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Kathy Maskens: Desert Island Discs

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

From Music to Dance to Nursing

Picture: Kathy Maskens' 80s nursing badge in her maiden name of Biggs /

Credit: Kathy Maskens

Christmas is for many things. First and foremost of course, it is for celebrating the birth of Jesus and spending quality time with family and loved ones. But in those quiet days after Christmas Day it can also be a time for finding the calmness of mind and clarity of purpose to tackle some of those undone tasks.

Recording great Lockdown stories has left The Hub with a backlog of Desert Island Discs and other recordings to edit and post. In the hubbub of life an engaging conversation with nurse Kathy Maskens sadly became a "lost tape". Kathy is a nurse at Epsom General Hospital and a fellow parishioner at St Josephs Catholic Church.

And the instigator of The Hub returning to live weekly broadcasting on Epsom Hospital Radio at 10.00 to 12.00 on Friday mornings. The show is partly a request show for The A-Team, the staff and patients at Alexandra Frailty Unit where Kathy has been the ward manager for a number of years. The Hub was delighted, and relieved, to find the lost tape and presents it now to celebrate Kathy's recent promotion to matron.

You can read references to Kathy's music choices, click on video links to the songs, and listen to the conversation and music, along with a playlist of the music, below.


The Lark in the Clear Air

YouTube video: Cara Dillon - The Lark in the Clear Air

Kathy remembers her maternal grandfather Norman singing The Lark in the Clear Air to her when she was a child. "I really loved my grandfather, he died when I was five. We used to get excited when he was coming home from work and we would hide in the cupboard until he said "Where are they?"," she remembers fondly.

On including the song on their 2007 CD Revisited, Jane and Amanda Threlfall commented: "The tune is an Irish air entitled 'The Taylor', whilst the words were written as a poem in the mid 19th century by Samuel Ferguson. It's an enduring song, though its earlier popularity has somehow created the impression of it being hackneyed. But on examination, the combination of appealing melody and intellectual succinctness in its lyrics, demonstrates this is not the case."

Kathy describes the song as: "A beautiful song. It is about your heart singing, your heart soaring and it draws as well on the beauty of nature and the way nature can lift our hearts." Cara Dillon from Dungiven, County Derry, who sings the song in the video, features in More Paddy's Day Music.


Fantasia Brillante on Rule Britannia

YouTube video: Fantasia Brillante on Rule Britannia (John Hartmann)

The second piece of music is associated with Kathy's father who was dedicated to his music. Both Kathy's parents were brass musicians. Kathy's father was a euphonium player, a lower brass instrument with a distinctive smooth and mellow tone derived from the instrument’s conical bore. The instrument features on John Thornton's composition Fantasia Brillante on Rule Britannia, notable for starting quietly and building in steps to a raucous crescendo.

Kathy remembers her father practicing the piece every night. Fantasia Brillante on Rule Britannia is described as: "Here is the classic theme and variation solo, Rule Britannia by John Hartman, that's been much loved by soloists and audiences for a century! This has really been adopted by euphonium players for generations, and still is one of the most popular solos of its genre."

Kathy's father was a watchmaker by trade. Sadly he died aged only fifty years old, leaving a deep impact on Kathy and the family. After listening to the music Kathy said the piece is known among brass musicians for its technical difficulty, making her all the more appreciative of the quality of the sound.


Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

YouTube video: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

If the family love was music, Kathy's expression of that love was movement to music through dance. In Easter 1974/75 Kathy remembers seeing a series of Fred Astaire films on TV featuring his dancing skills and thinking: "That's what I want to do when I grow up!" She became in awe of Fred Astaire and could sing all of his signature songs.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's song and dancing-on-roller-skates routine to Let's Call The Whole Thing Off in 1937 movie Shall We Dance recalls this early fascination with dance. The song was written by George and Ira Gershwin. Kathy later trained in dance therapy at the Laban Centre in central London, "a great place to study". The Laban Centre joined with the Trinity College of Music to become Trinity Laban.


Peer Gynt: In The Hall of the Mountain King

YouTube video: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, "In the Hall of the Mountain King"

Kathy's interest in and appreciation of classical music was fostered by a school teacher who introduced her class to a range of classical music. The introductory piece was Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, "In the Hall of the Mountain King". Another quiet to raucous crescendo piece of music.



