Looking out my office window into the snowy Wisconsin landscape, enduring yet another day of sub-zero high temps, I begin daydreaming about transporting from this bitter (albeit beautiful) climate to a place of sand, surf and a superb portfolio of sheet music.
So goes a similar scene on the classic BBC Radio 4 program “Desert Island Discs,” only each week’s ‘castaway’ is to choose eight recordings of music (gramophones when the show first broadcast on January 27, 1942). Host and guest then discuss the list, playing excerpts of the songs and explaining why they were included. The tools with which to listen to your choices would be provided upon arrival in this make-believe scenario, and, as of the year 1951, you’re also allowed a single luxury item. Not surprisingly to this author, one of the most commonly chosen luxuries over the addition’s 60+years has been a piano.
Desert Island Discs’ distinguished ‘castaway’ alumni include the band leader Count Basie in 1957, prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn in 1965, Elton John in 1986 and Tim Minchin in 2012, to name just a few. At the end of each program, the guest is asked to choose his or her very favorite of their eight song picks.
Basie’s list was a jazz force suitable for the “Count” of swing, featuring heavy-hitters like the Wisconsin-weather-appropriate “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” by Les Brown and His Band Renown, as well as Ella Fitzgerald’s “Hard Hearted Hannah” and Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.”
“Honeysuckle Rose” also appeared on Fonteyn’s list, although she chose Lena Horne’s brilliantly vocalized version, in addition to Chopin’s “Etude in E Major, Op. 10/3” and more classical works by Ravel, Mozart, Bach and Puccini.
Sir Elton’s top choice was that of another knight, Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations – Nimrod.” Keeping company on John’s list were fellow countrymen John Lennon ( for his version of “Stand By Me“), Pink Floyd ( “Shine on You Crazy Diamond“) and Wham! (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go“).
Tim Minchin would prefer the company of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” over any other piece of music, however the comic and stage composer also fancied to bring along The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Ben Folds’ “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.”
The most commonly chosen song in the show’s history? Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” because who wouldn’t want so grand a song to accompany a day at the beach? Plus, your desert island is most likely deserted, so you can listen as loudly as you want!
I’d be hard-pressed to come up with my eight picks on the spot, I’ll ponder for a bit… perhaps even during a bundled-up stroll outside this afternoon. Keep an eye out in the coming days for my finalized list.
So that begs the question… if you were to be transported (voluntarily, with a set departure time, of course) to a desert island, what eight pieces of sheet music would you take with you? Our make-believe island will have your instrument(s) of choice ready and waiting. Answer and compare in the comments below!