and Pinkle Purr reproduces many of the actual sounds made by a cat. Nancy Litten
Piano Professional - Strangford Sketchbook
The Ards Peninsula and Strangford Lough are favourite places for Armstrong. there is a strongly Irish/Celtic feel and some passages are slow moving, such as the fist part of The Harp at Mount Stewart (before it becomes more tricky and contrapuntal - but always harp-like). Each piece introduces different elements of technical development.
Sandpipers at Ballyquintin is a lively toccata picturing the birds scuttling over the rocks, and the movement of the waves along the shore. The Ferry Crossing is a choppy one! This book also includes Castle Ward - Temple Dancer in Blue, (like a bluesy version of Satie's 3rd Gymnopedie), which features in both Trinity College and the Royal Irish Academy's latest piano syllabus. Nancy Litten
Piano Professional - Ireland's Most Beautiful Ancient Airs
These are beautiful setting, from She Moved Through the Fair and Londonderry Air to seveal by Turlough O'Carolan. They have simplicity, timelessness and Celtic style. Textures often imitate the harp; certainly Armstrong in her recordings plays the piano as if it has 'no hammers' (as Debussy recommended). They are all graceful to play and will delight students, particularly teenagers and adults. They are 'easy listening' and harmonious. The treatment of The Last Rose of Summer is perhaps the most inventive, with a gently fugue, harp-like counterpoint and arpeggiated chords after a statement of the theme with both hands in ornamented unison an octave apart, folk-style. Nancy Litten
Piano Professional - Causeway Coast Fantasy
From the soporific Red Sails at Sunset and misty Mussenden Temple at Sunrise to the watery Bendhu, these longer pieces are like an Irish Einaudi or Michael Nyman mixed with French Impressionism. They also lend themselves to an appreciation of form, so winsome is the treatment of the material. Much is understated and gentle, but The Pipes of Finn has a slow, thunderous opening followed by three pages of nippy counterpoint. A quote from Wagner's Pilgrims' Chorus ends the book with gravitas. There is a minimum of marked fingering, but it is there when needed, such as in RH/LH crossovers. Pupils will automatically address issues of balance and pedalling, in order to achieve the desired effect. Nancy Litten
- The Girona Suite
June Armstrong's piano book The Girona Suite - Eight Evocations for Piano features eight original and challenging compositions for grades 5 to 7 standard, all inspired by the
shipwreck of the Spanish galleas, the Girona. The pieces included in this book were all composed specifically for this collection by revered pianist and teacher June Armstrong. Her
many years of experience in teaching have allowed her to craft compositions both subtle and powerful that stretch the ability of students while giving them an engaging story on which to
base their expression and feeling when playing. Armstrong is an advocate of focusing learning on atmosphere and tonal awareness, which, when combined with the necessary techniques and theory,
makes this book a learning tool that is theoretically sound and musically enticing.
From the first page, the composer has shown her commitment to creating pieces specifically for students learning the piano, as she writes of how many people, including former students, have
inspired her. She then writes in detail about the historical context of the theme of the work, before giving more practical advice on the music itself and how to go about playing it.
The friendly and warm approach that Armstrong brings to presenting her suite makes it more than a simple book, it becomes a personal journey, where the composer herself guides you through the
characters and settings that the music has been composed to evoke. As well as presenting challenging and entertaining pieces, Armstrong's work serves as a fantastic introduction into how
major and minor keys can be manipulated to different ends, and how motifs can be used together with a theme. Armstrong writes: "The final piece, Sarabande for the Lost Souls returns to the
desolation of Eb minor, closing with a final statement of the No Tengo theme."
The pieces in The Girona Suite are designed to cultivate a student's ability to play in keys containing more than three flats or sharps, as well as a number of different time signatures and with varying degrees of expression. This book would be ideal for a student of any age who is unafraid to experiment with evoking feeling and emotion in their playing, while also learning and practising numerous techniques in an appealing and informative context. If you would like to listen to any of the pieces, these can be heard and downloaded free of charge on the composer's website.
Piano Professional - The Nine Glens of Antrim
This effective collection depicts the spectacular scenery and folklore of each of the glens, with stories and history to match. They are enjoyable to hear and to play, using plenty of pedal and pentatonic patterns, sometimes all on the black notes, such as in Ossian's Grave. Effects, particularly of water and birdsong are most evocative (Layd Church, Sea Caves, Waterfall etc.) and the music is not difficult to play once it is known. While dexterity is needed for the faster pieces, some are refreshingly simple, such as Carnlough Harbour and Glenarm River (like a folk song). Taisie's Wedding is in celebratory 6/8 time with lively elfin fanfares in running thirds. Nancy Litten
Piano Professional - Toy Box
These are very easy pieces, but with plenty of character, from Trumpet (marked 'Brassy') to Train Set (Start slowly and softly and get faster and louder'). They encourage the beginner by being short and descriptive, as well as developing legato, staccato, evenness, coordination, and a wide range of dynamics. Some are cosily diatonic, others atonal - all according to the toy they represent. Armstrong is not afraid to use the capabilities of the piano to the full, from pedal to harmonics and widely placed intervals, although Mobile is all in on C major position and Xylophone moves entirely a 6th apart. Slinky is in free time and slithers the length of the keyboard. In Fire Engine the LH plays the engine's two notes while the RH runs around anxiously two octaves below. Some of the pieces could be taught by rote. Nancy Litten
The Girona Suite
The Girona was wrecked off the Giant's Causeway in the violent storm of 1588. The cream of Spain's nobility was on board, including Don Alonso de Leyva, the commander, who had gathered survivors from three other Armada ships. Dances of the period (Pavane, Sarabande etc.) are given sensitive treatment and a modern twist. A sense of sadness pervades the music, despite ornamented writing and some major keys. Key signatures of many flats or sharps may be intimidating at first, but they soon fall under the hands once you have worked out the patterns. There is much Spanish flavour in the writing. Major and minor fuse in the poignant description of a ring, (now on view in Belfast's Ulster Museum), with the inscription 'No tengo mas que darte (I have nothing more to give thee). Nancy Litten
- Toy Box
Toy Box contains 26 simple yet impressive piano pieces composed by experienced teacher June Armstrong. This book is ideal for a beginner to put theory into practice with a wide
variety of pieces in a number of styles. Each title in the collection is evocative of the way the piece is meant to be played, with pieces like Ballerina, Hula Hoop and
Kaleidoscope suiting the instructions that Armstrong has provided like 'Daintily','Steadily' and 'Turning'. Unique touches like this make Toy Box perfect for a young child who
is working their way towards grade one standard, as the composer has skilfully attempted to represent the nature of various toys through the medium of music. This will help a young musician
to learn the basic concepts of musical theory in a fun and familiar context, with pieces like Jumbo and Slinky sure to entertain all who are within earshot through humour and
What sets this collection apart from other beginner books is the personality and dedication that June Armstrong brings to her compositions, noting that her pieces are all inspired by her own piano students and giving detailed and informative notes for each song at the beginning of the book. For Dinosaur Armstrong writes that 'You will want to create a very scary atmosphere...The right hand note heads are strange bird calls in the forest. The lefty hand Ds, Es and Fs are the dinosaur...' The care that has been put into creating this music shows that Armstrong is acutely aware of the best way for students to learn, and that she truly wants students to learn effectively, but in a fun and light-hearted way.
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