Castaway classics at Desert Island School

Brian Toner

THE producer of Desert Island Discs explained in her confident and superior Radio Four accent how guests were chosen. "We concentrate on people who have shown achievement in their field," she said, "whether it is science, politics, entertainment, media or sport."

So that was it; confirmation that I would not be invited to entertain the British public with the eight recordings which would sustain me in the unlikely event of my shipwreck.

My musical experience as a pupil seems to have consisted entirely of singing and listening. Not that I'm complaining. My present wide musical interests have come from listening to Housewives' Choice with my mother, while singing in two and four-part school choirs provided a better musical education than any fiddling about with glockenspiels or electronic keyboards.

By the age of 10 we were singing the main melody of Schubert's Trout Quintet in English and by 12 I could sing an alto part to Ding, Dong Merrily on High. I can still give a note-perfect rendering today - rote learning has its place - but the alto voice has been lost.

In my teenage years, and long before it became fashionable, I could do a passable Elvis , usually singing Can't Help Falling in Love. I had opportunities to act also, most memorably in Trial by Jury. Gilbert and Sullivan is not fashionable nowadays, which says something about people's lack of understanding of Victorian attitudes and wit, but for me it was a springboard into the discovery of classical music.

Some music releases memories from my teaching days that I would rather forget like the boys who wanted to be Little Jimmy Osmond singing Long Haired Lover from Liverpool or the concert where we gave an execrable performance of Showaddywaddy's Under the Moon of Love. At least no one can claim that the seventies were known for good taste.

There are good memories, too, like conducting 60 11-year-olds singing Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight. At the final rehearsal the hairs on the back of my neck stood up during this magic moment and I remember that each time I hear the song.

There can be only one piece to represent our musical plays. Food Glorious Food is the opening number in Oliver! It introduces the starving workhouse orphans who march in to the steady pulse of, "Is it worth the waiting for if we live till eighty-four all we ever get is gru-el", before exploding into the main melody. There is a tense, expectant atmosphere created by the mums and grans in the audience as they stretch to catch the first glimpse of their little darlings. Your hard work at rehearsal, teaching your cast to sing and dance well, and at the same time, will provide applause to raise the roof. After that you can't lose.

My choice of listening during the morning drive to school betrays my mood. If it's the Mozart Piano Concerto No 24 I am in need of comfort and security because there are difficulties ahead. Wogan is fine when I am cheerful and the Today programme when my brain has a few cylinders actually firing, but it is Mozart who reassures me.

I am not proud of my choice. Only two of my career Desert Island Discs would qualify for my personal list while certain others would drive me into the jaws of a passing shark as a welcome alternative. Nevertheless, if Sue Lawley runs out of achievers, I shall be there with my school discs, happy to oblige.

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Brian Toner

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