YouTube video: Don McLean - Vincent

Studying Dance Therapy (now Dance, Movement Psychotherapy) at the Laban Centre lead Kathy to a professional role at Springfields Hospital in Tooting where she worked for nine years. She describes the training as valuable for her personally as well as professionally because it required personal therapy and coming to an understanding of the self compared to others.

Like sleep practitioner Rebecca Hunter, Kathy believes everyone is unique and an understanding of their unique perspectives is important in any wellbeing approach. Kathy's work at Springfield, and a more recent understanding of the mental health challenges brought by Lockdown and Covid in the hospital and outside, informed her pick of Don McLean's classic ode to troubled artist Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent's work and life is currently the subject of an immersive experience exhibition in London.


Take Five

YouTube video: Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five

"I really like this piece!" declares Kathy of Take Five from the album Time Out released in 1959 on Columbia Records by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. The group Paul Desmond (alto sax), Joe Morello (drums), Eugene Wright (bass) and Dave Brubeck (piano) included "three nerdy looking white guys in college professor spectacles".

The quartet is known for their musical experimentation with Take Five famously using five beats to the bar instead of the standard three. Kathy recalls her student days at the Laban Centre and experimenting with different beats to the bar, such as with seven beats. She adds, "Take Five is special."

The video shows a live performance for Belgian TV in 1964. "Take Five includes one of the most thrilling drum solos ever recorded, a 2:20 master class in percussive accentuation, colorization and structure. The tune was written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond.

"It was never supposed to be a hit," Desmond said later. "It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo." Morello had joined the quartet in 1956 over Desmond's initial objection: the saxophonist was concerned that Morello's muscular style would jar with his own lyrical approach. Desmond was won over, and when the composer royalties for "Take Five" started pouring in, he must have been relieved Brubeck had stood his ground and insisted on hiring Morello."

Talking about the group's approach to jazz music Dave Brubeck said in The Acquarian Weekly, in 1 November 1978: "The inspired moment of unity is the purpose of jazz. It is the moment we may or may not find in a performance - but it is the reason we are here." Thinking about the role of music in her life Kathy says: "Music makes life more interesting. It helps to make life more creative, more holistic and develops another part of your brain."


Day by Day

YouTube video: Day by Day - Godspell

Day by Day, a song from 70s musical Godspell recalls Kathy's sixth form solo singing performance. She remembers her costume, collated from trips to local charity shops and enjoyed her moment in the spotlight on stage. Kathy has always enjoyed singing and continues to sing in the choir at her local church.


Brother Sun, Sister Moon

YouTube video: Brother, Sun, Sister Moon - Song

The final song Brother Sun, Sister Moon, from the 1972 film of the same name directed by Franco Zeffirelli, reflects Kathy's long adherence to Franciscan spirituality. The film is a biopic of St. Francis of Assisi of whom Kathy says "he never gets old" and describes as an early protestor of the ways of the church and of pointing to another way within the church.

Picture: Kathy Maskens meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, November 2021 /

Credit: Kathy Maskens

Kathy's involvement with Franciscan spirituality took her to Rome in November 2021 as part of an international gathering of the Secular Franciscan Order. Kathy met Pope Francis at the Vatican in her capacity as GB National Vice Minister after the pope addressed the gathering.


Food for Thought

Image: The cover of book Food for Thought by Phil Haughton / Credit: SRA Books

Offered a book to keep on her Desert Island Kathy shows her practical side by opting for Food for Thought a vegetarian cookery book by Phil Haughton. The book brings fond memories to Kathy of a restaurant of the same name in Covent Garden where "they would always find you a table". Meal times for one on Kathy's island are set to be a tasty affair.


Listen to Kathy

Kathy recalls coming from a musical family and her own expression of love of music at dance school and later through dance therapy. She describes school life in beautiful Bath and "one of the best years of my life" as an au pair in another beautiful city, Vienna.

Picture: The Staatsoper Wien: Kathy spent "one of the best years

of my life in Vienna" / Credit:

In an open and compelling account, Kathy discusses her career in nursing, family life and coping with the challenges of Lockdown on the ward. She describes that challenge as "being a bit like being in a war that is fought in the hospital" and how her love of nature and her faith has helped her to cope. You can listen to an audio recording of the conversation with Kathy, and to her listening to her music choices, by clicking on the link below.

In a follow up recording you can listen to Kathy discussing her work at the Alexandra Frailty Unit and The Hub's Friday morning patient and staff requests show via International Nurses Day.


Listen to Kathy's Playlist

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



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