Norton Rose choir strikes the right note

Moving into new offices can be a boon to a firm in a lot of different ways.

For Norton Rose, it brought music. At the suggestion of an associate, the firm’s London riverside offices, which it has occupied since 2007, feature a music room complete with piano. In collaboration with Music in Offices (MIO) Norton Rose has been offering subsidised music lessons.

“It’s something we’ve enjoyed doing,” says litigation head Deirdre Walker, who confesses to having just passed Grade 2 in singing. “When we moved here, the people who were interested in music began to emerge.”

But the music lessons also gave rise to something bigger: the Norton Rose choir. With the encouragement of MIO, the ensemble was born in June 2009. Once the choir was up and running, one of the firm’s trainees, Andrew James, took over as conductor.

The first challenge for the ­fledgling choir was MIO’s 2010 Choir of the Year competition. Walker says this became a “real focal point” and word of mouth soon drew around 20 singers to the Norton Rose music room. The group meets every Thursday morning before work, with extra rehearsals on Tuesdays if a ­concert is approaching.

“There’s no hierarchy,” adds Walker. “Basically, it’s can you sing or not? Most of us don’t read music; we do it for fun.”

Trainee Lale Kemal agrees: “I joined the choir in my first seat as a trainee. It has been a great ­experience as it has helped me ­settle into firm life and I’ve got to know people I wouldn’t usually have worked with during my training contract. It’s always something to look forward to in the mornings as everyone is friendly and Andy is an exceptional teacher.”James, who qualified into the tax department last October, says he “kind of fell into” conducting the choir. Having been a music scholar throughout his education, he says singing has always been something he enjoys and he was happy to take over the choir once MIO had got it started.

“It’s conducting in the loosest sense of the word,” he adds. “It’s just me being enthusiastic in front of everyone and trying to bring them together. I try to deflect any feelings of self-consciousness that people may have by being silly myself.”

The choir sings a wide variety of music. Walker says one of the first pieces was Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, a set piece for the choral competition. “As somebody who doesn’t read or speak Latin it was a challenge,” she says.

But that piece was followed by the Kaiser Chiefs’ hit I Predict A Riot, which was equally challenging in a different way. “I’d never heard of the Kaiser Chiefs,” admits Walker. “I had to get my son to record it on his iPod.”

James picks the music to ­provide a balanced programme that suits the mixed abilities of the choir. He says getting to grips with the Mozart was particularly ­satisfying, especially when its performance took Norton Rose to second place in the Beginners’ Choir category in the MIO competition.

Walker says the whole firm can be proud of the group and its achievements. Other members agree that singing in the choir has helped them get to know other lawyers and staff that they might not otherwise have met.

As litigation senior associate Jane Park-Weir says: “It’s a time we look forward to every week and it lifts you for the whole day ­afterwards. We don’t profess to be outstanding, but we have a lot of fun and have improved massively.”

In the lead-up to a concert and for fundraising efforts, the choir sings in Norton Rose’s cathedral-like atrium, which has “cracking” acoustics, according to James.

So visitors should not be ­surprised to hear the strains of music wafting upwards, bringing a whole new meaning to the ­concept of a firm in harmony.