June Armstrong: Music Box

Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

June Armstrong is a quite simply a marvel. Respected worldwide as one of our most musically distinctive and rewarding educational composers, and for the understated quality of her publications (which she brings to the world via her own business Pianissimo Publishing), Armstrong has both made a huge impact and succeeded on her own terms.

The Pianodao Music Library already includes reviews of several of June Armstrong’s previous collections. Now her latest collection, the superb Music Box, has arrived.

With this new publication, Armstrong brings us 27 new compositions for elementary players (around UK Grades 1-3), with each piece celebrating a different musical instrument from around the world. Let’s lift the lid…

Surprising Sounds for Piano

A strong feature of all Armstrong’s music is its atmospheric and descriptive impact, and her skills as an evocative composer are utilised to the full in this new collection, which aims to deliver “surprising sounds for the piano”.

The 27 pieces each lasts for just one page, and they are titled after the instruments they seek to conjure:

  • Bagpipes
  • Balalaika
  • Bandoneon
  • Bassoon
  • Celeste
  • Cello
  • Clarinet
  • Cor Anglais
  • Flügelhorn
  • Flute
  • Gamelan
  • Guitar
  • Harp
  • Harpsichord
  • Lute
  • Mandolin
  • Oboe
  • Organ
  • Piccolo
  • Saxophone
  • Timpani
  • Tin Whistle
  • Triangle
  • Trombone
  • Tuba
  • Viola
  • Violin

The first two pieces (which don’t appear alphabetically) eloquently illustrate the creative potential of Armstrong’s construct. Piccolo is played at the highest end of the piano, and features a chirpy tune with a hint of the marching band, while Cello follows with a gliding melody in the alto register, which cannily quotes from Saint-Saëns.

This pairing is followed by pompous Tuba and pentatonic Gamelan, and it soon becomes clear that Armstrong has produced a collection that combines memorable melody (and an arch sense of style) with her highly commendable and useful educative aims.

These aims go beyond the obvious goal of enlivening the student’s mind with images and impressions of the instruments of and beyond the orchestra, to include Armstrong’s distinctively imaginative approach to enlarging the player’s experience of the piano itself, and all the while developing their technical assurance and confidence as players.

The Publication

Armstrong has created such a strong ‘brand’ identity with Pianissimo Publications that many readers will know exactly what to expect, and will not be disappointed.

For the uninitiated, the book has a white card cover with a gloss finish, sporting a central photographic motif:

Within, the 32 pages appear on white paper, and offer well-spaced, cleanly presented music notation (which is of standard size). The book begins with an inspiring introduction offering some general hints for the player, as well as individual tips for each piece in the collection.

The Pianissimo Publishing website includes Listen to the Instruments, a page showcasing video clips of all the instruments featured in Armstrong’s compositions. Armstrong has also produced free recordings of all the pieces to stream or directly download.

As ever, she has also uploaded these to YouTube, and you can listen to the pieces directly here:

Closing Thoughts

With her latest publication, June Armstrong has come up with a simple, even obvious concept, and developed it with enthusiasm, alacrity and aplomb. These are marvellous, inspiring pieces which cannot fail to please as much as they educate young players.

And beyond their use in the lessons, practice and performances of elementary pianists, I think this collection would make an excellent sight-reading resource or book of quick studies for a more advanced player. For that matter, Music Box could even prove useful in classroom music lessons.

In short, Music Box is yet another triumph for Pianissimo Publishing, one of June Armstrong’s best collections yet, and deserves to be very widely enjoyed.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.