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Tom Armstrong

Lecturer in Music, Director of Postgraduate Research



Tom is a composer whose music is performed throughout the UK and in Europe. Performers with whom he has worked include Jane Chapman, Melanie Pappenheim, the Delta Saxophone Quartet, Notes Inégales, the Fidelio Trio, the Endymion Ensemble, the New Music Players, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic. His output is notable for its diversity of medium, technique and aesthetic; it includes music for both amateurs and professionals, draws influences from post-war modernism, through European post-miminalism to non-Western music, and embraces both 'fixed' and open notions of the musical work.

Tom has worked on a number of large-scale collaborative projects. Black Maria, by acclaimed children's author Diana Wynne Jones, was created with choreographer Susan Crow and screenwriter Zara Waldeback and premiered at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadlers Wells. The same year (2007) he composed the one-woman show Catching the Sun with the playwright Stephanie McKnight. Other collaborations with writers include The Cathedral on the Marshes (2010-12, with Sarah Diamond) commissioned by the Crossness Engines Trust and funded by the PRSF, the RVW Trust, the Britten-Pears Foundation and Arts Council England, Opened Spaces (with Jim Morris) released on the CD Songs Now (Meridian Records) in 2012, and Do the Right Thing (with Bridget Minamore) premiered at the Linbury Theatre in 2012 as part of the Royal Opera House's 'Exposure' series.

In his recent instrumental music Tom has been experimenting with notational approaches that open up broader avenues for performer creativity and bring a more collaborative approach to the composer/performer relationship. Albumleaves (2013) for the Ligeti Quartet and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais (scheduled for release on Signum Classics in 2015) and his work in progress for Trio Aporia (Stephen Preston, flute, Richard Boothby, viola da gamba and Jane Chapman, harpsichord) utilise indeterminacy and open form to confer on the performers greater responsibility for determining the configuration and overall sound of a piece in performance.

Tom studied composition with George Nicholson before reading music at York University, remaining to pursue a DPhil with Roger Marsh. He studied with Vinko Globokar at Dartington Summer School and with Magnus Lindberg, Colin Matthews and Oliver Knussen at the Britten-Pears School. He attended the prestigious International Course for Professional Choreographers and Composers at Bretton Hall working with, amongst others, Kenneth Tharp and Wayne MacGregor. In 2011 Tom was selected for VOX3, part of the opera development programme at the ROH, where he worked with Dominic Muldowney and John Lloyd-Davies.

Research interests

Much of my current research is driven by the desire to challenge the traditional values of composer authority and notational determinacy that informed my compositional practice until comparatively recently. I have adopted various approaches aimed at a more dialogic relationship between composer and performer including use of devising techniques, improvisation, formal openness and various kinds of instructional notation. I present and write on my own practice using a broadly ethnographic approach in which I use multiple data - performer interviews, rehearsal recordings, journal entries and sketch materials - within a qualitative methodology to draw out and explain collaborative processes inherent in recent works. I am currently preparing a project centred around the revision process in composition, its presence and function in extant pieces as well as the creation of multiple versions of new works. A large scale community work looking at how mobile technologies can encourage performer participation in the creative process is in the early stages of planning. Both these projects will expand my research into areas cognate to those around composer authority


Level 4: Practical MusicianshipLevel 5: Orchestration and ArrangingLevel 6: CompositionLevel 7: Composition, Research Training for Practitioners

News and Events

My diptych, Opened Spaces, to original texts by Jim Morris for baritone and piano has recently been released on Meridian Records.

Songs Now

Web Links


The British Music Collection (formerly at the BMIC, now hosted by the University of Huddersfield) have digitised copies of my scores from 1992-2005. The link below should access the list of composers held in the collection (do not confuse me with Thomas Armstrong!):

British Music Collection composers' list

My publications


List of Works


Black Maria (2004-7)

A multimedia dance work based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones and commissioned by the author.1st performance: Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadlers Wells, London, 23rd-27th October, 2007. Green Box Productions.Instrumentation: electroacoustic score on digital video tape (the work also makes extensive use of video projections).Duration: 85 mins.

