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Desert Island Discs: Elizabeth Bennett

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

Music to Teach Students By

Picture: Bristol Balloon Fiesta over the Clifton Suspension Bridge

/ Credit:

Our guest is Elizabeth Bennett who we first met in part one of a delightful triptych via her Sewing Tales. Elizabeth was The Hub's sixth form Biology teacher at Salesian College, Chertsey. In Faith Tales you can hear Elizabeth relate why her Catholic faith has been of "huge importance" and led to an interesting challenge in the Science v Religion debate.

This time Elizabeth shares seven pieces of music and a treasured poem of meaning to her life. In the audio recording Elizabeth explains why Mike and The Mechanics' The Living Years, not included in this blog, speaks to her of the disconnect between the generations on touchstone issues like saving the planet.

You can listen to Elizabeth Bennett's Desert Island Discs, a playlist of her music and her poem reading, by clicking on the links below.


Gabriel's Oboe

YouTube video: Henrik Chaim Goldschmidt plays "Gabriel's Oboe"

Elizabeth introduces her first musical choice by admitting: "I can't pretend to have known anything about" Henrik Chaim Goldschmidt (chief oboist at The Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, Denmark and founder of The Middle East Peace Orchestra) playing Gabriel's Oboe before hearing it on the radio on a drive home.

"To say I was overcome by its beauty is an understatement!" The music was composed by Ennio Morricone for 1986 movie The Mission, signifying a Jesuit missionary to the Amazon region played by Jeremy Irons.

Elizabeth had to pull off the road, fearing she would not be able to see to drive, as she became so emotional. She just sat listening, having to do this anytime she hears the music. Even if she is sewing, if the music comes on in the background, she has to stop. "It's so atmospheric, it's so mesmeric, that I just have to listen. It's not a long piece of music, but it's beautiful."


Mary, Did You Know?

YouTube video: Pentatonix - Mary, Did You Know? (Official Video)

This, "Mary, Did You Know" by Petatonix, is: "One of those strange pieces of music that you hear by accident. I am not a great rememberer of words of songs. When it comes to groups, I don't have a favourite group. I just like bits and pieces from everywhere. But this group, Pentatonix, were an American group and a little bit out there. I thought, "Nah! Not for me.".

Then I heard this song and I could not believe it was by them, because the rest of their music is not quite like this one. The singing is beautiful but the words are even better. There is a line: "Mary did you know your son came to make you new?" I went over that a lot in my mind and thought: "That is so true."

When I had my first child, Philip, we had "waited for seven years". I remember being in the hospital and the midwives saying, "Mrs Bennett you really should rest now." I had just had this child and I thought: "He's mine and look at him he's perfect." This line in this song made me think of that. I knew it wasn't about me any more because now I had him to think about."


Laughter in the Rain

YouTube video: Neil Sedaka - Laughter in the Rain (1974)

Laughter in the Rain, from the album of the same name by Neil Sedaka released in 1974, is a more romantic choice. For Elizabeth, the song recalls courtship with her future husband Tom when they were both training to be teachers. During academic holidays they would return home, he to the north west of England, Elizabeth to her family in south Wales.

During one of these breaks, Tom sent Laughter in The Rain to Elizabeth. "I'd never heard it, he rang me to say: "It makes me think of you." It's all about the laughter, we were a great laughing pair. I'd like to think we still are. Being much older it's a bit more difficult sometimes!"

Elizabeth describes Tom, a Physics and Chemistry teacher, as a physical scientist in contrast to her natural science discipline as a Biology teacher. "He was a brilliant teacher! I've never seen anybody explain energy levels within the atom by standing on a table in the lab and jumping off... !"

Laughter in the Rain

Strolling along country roads with my baby It starts to rain, it begins to pour Without an umbrella we're soaked to the skin I feel a shiver run up my spine I feel the warmth of her hand in mine

Oh, I hear laughter in the rain Walking hand in hand with the one I love Oh, how I love the rainy days And the happy way I feel inside...

Source: Musixmatch Songwriters: Sedaka Neil / Cody Philip Laughter in the Rain lyrics © Don Kirshner Music, Neil Sedaka Music, Kirshner Songs Inc



YouTube video: Sir Colin Davis - Edward Elgar - Enigma Variations

Variation IX (Adagio) "Nimrod" (re-upload) - LSO

The next pick reflects another musical memory. The Bennett family were driving on the M4 motorway to visit Elizabeth's family in Wales. Heading up to the brow of a hill Nimrod from Edward Elgar's Variations came on the radio. "It was majestic!"

A vision of a sea of hot air balloons rising from take off into the sky met the Bennetts as they drove over the hill while Nimrod soared to a crescendo on the car radio. Unknown to the Bennetts they had stumbled on the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, an annual event with multiple synchronised balloon take offs across the Bristol area.

The balloons were, "so colourful, so massive, and were there in their hundreds in front of us. Magnificent!"


The Eve of The War

YouTube video: Jeff Wayne - The Eve of the War (Official Audio)

ft. Richard Burton, Justin Hayward

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds is closer to home for Elizabeth as the story of a Martian invasion in Surrey where she taught for so many years and being voiced by local South Wales boy, Richard Burton. She says: "War of the Worlds - I just like it!! I just like all of it!! It's his (Richard Burton's) voice, the descriptions, that it was in Surrey and the great 'fit' of the music. It is all so evocative!"

