BETTY Middleton, doyenne of music teachers, is still in good voice though she'll be 90 on Thursday. To prove it, she sang a high note, suddenly, while we were chatting in the living room of her Saltburn home.

"It's not as high as I used to reach, but I suppose that G is not bad for an old 'un!" she chuckled.

Mrs Middleton, who is known to friends and pupils as "Mid" or "Middi", has trained hundreds of singers, including several who have achieved professional success.

She is perhaps best known to the local public as conductor for more than 30 years of the Middleton Singers and the Middleton Festival Choir, which put on concerts all over the Tees Valley area and North Yorkshire.

She has sung from the age of three. She would sit in the music room of her parents' home in Hull and listen to her mother, Madame Constance Hall, giving singing lessons to pupils, unaware that she was absorbing her mother's teaching methods and developing her own teaching skills.

"My mother was a wonderful professional singer. My father, Pop, and my dear brother, Andrew, were both baritones. Andy and I had great pleasure singing duets," she said.

"My mother became choirmistress at the local church. She entered me for many competitions from the age of nine. I won the Hull Music Festival gold medal.

"I was going to make singing my career. During the war I had my own 'on-the-road' concert party called the Romney Road Show entertaining the troops locally. I also began to teach singing in Hull.

"My first pupils formed the Hallean Singers, which competed in the Festival of Britain both in Huddersfield and in London. We won a national title and broadcast for the BBC."

Mrs Middleton left two choirs behind in Humberside when her husband's work took them to Middlesbrough in 1952. Three years later Harry Middleton was appointed manager of the Midland Bank (now HSBC) in Milton Street.

Aged 37, Mrs Middleton started from scratch giving music lessons in their flat above the bank. She taught music at Newlands Convent School in Middlesbrough for 15 years.

In 1966 she formed the Middleton Singers, made up of 12 pupils. This was in order to enter the first International Teesside Eisteddfod. The group won the madrigal section.

Mary Harding, one of the original Middleton Singers, recalled: "It was a tremendous achievement. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the day off work so was not singing that day.

"Middi always gets the best out of us. She was different from any other teacher I've ever had. She could make anything sing.

"She's had so much success with pupils. Several have joined opera companies. She gets you to sing pieces to perfection.

"She says 'As long as you sing as I want I don't care if you win or not'. She can still picks spots off what you are singing. No-one can interpret a song like Middi."

Among her early pupils were the Waghorne triplets of Johnson Avenue, Saltburn. Mr and Mrs Middleton became friends of the family when the triplets (Philip, Graham and David) were four years old and Mrs Middleton began to teach the boys singing when they were ten - "they all had gorgeous voices".

Mrs Middleton relishes her connection with Philip, now aged 50, as she lost her baby boy when he was three weeks old. Philip, now an international dress designer who lives in Paris, became her unofficial adopted son and visits her when his schedule will allow.

She still gives singing lessons to a few pupils.

"It keeps me interested and young," she said.

Among her former pupils and contemporaries are Anne Eggleston, who became an opera singer on the national scene with D'Oyly Carte, the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera, and now lives in retirement near Northallerton. Ann Lampard is head of voice at the Royal Academy, Christine and Janet Lax both teach in London, as does Suzanna Higgins.

Joan Clarke, soprano, of Redcar, teaches singing and piano. Jean Ward Skerrow, of Hull, was a founder member of the Hallean Singers and retired this year after a career including leading choral societies and singing with violinist Max Jaffa.

One of her most promising current pupils is 15-year-old Rowan Pierce, of Saltburn, who has won several awards.

Mrs Middleton particularly recalls putting on the Messiah for 20 years at local churches.

When she retired from conducting the Middleton Festival Choir, Elizabeth Myers became musical director.

Renaissance, a new spin-off singing group, is mostly pupils or former pupils.

Mrs Middleton is looking forward to a surprise party on Saturday, June 25 - "I know it's happening, but don't know where or any details".

She is also looking forward to attending a Middleton Festival Choir concert at Saltburn Methodist Church, as part of the church's centenary celebrations, on Saturday, July 22.

She paid tribute to her "wonderful" husband, who died aged 90 in 2000.

"I couldn't have given concerts without his organisational help. We must have raised thousands of pounds for charities including cancer research" - Mrs Midleton herself suffered from cancer in her early seventies.

A highlight of her life was a visit to Buckingham Palace in 2000 to receive the MBE from the Queen. She went to London with ex-pupil Graham Morris and his wife, Corrine, respectively tenor and accompanist to the Apollo Male Voice Choir.

"I took the opportunity to live it up a little. We went to the Royal Opera House, the London Eye, a service in Westminster Abbey and the musical The King and I," she recalled.

Another highlight was receiving an award from the borough of Langbaurgh (now Redcar and Cleveland) from the then mayor, Doug Moore. It was for a lifetime of devotion to music.

Finally, a couple of questions. How important to a choir is a conductor?

"Training is vital. I prepared my choirs well, following in my mother's footsteps."

What was the secret of success with a choir?

"Members have to be very conscientious and to be with you. We didn't have any trouble."

Looking back at her long career, she said: "It is very fulfilling. I feel as though I've been a second mother to many of my pupils. All are my friends. If they are not relaxed, they can't sing well. I've also been blessed with many talented accompanists over the years."

The human dynamo, as Betty Middleton is known to many of her pupils, flashed her famous smile and settled in her chair. It was time for a cup of tea.