‘If I was at school today, I wouldn’t have made it’ Royston trumpet ace considered finest of her generation reveals all on Desert Island Discs

Alison Balsom

Alison Balsom - Credit: Archant

A Royston musician widely acclaimed as the finest classical trumpet player of her generation says she would not have made it as a musician if she was a schoolgirl today.

Alison Balsom – a former pupil of the town’s Tannery Drift Primary School. Greneway Middle and Meridian Upper Schools – made the revelation while speaking to Kirsty Young on BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs programme on Sunday.

The 36-year-old says she is regularly knocking on the government’s door to encourage easier access to music at schools.

“When I was at primary school, lots of people were playing brass instruments and we all played together.” she said.

“I benefitted from free lessons and having the opportunity to borrow school instruments and play in community music organisations.

“These things are shrinking and shrinking. If I was at school today I would not have become a musician, sitting here today.

“An education is not about getting a job, it is about making a rounded human being. You can see children light up when they hear music – it is something that seems really obvious to me.

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“Our tiny country punches above its weight because of its culture and the arts. We must find a way of carrying on this incredible legacy.”

The BBC institution asks guests to pick eight pieces of music that would console them if they were stranded on a desert island, and while choices of Bach and Beethoven came as no surprise for a classical superstar, there was also room for Whitney Houston on the bill.

More popular music came in the form of Queen – the band fronted by Freddie Mercury which Alison heard playing across the fields at her grandparent’ house in Knebworth as a youngster.

There was also Con Alma by jazz trumpet icon Dizzy Gillespie – one of her all-time favourite musicians, who she discovered from a library cassette at the age of seven.

“It was love at first sight,” she said.

“The trumpet is universal and used in so many genres of music. It is a cheap instrument which you can pick up from a charity shop for £50.

“I just believe completely in the trumpet and what it can do – doing any other job would be utterly pointless to me.

“I always wanted to be a soloist, it was the vehicle to say something and express myself.”

There was also a mention for Royston Town Band, with the BBC presenter asking Alison whether the streets of the town were lined with people when she returned each year for the Christmas concert.

“Not at all,” she replied. “I sit at the back and play the carols. It is one of the few occasions my brother gets his tuba out. He rarely plays so it is really lovely to play with him.

“There is a man in the band who has been playing for 70 years, so I am just a newbie really.”

Alison also bemoaned some aspects of her high profile, referring to the media reference of ‘crumpet with a trumpet’ which had been applied to her over the years.

She said: “It is a lazy tagline and incredibly insulting. I have worked so hard to afford a career and so comments like that in the press are very damaging and difficult to deal with.”

At the end of the interview Alison chose the complete scores of Bach as the book she would take with her – and her trumpet as a luxury item.

The programme can still be heard as a BBC download.