Catching the Sun (2006-7)

A one-woman musical in one act commissioned by the Guildford International Music Festival.1st performance: Electric Theatre, Guildford. Kirsty Bennett, Harmonieband.Instrumentation: female voice, male actor, ten sax (dbl fl and cl), vlc, pno, perc.Duration: 40 mins.

FIBBA (1999-2000)

Commissioned by the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain.1st performance: Lowry Centre, Salford.Instrumentation: fl (dbl picc), ob, cl (dbl Eb and b. cl), a. sax, t.sax, bsn, hrn, trpt, trmb, 2perc, pno, synth, hp, strings (1,1,1,1,1).Duration: 15 mins.

The Buried Moon (1995)

An opera for children in two acts.1st performance: Harwell Primary School, Oxfordshire.Instrumentation: 4 soloists, a chorus of “Things” (15 singers), a chorus of Villagers (15 singers), a band consisting of: 3 recs (2 descant, 2 treble), 5 percussionists, pno/conductor.Duration: 80 mins.

Orchestral/Large Ensemble

Bounce (2004)

Composed whilst in residence on Making Music's Breakout scheme.1st performance: Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk. Wymondham Youth Orchestra and Pulham Village Orchestra/ Margery BakerInstrumentation: 3 fl (3rd dbl picc), 3 ob, 2 cl, b. cl, 2 bsn, 2 hrn, 2 tpt, flg hrn, euph, timps, perc (glock, xyl, lge susp cym, snr dr, tamb), strings. Concertino of 2 fl, ob, cl, a. sax, bsn, pno.Duration: 12 mins.

Tall Ship Tales (2001)

Commissioned by the City of Rochester Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust.1st performance: Central Theatre, Chatham.Instrumentation: 3fl (2nd dbl picc), 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bsn, 4 hrn, 2 trpt, 3 trmb, tba, timps, 2 perc, strings (8,8,6,6,2).Duration: 15 mins.

Seachange (1999)

1st performance: Morley College, London. Morley College Chamber Orchestra/Gerry CorneliusInstrumentation: 2 fl (2nd dbl picc), 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bsn, 2 hrn, perc (vibe, tub bells, hi-hat). str (6,6,5,3,2).Duration: 2 mins.

Morning Sketch (1999)

Commissioned by the Isleworth Festival.1st performance: Syon House, London (opening concert of 1999 Isleworth Festival). String Factory/Pendlebury.Instrumentation: string orchestra (minimum 4,3,2,2,1)Duration: 3 mins.

Good Vibrations (1997-98)

Commissioned by the East of England Orchestra with funds from Eastern Arts.1st performance: Assembly Rooms, Derby. East of England Orchestra/Kok with Anthony Howe and Mary Nelson.Instrumentation: 1fl, 2 ob (2nd dbl ca), 2 cl (2nd dbl, 2 bsn, 2 hrn, 3 trpt, perc (vibe, b.dr, 4 tom-toms, 4 bongos), solo sop (vocalise), solo alto trombone, str (6,6,5,3,1).Duration: 7 mins

Squaring up for chamber orchestra (1992)

Commissioned by York University Chamber Orchestra.1st performance: York University, York University Chamber Orchestra/Roger Marsh.Instrumentation: 2 fl (2nd dbl picc), 2 ob, 2 cl (2nd dbl, 2 bsn (2nd dbl cbsn), 2 trp, 2 hrn, strings (6,6,4,4,2), Perc 1: xyl, crot, bdr, Perc 2: mar, vib, Perc 3: tblk, bongos, 2 suspcym, large Tam Tam.Duration: 15 mins.


