Why I make time to… sing in the Bar Choral Society

Robin Tam QC extols the virtues of singing some of the most glorious music ever written, collegiate-style


Back in 2014, I read a small paragraph that said that Tim Dutton QC was setting up a new choral society primarily aimed at those connected to the Bar in some way, and which was looking for members. This sounded very interesting. I had sung in choirs at school and university and enjoyed it very much. However, after starting to practise as a barrister I had done almost no singing, for reasons which are shared by many of us: unpredictable workflow, unconventional hours, deadlines, last-minute preparation and travel around the country can all make it difficult to commit to the regular schedules that most choirs have. Early evening rehearsals in the Temple – within a few minutes of chambers for a large proportion of the London Bar – changed all that, because it would not only be easy to get there but also easy to get back to my desk afterwards. And my instructing solicitors might not even notice that I had skived off work for an hour or so!


Since then, the chance to sing some of the most glorious music ever written has been an enormous source of pleasure. Even when performing something really familiar like Zadok the Priest, there is something quite magical about making the music yourself rather than just hearing it. But it is not only the music itself that is therapeutic. Both during rehearsals and in concert, you have to concentrate in order to keep your place in the piece, pitch the notes correctly, and get the words right. And you have to satisfy the conductor’s demands on phrasing, volume and style. There is no place for trying to draft a pleading or compose the next day’s speech at the same time. The need to focus on the music forces you to take a welcome break from the pressures of work, and the enjoyment from the product then recharges your batteries for when you have to get back to it.

I think that many of us still find it difficult sometimes to make sure that we can get to rehearsals, and sometimes even to the concert. Most of us are shoe-horning this singing into work and family commitments, so our regular post-rehearsal drinks do not suit everyone’s schedule. But one of the great advantages of a choir that is centred on the Bar is that everyone in the choir understands the problems that crop up, whether or not they are barristers themselves. For example, we do not insist that members must come to a minimum number, because none of us knows what lies around the corner in any working week. We want to make sure that as many people as possible have a chance to be an active part of this venture, and not be put off just because work might sometimes have to take priority.

And what a venture it has been! At the beginning, we could not predict whether or how it would all work out. But Tim’s enthusiasm, energy and support meant that it has been a great success from the start. He has made sure that we have the highest standards to live up to. In the Temple Church, we have an excellent acoustic in which to perform as well as rehearse; and Middle Temple and Inner Temple have also generously invited us to put on concerts in their Halls. We have had the privilege of working with top-flight soloists and vocal coaches, like Elin Manahan Thomas who sang at the royal wedding this year, as well as superb and constant guidance from Greg Morris, our music director who is one of the country’s foremost church organists and choral conductors. We have also had wonderful orchestras accompanying us, including the beautiful (and sometimes unusual) sounds made by the period instruments of the Temple Players. Even if there are some times during rehearsals when we get frustrated with ourselves at the difficulty of, say, mastering a technical passage in a Haydn fugue, the end of every concert has brought genuine smiles, full of pleasure, to all of us – it is enormously satisfying to pull together to produce a good performance after putting in a lot of hard work over many weeks. And then there is every reason to pile into the bar for a well-deserved post-concert drink!

Robin Tam QC is a barrister at Temple Garden Chambers.


THE BAR CHORAL SOCIETY

The Bar Choral Society was founded in 2014 and presents approximately two concerts a year in and around Temple.

Led by our music director, Greg Morris, the choir gives barristers, solicitors, clerks and other legal professionals – as well as family members – the opportunity to come together to sing choral music to a high standard.  Our Monday evening rehearsals take place in Temple Church which has a long association with the law and provides an uplifting setting, as well as a wonderful acoustic, for the choir.

Funded by members’ subscriptions, concert receipts and contributions from supporters and sponsors, the Society has grown since 2014 and now has around 120 members.

We welcome new applications from singers of all levels – from choral scholars to those who have never sung in a choir before – and there is no audition. If you are interested in joining the choir, or just want to find out more about the Society, please contact us at: info@barchoralsociety.co.uk

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Robin Tam QC

Barrister at Temple Garden Chambers