Solicitors on song for Cathedral date

18th May 2015

Friday lunchtimes at Higgs' Waterfront headquarters are currently awash with beautiful sounds as a select group of staff lock themselves away to prepare for a forthcoming concert...

The Higgs & Sons choir is preparing for its latest (and undoubtedly biggest) public performance to date as it gets set to perform to a packed audience at Southwark Cathedral in this year's Legal Harmony concert

An in-depth article on the choir and their preparations will be coming to these pages very soon, but as the scales and the harmonies continue to be honed and polished, we thought we would offer a sneak preview of what is to come by bringing you highlights of a recent article on Legal Harmony, written by David Smith for last month's The Lawyer magazine...

The next round of the Legal Harmony choir competition for lawyers kicks off next week - but what are the advantages to setting up a firm choir?

(The Lawyer, April 2015)

It's lunchtime at a law firm's office somewhere near you. The anticipated rush to the sandwich shop fails to materialise for some. For those individuals a smallish room beckons, often overcrowded by likeminded individuals. Somewhere squeezed in at the front is a person who appears to have control, although not always. This is the rehearsal time of the office choir, the person trying to organise things at the front is their conductor.

In May last year, Legal Harmony held its inaugural choir competition at Southwark Cathedral. Six firms of solicitors and one set of chambers competed in a Battle of the Choirs to see who would be crowned the winner, raising funds for the choirs' chosen charities in the process.

Legal Harmony has seen interest in its competitions grow to such an extent that 18 choirs, 16 from law firms and two sets of chambers, will compete in three competitions in 2015 with all proceeds to charity. But why the interest in choirs?

Here's why. A choir is collaborative and all are welcome. You don't have to have passed grades on a musical instrument or be a top opera singer to join a choir. Anyone (well, almost anyone) can sing. There's a great sense of camaraderie within a choir and it provides the perfect team building environment.

The social interaction between parts of the organisation that would not ordinarily meet is a common theme. Nyree Applegarth, a partner in the dispute resolution team of West Midlands firm Higgs and Sons explains: "It gave us the chance to unite fee earners and support staff in an activity that was non law related, completely removed from the stresses and strains of fee earning work." 

Choirs work well within firms' CSR programmes. I know of some firms' choirs who regularly take part in community projects, whether as part of local fairs, school development projects or linking up with other community partner choirs to put on full scale productions at Glyndebourne. It all helps develop firms relationships with the local community.

The variety of music available helps; all tastes are covered. With diverse scores covering many different genres, choir members get to sing a complete range of pieces. Some, such as the more traditional Mozart, Vivaldi or Fauré can be challenging while others (Pharrell Williams' Happy being a current favourite) require different skills such as coordinating hand claps and choreography as well as trying to sing, much to the amusement of many.

Firms cannot underestimate the wellbeing being in a choir provides. One individual, who shall remain nameless, says: "I've been at my firm for 10 years now. Five years ago I was unhappy and thinking of leaving; one of the things that convinced me to stay was the music programme we have here."

Many choir rehearsals take place at lunchtime allowing members take a full hour, quite unusual nowadays, to sing in their choir then come back feeling refreshed. One choir I know of moved their rehearsal time from the end of the week to a Monday lunchtime. As a result, the firm noticed an increase in productivity from its choir members who having had their rehearsal, returned to their desks completely motivated and having overcome their weekend blues.

Where do you have rehearsals? Some firms have purpose built music rooms but most are not so lucky. The average choir has 25 members, though some are as few as 10 and some as large as 60, but accommodation can be a problem. However, with a bit of inventiveness with conference rooms or basements, together with the use of a portable keyboard, these obstacles can easily be overcome.

It appears that throughout the UK, firm's choirs are being recognised as bringing a variety of opportunities to their businesses.

Howard Charles, of City Music Services and who now helps out with Legal Harmony, has also identified other uses for firms to have good music programmes, to incentivise recruitment and retention.

"A firm's investment in music can sometimes be the reason a law college student chooses that firm to go to," he says. Certainly there are many music graduates who are now lawyers.

"If a firm sees the small cost against the benefit of the attraction and retention of the brightest and best, then that is a small price to pay," says Charles. One choir that is taking part in May's Legal Harmony competition counts trainees and even future trainees within its ranks.

So, choirs are a good thing and competitions such as Legal Harmony provides choirs with a focus, an opportunity to perform in front of a large audience in beautiful surroundings and, unique to Legal Harmony, allows choirs to raise money for their own nominated charity.

 Legal Harmony: the rationale

1. To encourage firms to have choirs - it's a great way to bond / team build as people come from all areas of their organisation. It's completely inclusive.

2. To raise as much funds and awareness of each choir's chosen charity - so many firms see it as brilliant way to highlight their Corporate Social Responsibility.

3. To have fun singing - the competition is a fun event, where everyone is a winner.

David Smith is founder of Legal Harmony and Business Development Director at Outer Temple Chambers


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