Into the Garden (2009)

For period instrument quartet1st performance: University of Surrey, Guildford, Feinstein EnsembleInstrumentation: alto recorder (dbl sopranino rec), violin, viola da gamba, harpsichordDuration: 12 mins

Dancing in the Moonlight; Bheki (2009)

For saxophone and percussion commissioned by Sarah Field1st performance: The Hat Factory, Luton.Instrumentation: alto sax (dbl sop sax), perc (one player: congas, bongos, marimba)Duration: 8 mins

Akin (2008)

For violin and piano commissioned by Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea1st performance: National Portrait Gallery, LondonDuration: 6 mins

To the Measures Fall (2006)

For baroque flute guitar commissioned by Martin Feinstein and Richard Hand.1st performance: Festival di Londra, Ripatransone, Italy.1st performance of version for modern flute: Wigmore Hall, London (Jennifer Stinton: fl)Duration: 12 mins

An Opening Line (2005)

1st performance: National Portrait Gallery, London. Trillium Instrumentation: sop sax, trp, trmb, tba.Duration: 5 mins

Four Instances (2004-5)

1st performance: University of Surrey, Guildford. Gemini.Instrumentation: b. cl, vln, vla.Duration: 8 mins

Subterrania (2003)

1st performance: Bromsgrove Mixing Music series, New Music Players/Patrick Bailey.Instrumentation: cl (dbl b. cl), vln, vlc, pno, perc (vib, snr dr, 4 tom-toms, susp cym, tam-tam).Duration: 7 mins

Damascene Portrait (2003)

1st performance: National Portrait Gallery, London. Trillium.Instrumentation: sop sax, trp, trmb, tba.Duration: 7 mins.

Divertissements (2002)

1st performance: Ocean, Hackney as part of BMIC's Cutting Edge series. Members of [rout].Instrumentation: el gtr, harps.Duration: 10 mins.

Adagio (2002)

1st performance: Pheonix Arts Centra, Leicester. Subdivo.Instrumentation: sop sax, perc (mark tree, vib), el gtr, bass gtr.Duration: 4 mins.

Promenade (1996-97)

Commissioned by the Endymion Ensemble with funds from the London Arts Board.1st performance: Purcell Room, South Bank Centre. Endymion Ensemble/Poole.Instrumentation: fl (dbl a. fl and picc), ob, cl in A, bsn, hrn, hp, vla, cb.Duration: 14 mins.

The Chief Inspector of Holes (1994)

1st performance: Oxford Contemporary Music Festival (1996). Composer's Ensemble/Cohen.Instrumentation: narrator, vln, cl, pno.Duration: 7 mins.

Homing Instinct (1994)

1st performance: Britten Pears School, Aldeburgh. Performers on Contemporary Performance and Composition Course/Oliver Knussen.Instrumentation: fl, cl, hrn, pno, vln, vlc.Duration: 3 mins.

Solo Instrumental

Capriccio (2008)

For solo piano1st performance: forthcomingDuration: 7 mins

Miscellany (2008)

For solo cello1st performance: University of Surrey, Guildford. Lionel HandyDuration: 10 mins

Melody for solo piano (1999)

1st performance: University of Surrey, Guildford. Clive Williamson.Duration: 45 secs.

Partita for cor anglais and piano (1999)

Commissioned by Continuum.1st performance: The Warehouse, London. Continuum (part of the BMIC's 'Cutting Edge' series).Duration: 8 mins

Dance Maze for solo piano (1994)

1st performance: British Music Information Centre. Stephen Gutman.1st performance of revised version (2009): Kings College, London. Rob KeeleyDuration: 10 mins.


Opened Spaces (2007)

Two songs to texts by Jim Morris1st performance: Manchester University Department of Music. Michael Solomon Williams and Melanie Jones.Instrumentation: baritone, pno.Duration: 5 mins.

Aerial Dynamics (1996)

Four songs to poems by Dickinson, Thoreau, Tennyson and Hopkins.1st performance: Regents Hall, London. Continuum.Instrumentation: soprano, cl, pno.Duration: 11 mins.