Music as a force for change

Barristers’ musical talents can add power to their pro bono whilst improving emotional wellbeing, as Helen Tung explains

‘Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.’ Victor Hugo

Music is a powerful inductor of emotions and many people listen to music specifically because of its powerful ability to evoke emotions. Mark Rider (1997*) points out that to maintain long-term wellbeing, no one emotion is desirable all the time, and hence the shifting of our emotional states is beneficial. The use of music is also a powerful tool which can reinforce interpersonal skills, increase attentiveness to mathematical problems and improve speech production.

Thinking differently

Given that music can bring about positive change in us as individuals, why wouldn’t we want to embrace it more in our work and daily lives? Many barristers will have a hidden talent, such as being able to sing or play an instrument; so it’s time to give some thought as to how best to combine work and pro bono initiatives with our own musical abilities.

Law Rocks, for example, is an ideal platform for legal professionals to showcase their talents whilst raising funds for charity. It has been a part of the social calendar at the Annual Conference of the International Bar Association for many years now, and the impact on individual performers and the audience is immense. Taking the format of a battle of the bands, a winning band is selected based on its fundraising, popularity with the audience, and score from a ‘Rock Panel’ of judges. Proceeds from its events are split between the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute and a local charity in the host city.

Lex Pistols, a recent battle-of-the-bands winner whose drummer is Australian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry, held a benefit concert in 2014 for Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste jailed in Egypt. An example closer to home is The Bar Choral Society; its last concert in November 2015 raised funds for the National Brain Appeal and the National Hospital for Neurology.

Eliminating violence through music

Inspired by Music For Life International, whose concerts promote awareness of humanitarian crises, and the former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, who set himself the task of learning Chopin’s Ballade in G Minor in one year, my pledge is to play the piano for 20 minutes a day as part of my fundraising efforts to support the work of Violence Free Families (VFF).

I aim to raise $8,000 (circa £5,500) to fund three VFF clients and enable me to compete at the 10th Yokohama International Music Competition as an amateur pianist in August, thereby increasing awareness of VFF’s work.

About Violence Free Families

VFF has developed an online men’s behaviour change programme in line with the values and mission of the United Nations Secretary-General’s campaign ‘UNiTE to end violence against women and children’. Based on the US ‘Duluth model’, it has received excellent ratings in three field trials evaluated by the University of Melbourne. It has spent $260,000 developing the programme, with pro bono contributions effectively doubling that investment. The programme focuses on the broad notion of ‘power and control’ and confronts clients with the reality of their violence, aiming to improve their insight and encouraging them to take responsibility for it. It provides non-judgmental support from facilitators and the interaction of the group also engages the users in the process of change. It costs $2,000 to fund one participant over the 14-week duration of the program.

(* Further reading: Peretz I, Zatorre RJ (2005) Brain organization for music processing, Annu Rev Psychol 56, 89-114; Karageorghis Costas I, and Priest D-L (2012), ‘Music in the Exercise Domain: A Review and Synthesis (Part I)’, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology 5, no. 1; Rider M (1997), The Rhythmic Language of Health and Disease, MMB, Inc; Eidson, C (1989) The Effect of Behavioral Music Therapy on the Generalization of Interpersonal Skills, J Music Ther (1989) 26 (4): 206-221.) 

Contributor Helen Tung is a mediator and barrister at HT Chambers

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Helen Tung

Helen specialises in maritime security and international law. She is an advocate for diversity, Women on Boards and mindfulness in the legal profession.