Music at the Inns

roundtowerThe Inns are alive with the sound of music. Vanora Bennett explores the world of the other dedicated professionals of the Inns of Court

At about five o’clock on any day of the week, the Inns of Court will be busy with preoccupied men and women in black, trundling wheelie bags of documents back to chambers after a busy day in court. Yet even the most hurried barristers may slow and smile as they pass the honey stone of Temple Church. The sound that prompts this reaction is the pure treble voices of the Temple’s choirboys drifting out into the evening air – the other dedicated professionals of the Inns, still practising.


A thriving music scene

The Temple Choir – 18 boys serving an apprenticeship lasting five or six years, and 12 professional choirmen – is (in my possibly prejudiced view as the parent of a Temple choirboy) one of the most remarkable features of the thriving music scene at the Inns of Court. The CD released by the choir this summer – “The Majesty of Thy Glory” – reveals an extraordinary musical combination of poise and passion. The choir’s repertoire ranges from cantatas to Christmas carols. This might not be so astonishing if the only performers were the knowledgeable choirmen, building up their London singing careers – but it is an almost incredible achievement for the schoolboys who, whenever sighted in the flesh, dodging between long thin black-clad legs outside the church, seem to have nothing more remarkable than football or skateboards on their minds.

The generosity of a wise legal establishment means that all the Inns are alive with the sound of music. At Lincoln’s Inn, where the low class of choirboy was a cause of so much annoyance back in 1907 that the Inn opted instead for a professional adult-only choir (the Temple is alone in maintaining boy choristers). It is now made up of nine men. The choirmaster and organist Nicholas Shaw organises Tuesday lunch time concerts given by musicians from the Royal College of Music, five during last term alone. The new organ had its inaugural concert in March.

Gray’s Inn organist and choirmaster Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, a former Professor of Organ at the Royal Academy of Music, is a prolific composer. One of his three operas was performed in Gray’s Inn Hall in 2003.

Back at Inner and Middle Temple, separately from the choir and church, there are five or six musical evenings a year in each Inn. There are also concerts in the church on weekday evenings at 6.45 pm, many featuring the Temple Players, a period music ensemble dreamed up by Temple Church’s Director of Music, James Vivian, and some with rising young solo stars of the music world such as countertenor Iestyn Davies, or established grandes dames like Dame Gillian Weir, the organist. In 2003, the choir took part, to great acclaim, in the premiere of Sir John Tavener’s “The Veil of the Temple”, the performance of which lasted all night. Last year also saw a fully-staged opera in Middle Temple Hall of Purcell’s meditative “Dido and Aeneas”, conducted by Vivian.

The extent to which music soothes the savage breast of barristers frazzled by paperwork, judges weighed down with decision making or the threat of impending cuts can be seen from the enthusiastic attendance at the concerts held after hours at all the Inns – with crowds pushing through the door before the wildly popular Temple Choir Christmas carol concerts.

“You do get a lot of people coming in from the outside,” Robin Griffith-Jones, the Master of the Temple, said of the weekday evening concerts. “But at the very least a large number of people are members of the Inns. And, as a Court of Appeal judge said to me only last week ‘it’s perfect. You’re exhausted by that stage … you leave work, get away to the concert for an hour before going home. This is exactly what’s needed’.”

While music maestros at Gray’s and Lincoln’s Inn were unavailable for interview, Griffith-Jones enthusiastically described today’s music at the Temple as part of a tradition that has thrived for centuries.


Building on tradition

John Stanley, the blind 18th Century composer, was the Temple’s organist for 30 years and a friend of fellow-composer Georg Friedrich Handel. Griffith-Jones said: “James is planning an organ CD. In it he plays a piece by Stanley. And he was saying that it’s really nice that this is a piece of music that Stanley played and composed at the Temple Church, which Handel probably heard him play here. It’s an inspiring pedigree – this tradition going back to the greats.”

Composer Henry Purcell’s publisher, John Pickford, kept his shop in what is in fact the west porch of the Temple Church. Ernest Lough, the most famous chorister of all, in 1927 recorded Mendelssohn’s “O For The Wings Of A Dove” for HMV. It sold over a million copies and made Ernest Lough and the Temple Church a household name. Lough’s children are still in touch with the church.

In the past 25 years, the church’s music has been directed by Dr John Birch, Stephen Layton and, since 2005, Vivian and Associate Organist Greg Morris. The choir has toured in Brazil and America, and made CD recordings, broadcasts, and appearances at the BBC Proms and the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. It has also premiered new works by composers such as Thomas Adès.


The key to the Inns’ music

There are many benefits of being part of this musical powerhouse. Choirboys not only get a wonderful musical education and early exposure to the beauties of the Inns (lawyers in the making?), but also financial help with school fees, often at nearby City of London School. Some go on to great things in the wider musical world. Charlie McNelly, head choirboy in 2009, spent half of June singing the part of Miles in Britten’s “The Turn of The Screw” at La Fenice opera house in Venice.

Vivian believes these children are the key to the Inns’ music. “Inner and Middle Temple are rightly proud, I think, of the choir and in particular of the choristers, immensely talented and self-disciplined children who join us at seven and sing in the choir until their voices break,” he says. “They are integral to our work for the Inns and some of them, I have no doubt, will be the professional singers who carry the torch of English choral music forward into the middle of the 21st century and beyond.” 


The Temple’s organ fund

Excellence doesn’t come cheap. But Griffith-Jones was keen to emphasis that costs are kept to a minimum.

Making the Temple Choir’s CD, for instance, was funded by the charity the Temple Music Trust, so hasn’t cost the Temple itself any money. Proceeds will go into a £750,000 fund for repairing the church’s organ. Organ fund-raising will take another two and a half years. More than £200,000 is already pledged. 

The organ, built in Durham in the 1920s, came to the Temple after the war and has had one MOT in the 1960s. Next year, it will be broken down into its component parts – pipes and blocks and leathers – and sent back to Harrison & Harrison, the Durham firm that built it, for renewal before being “heard in all its glory” again at Easter 2013.

The repair is just in time to deal with an increasingly cloudy sound, the Master added. “Dame Gillian Weir was asked, after performing here, what she thought of the organ. She said, ‘it has potential’ – a classic line.”


Serving the community

The Master believes that the excellence of music at the Inns is part of his broader pastoral work – fostering a sense of community among lawyers. “The fact that people want to put in a few hundred pounds to the organ fund – they were married here 20 years ago so they want to say thank you and feel that they continue to have a stake in the church and its music – well, we’re really pleased.”

“It’s our job as a church to serve the Inns. So whenever we think about what we are going to do, somewhere high on the list of priorities is how is this going to serve the community of the Inns. When you see the church teeming with people, for Christmas carols or on Remembrance Day, or when we gave a recent wedding reunion service and invited members of the Inns back who’d been married here, this is really special. And, without the quality of music that James and his choir put on, the celebration would hardly be a celebration.”


Vanora Bennett is a journalist and author. Her latest novel, “The People’s Queen”, was published on 5 August (HarperCollins). The Temple Choir’s CD, “The Majesty of Thy Glory” (£12.999), can be bought online at
www.templemusic.org/catalogue/recordings

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