Culture vulture

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Headteacher Angela Bennett is inspired by chanting and Mozart

Musical influences

I'm interested in plain chant. I went to a Catholic boarding school and Father Armstrong used to teach it to us at choir practice. With everybody singing together you get such sonority and rhythm. It's the timelessness of it. Listening to Palestrina and Byrd gives me a great sense of peace.

Community music is also important to me. At my school we run two neighbourhood festivals a year where everybody performs and I lead communal singing. We have a dhol drumming group (pictured), taught by a former student, who perform in the Albert Hall and on the South Bank. They have very large drums on which they beat cross rhythms with a small carved stick: it's a Punjabi sound. They are brilliant.

Reading list

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver really got you into Africa, and it had resonance. My husband has lots of books on philosophy and theology and they're all waiting for me when I retire.

Favourite film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest had me in silence all the way home - quite a feat.

Best on stage I enjoy the pace and the language of Shakespeare. I hadn't realised before I saw Julius Caesar a few years ago how many of the expressions I come out with come from that play.

Mozart's operas are my favourites, partly because I used to sing in them as a soloist. The forgiveness at the end of Marriage of Figaro is so moving.

But I've got to the stage now where I don't want to see La Boh me for the sixth time. I'd rather go to operas I know less well: Richard Strauss or Jan ycek. And I want to see Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring some time. I love the drama and the emotional power of opera, but it's better if I don't know what to expect. Otherwise I'm tempted to sing along.

Treat in store

A performance of Les nuits d'ete by Berlioz. They're ravishing, those songs.

Angela Bennett, 59, is headteacher of Heston community school, an 11-18 comprehensive in the London borough of Hounslow, with infant and junior schools and a hearing-impaired unit all on one site. A singer, pianist and former secondary music teacher, she conducts choirs and choral workshops for adults and children, and is vice-chair of the national choral charity Sing for Pleasure. She was talking to Karen Gold

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