Over recent years, piano teacher and composer June Armstrong has steadily developed an enviable reputation as one of Britain’s most prolific and distinctive educational composers.
Armstrongs’s impressive range of self-published – and beautifully produced – titles now stretches to some 15 collections of pieces suitable for players at most levels from beginner to advanced.
Along the way, she has gained a cult following from teachers-in-the-know – and no doubt gained many new fans following the recent inclusion of several pieces in the graded syllabuses of the examination boards.
June’s latest collection, Sea World, contains 17 new “Impressions for Piano”, aimed at players between UK Grades 1 to 3 (Elementary to Early Intermediate standard). Let’s take a look …
Sea World continues the now-established house style of June’s in-house Pianissimo Publishing, with a sturdy laminated card cover picturing a gorgeous scene that is later portrayed in the music of the final piece, Moonlight on the Bay:
The notation is as always spaciously engraved. Most pieces have little or no suggested fingering, but where it appears it is always a helpful addition. Pedalling is clearly indicated, and is required for many of the pieces, making the collection less-well suited to the smaller beginner.
As always, June has created and shared her own recordings of the new pieces on her YouTube channel here:
Impressions for Piano
Given that June is known for writing atmospheric and descriptive piano music, who better to portray the mysteries of the deep, or evoke the stillness and wonder of ocean life?
Particularly effective, Coral Reef conjures images of colourful flora dancing in the current, while Angel Fish beautifully portrays the quirky yet simple beauty of these sea creatures.
For those who prefer a jazzy melody, try Polynesian Beach, with its jaunty syncopations and catchy tune. And those who like to impress the listener with faster passagework will delight in the patterns of Pacific Rollers and the audacious Atlantic Breakers.
As ever, June doesn’t shy away from dissonance where it adds to the creative impact of a piece; Green Turtle is a good case in point here – a piece which at first sounds “wrong”, but which turns out to be another characterful, even humorous depiction.
Similarly visual in its impact, Crab is a fabulous portrayal of the crustacean’s sidewinding movement, while the fluid sparkle of Starfish is sure to delight players while delicately introducing 12/8 time without undue fuss.
Closing the collection, Song of the Whale and Moonlight on the Bay (perhaps my personal favourite) bring us back to the more contemplative essence that enriches so many of June’s pieces.
Overall then, there is much to enjoy here, and fans of June’s music will undoubtedly be enthralled in these pieces, while those new to her music will surely be captivated.
It is worth noting that these pieces are at roughly the same level as June’s previous publication Puffin Island – and I think that Sea World makes a lovely companion to that excellent selection.
Like a latter-day Walter Carroll, June writes incredibly appealing music whose chief charms include her ability to convey her own authentic musical voice so clearly while staying sensitive to the needs of teachers and students for highly accessible, musically-rewarding, astute pedagogic pieces.
June’s attention to the latter is second to none, underpinned of course by her rich experience as a teacher – but how wonderful that she can also so brilliantly evoke the simple pleasures of childhood innocence and imagination.
Sea World easily stands among the best of her publications to date, and could well prove among the most popular. I urge you to have a look for yourself!
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