Desert Island Discs – Judith Griffiths



I wish I could say that I grew up in a musical family with pianists and violinists, and choirs in my young memories …not so, but we did have a piano, and, eventually, I did have piano lessons, but maybe not very effective ones!

Of course, music was around and about. We had a next-door neighbour Pete, who sang ‘On The Road to Mandalay’ loudly and cheerfully, whenever he was gardening, which was often.

I have a rose bush in my garden now, which is a cutting of the bush he gave my Ma by splitting his own plant in two. He also kept chickens, dangerous birds that nipped my fingers if I poked at them through the fence. So, as a reminder of sunny days in the garden before life got too serious, and school intervened, my first choice….

Choice 1. On the Road to Mandalay.  Peter Dawson.

I lived my very early life in North Harrow, (then Middlesex), but when I was three we moved to Rickmansworth (Herts) and as I grew up a bit, another musical ‘influence ‘ was the wireless, and at that stage ‘Listen with Mother’, a programme for young children, with a story and usually a couple of nursery rhymes, or seasonal songs sung by one or other of the presenters.

At five, of course, school began and school life brought the usual experiences of percussion bands (virtuoso triangle), general singing games, class singing and Music and Movement.  I have memories of taking coconut squares for playtime, but not of great musical achievement, other than the triangle of course, and occasional appearances in school concerts on the piano. The pieces were learned not read!

I went to Grammar School in 1956. I enjoyed being in the school choirs, although I don’t quite remember how old I was when I first joined, probably about 13.  Two performances I certainly remember were Faure’s Requiem with our very tall Music/P.E. teacher singing the solo,..Libera Me, and ‘Messiah’. ‘Messiah’ was the earlier performance (age, not time). I was a bit worried about it in case we had to sing without copies!  I can’t believe that we did the whole thing… maybe selected highlights, but it was quite an experience. (More of ‘Messiah’ later)

Choice 2. ‘Libera me’ from Faure Requiem, the solo part.

I first became aware of some of the big oratorio choruses and other popular but serious pieces on Two Way Family Favourites, a radio request programme for forces stationed abroad, and their families, to exchange messages and music. Plenty of light /popular music but also more serious choices too, and, if there was a good tune, I liked it: Hallelujah Chorus, Unto us a child is born, ‘All in the April Evening,’ Huddersfield Choral Society, Kathleen Ferrier, Paul Robson all wormed their way into my consciousness.

In 1963, I went off to teacher training college in London. I did join the choir there too and we sang in a massed choral event in St Paul’s. I think Honegger’s ‘King David’ but it has left no musical impression on me at all.

In the years I was at college, and the years following, the pop and folk music of the 60’s got going, as did the ‘Protest’ Movement. I was more ‘folksy’ than pop and particularly enjoyed the sound of Joan Baez and she sings my next choice:

Choice 3. ‘What have they done to the rain?’  A gentle, lovely protest song.

A couple of years ago my daughter got tickets for a Joan Baez concert in Oxford. As good as ever!

After college, I came to Reading to work, and eventually to SCCS through which I have enjoyed so much music.

One particular choir memory is from 1981. Messiah!  But not one of the big choruses.

This was the afternoon rehearsal before the Christmas concert. From the back of the hall a willowy youth appeared, looking much more like a school boy than the tenor soloist, which is who he was. His name was John Graham-Hall and he sang my second choice so beautifully, I have always remembered it.

Choice 4: ‘Thy rebuke hath broken his heart…Handel: ‘Messiah.

By the mid 70’s, I was married and had two daughters.

My husband Pip, and I also had, and I still have, some very good friends, the Robinsons… so you can imagine the fun of seeing the film ‘The Graduate’ sitting next to Mrs. Robinson!

Choice 5. Mrs. Robinson!  – Simon and Garfunkel – from The Graduate.

I’m often impressed by the number of musical opportunities available in Reading and, in particular, of choirs and visiting artistes. I remember seeing and hearing Janet Baker at the Hexagon, the guest of a Reading Choir…I think the The Phoenix Choir, but perhaps someone else knows better!

Choice 6. Dame Janet Baker, ‘Where Corals Lie’ from Sea Pictures (Elgar).

Occasionally SCCS have taken part in joint concerts with another choir, sometimes local and sometimes further away. In 2002, we shared Elijah with Bristol Phoenix Choir, and later contributed excerpts to a Scarborough Choral Society concert. I had never visited  either place until then and liked much of what I saw, and meant to go back, but so far haven’t…..maybe next year! (I find life is full of good intentions not carried out!)

So the next choice might well have been from Elijah, but in fact is a piece I have come to know relatively recently. Gareth Malone chose this as his ‘inheritance’ track on a radio progamme, inherited from his grandmother.

Choice 7. ‘Is my team ploughing’ from Housman’s ‘Shropshire Lad’.

I’d like to think that my long ago Shropshire ancestors are calling with this one!

And finally:

Choice 8. To raise spirits all round, and because his death was announced not very long ago, the David Wilcocks descant to ‘Come all ye Faithful’ v 6.

The only time I feel I could be a soprano if I really tried. Finale of many an SCCS Christmas concert.  Finale of my choices too.


Previous Desert Island Discs Contributors

These are previous Desert Island Disc contributors (in first-name alphabetical order).  Please click on the name of the contributor to hear the chosen music:

Alan Chubb

Chris Guy

David Butler

David Cottam

David Cunningham

Eric Hartley

Jane Arch

Karen Broadbent

Liz Harrison

Michele Whitehead


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