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The Lawchestra

March 20th, 2014 · No Comments

Indulge me while I go off message for a second.  Mind you, I am going to tell you about a band that is decidedly heavy with costs lawyers, since Liz Harris is on harp and I’m playing flute, so in my own mind I have a weak but arguable case for relevance.  This Saturday sees the debut performance of the Melbourne Lawyers’ Orchestra, aka the Lawchestra, following in the steps of the several excellent doctors’ orchestras in Victoria (and even an engineers’ orchestra) and lawyers’ orchestras in London, and America. There are a handful of barristers, many solicitors, and some law students, brought together with patience and brill all at once by the rather wonderful conductor Robert Dora. We’ve got it all, mate: harp, bass drum, cor anglais, horn francais, piccolo, bass trombones, and they all get a thrashing. You should come, because it’s going to be a cracker, and also because you might very well get to hear me play in a general pause: book here.

We’re playing Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebrides’ Overture, also known as ‘Fingal’s Cave’ just like the Pink Floyd song, Tchaikovsky’s tempestuous ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Fantasy Overture, and Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony.  (So: two overtures which are not actually overtures at all and one symphony with half the usual number of movements…) If you can’t immediately bring these masterpieces to mind, there are recordings available at the Wikipedia pages linked to above, or for ‘the love theme’ in the Tchaik, you could just go watch Moonraker again.

Finally, we’re also playing a piece by George Palmer, a QC who retired as a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales at the age of 64 in 2011 to concentrate full time on composition. ‘Ruritanian Dances’ will be fresh to your ears, but fear not, it does not ape the Second Viennese School.  Aimee and barrister Alister McNab went on Lindy Burns’s show on ABC 774 last night with 6 other members and bravely played some of the repertoir one player to a part. The podcast is here (start listening at the 30 minute mark).

(Palmer is far from atypical in combining the study of the law and the practice of music. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky himself worked at Russia’s Ministry of Justice before throwing it in to write the 1812 Overture.  There are in fact many musicians who were ‘smart enough to get in and smart enough to get out’ (as I often describe my lovely friend Monique Di Mattina, proud law school dropout and wonderful composer and jazz musician).  Think Stravinsky, Robert Schumann, Handel,  Sibelius, Berlioz, Telemann, CPE Bach, WF Bach, Charpentier, Chausson, Dufay, Oscar Hammerstein.  And — get this — a Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland went on to write a book about the connection between musicians and the law.  J. B. Thomas published Curious Connections: Master Musicians and the Law in 2006.  Paul Simon, The Doors’  Ray Manzarek, and Peter Garrett are other musos who studied law.  And another friend of mine, Tom Henry, is a Melbourne lawyer-composer and very good flautist.)

The whole exercise is auspiced by the rather wonderful Bottled Snail Productions, a not-for-profit community production company doing great things to give lawyers in Victoria opportunities to participate in the arts. It also raises money for the Tristan Jepson Foundation, a charity dedicated to the eradication of depression and anxiety in the profession.  The Lawchestra is one of its projects, the brainchild of an also rather wonderful Clayton Utz lawyer, Aimee Nguyen.  Bottled Snail are also behind the popular recently inaugurated Law Revues and the acclaimed production in the Supreme Court of Victoria of ‘Twelve Angry Men’ which has sold out multiple seasons and is said to be something quite special, with barristers playing the parts.  Their thesis is that lawyers’ mental health will be benefitted by collaborative artistic participation.  There was a long period in our lengthy rehearsal schedule in which the main effect on my mental health was anxiety about adding another arena for public embarrassment to the already fertile fields of the court-room.  But now that I can on a good day play an acceptable approximation of what I’m supposed to play in most of the bits where anyone can actually notice, generally not during the general pauses, the experience is wonderful, and Snail and Bottle are to be thanked for restoring a part of my life that had atrophied.

In the process, I discovered that things have moved on since 1988.  Now I get on the bus, choose which of the 20 recordings of any of the pieces (apart from the Palmer) available on Spotify I want to listen to on my Iphone, and follow the score downloaded for free from the internet, or the hardcopy score I purchased from England online, or follow Youtube videos in which the music and the score are synchronised.  And my Iphone is now also a metronome, a fingering chart, a tuner, and has a a SyncScore app which allows me to listen to Glenn Gould playing ‘The Goldberg Variations’ as the sheet music displays.

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Tags: mental illness