Jeff Wayne's 1976 concept double album and rock opera debut retold HG Wells' The War of the Worlds, used Burton's narration to carry the story and rhyming melodic lyrics to express the characters' feelings. The album has sold 15 million copies worldwide and spawned multiple versions including video games, DVDs, and live tours. HG Wells features as a perhaps surprising target of Nazi Book Burning in The Hub's blog and podcast.

Image: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor visiting Pontrhydyfen,

Port Talbot, south Wales in the 70s / Credit: Pinterest

Elizabeth's students at Salesians were fascinated such a fantastical story like could be set in their home area. She was fascinated at America audiences being so convinced by Orson Wells' radio version they believed a Martian invasion was real, causing widespread panic.

YouTube video: Richard Burton On His Humble Welsh Upbringing | The Dick Cavett Show

She then found the Richard Burton recording, who "incredibly my family knew" as he was also from the Cwmafan area in the hills above steel town Port Talbot where Elizabeth grew up. Burton (then Richard Jenkins) attended the same local amateur dramatics society Elizabeth's mother went to. Along with Anthony Hopkins. She recalls being in a local shop and someone coming in to say: "Richard is home and he has brought Liz (Taylor) with him!"


He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

YouTube video: The Hollies - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

"This is a memory going back to my Dad," says Elizabeth. As her father's MS progressed he found it increasingly difficult to travel to work. His younger brother Edward offered to drive him to work each day. Initially Elizabeth's father found it hard to accept that he needed someone's help to get to work. Or that it should be his little brother who would take him.

"My uncle Edward was so good because he would obviously have to do all the lifting to get my father into the car,"explains Elizabeth. Edward even bought a big black car with wide opening doors to make it easier for his brother to get in and out. She adds, "He did it all out of love for his brother and he did it for years, there was no limit."

Turning to the record commemorating this act of fraternal love, He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother by sixties group The Hollies, Elizabeth says: "I didn't know this record, it was my father who found it and I ended up loving it."

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

The road is long With a many a winding turn That leads us to who knows where Who knows where

But I'm strong Strong enough to carry him He ain't heavy, he's my brother

So on we go His welfare is of my concern No burden is he to bear We'll get there

For I know He would not encumber me He ain't heavy, he's my brother...

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: B. Russell / B. Scott

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother lyrics © Music Sales Corporation, Music Sales Corp.


The Seed Shop By Muriel Stuart

Audio Clip: Elizabeth Bennett reads The Seed-Shop by Muriel Stuart

Elizabeth's next choice is a poem, not a song, beautifully read by her as you can hear by clicking on the link above. "This is about me the biologist," she says. The poem, a recent discovery, makes her "marvel at what is around you!" She was struck by the idea you can have in your hand what looks like a pile of dust, particularly if the seeds are very small.

And yet, "And in my hand a forest lies asleep". All it takes is to scatter those seeds, even if as the gospel says they land on hard ground, they will eventually flourish. Keep them in the packet and nothing will happen but throw some wildflower seeds on the ground and poppies, cornflowers and nigella, beautiful and colourful flowers will flourish. "I just think it is absolutely fascinating!" adds Elizabeth.

The Seed Shop

HERE in a quiet and dusty room they lie,

Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,

Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry--

Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,

Sleepers to stir beneath June's magic kiss,

Though birds pass over, unremembering,

And no bee seek here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,

A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust

That will drink deeply of a century's streams,

These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,

Sealed in their shells a million roses leap;

Here I can blow a garden with my breath,

And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

by Muriel Stuart


Allegri's Miserere Mei, Deus

YouTube video: Miserere mei, Deus - Allegri - Tenebrae conducted by Nigel Short

Picking Miserere mei, Deus by Roman Catholic priest Gregorio Allegri (1582-1682) signifies Elizabeth's wish to be a better singer. She is a member of two choirs that inevitably have been inactive under Covid-19. One is a community choir whose members attend for the love of singing "anything and everything".

The other is more formal and focuses on more well-known pieces of classical music ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to an upcoming November performance of Fauré's Requiem. On Allegri's Miserere, Deus: "My goodness, those soaring notes from the sopranos! If I could even get half-way in terms of quality I would be thrilled. I just love listening to it from the point of view of being an aspiring singer."


Scarlett Ribbons

YouTube video: Harry Belafonte - Scarlet Ribbons(for her hair) - LSP Record RCA1956

Additionally, The Hub asked Elizabeth for an early musical memory for an upcoming Memory project. Touchingly, Elizabeth recalled her father singing Scarlett Ribbons to her as she was going to bed as a little girl. Her mother would plait her long hair with "lovely silky ribbons at the bottom" so her father made an apt choice.

"That is probably my earliest memory of a song being sung to me," recalls Elizabeth.

Scarlett Ribbons

I peeked in to say good-night

When I heard my child in prayer

"And for me, some scarlet ribbons

Scarlet ribbons for my hair"...

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Jack Segal / Evelyn Levine Scarlet Ribbons lyrics © Emi Mills Music Inc., Helton Music


Listen to Elizabeth

You can listen to the podcast of The Hub's conversation with Elizabeth Bennett on the music and poetry most meaningful to her life by clicking on the link below.


Listen to Elizabeth's Music

You can listen to a playlist of Elizabeth Bennett's favourite music by clicking on the link below.



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