Wragge Lawrence Graham crowned law firm choir of the year at Legal Harmony

Wragge Lawrence Graham walked away the winners of the legal profession’s inaugural choir competition Legal Harmony last night as the judges praised the firm’s ‘outstanding’ performance.

The competition, conceived and organised by David Smith of Outer Temple Chambers, took place in Southwark Cathedral and has already raised over £7,000 for the firms’ nominated charities. 

Competing for the ultimate prize last night were Devonshires, Kingsley Napley, Norton Rose Fulbright, Sidley Austin, Travers Smith, Wragge Lawrence Graham and 23 Essex Street.

23 Essex Street, whose panache impressed the judges, were awarded a highly commended in a close-run decision.

The first half of the competition allowed the choirs to show off a broad repertoire, ranging from 16th-century polyphony to George Harrison and Simon & Garfunkel, taking in Verdi and Fauré on the way. The second half allowed the choirs to cut loose with showstoppers such as All That Jazz and Pharrell Williams’s Happy.

Legal Harmony
Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co

The judges praised all the choirs both for their technical expertise and performance verve, but Wragge Lawrence Graham was a clear winner.

Wragge Lawrence Graham co-conductor Nick Bridgman said: “The choir has worked so hard over the past few months. We’ve battled with setting up a choir from scratch at legacy firm Lawrence Graham, running rehearsals in two cities and only singing together as a full choir once before the event itself. All the hours of booking meeting rooms, organising coach and train travel, deciding on repertoire, making seating plans and every now and then singing have paid off – everyone is so proud of our achievement.

Wragge associate Rebecca Pugh said: “When we arrived and heard the other six choirs last night we knew we had some really tough competition – although our first two performances went incredibly well, the standard and variety of all the choirs was fantastic.”

Caroline Gill, one of the judges, said: “It was a privilege to be part of such a positive musical experience. The standard was extraordinarily high, with choirs of varying levels of experience all offering repertoire that showed that if there is enthusiasm and fun behind a performance, good music-making will almost inevitably follow.”

Organiser David Smith commented: “The smallest choir had 12 in number, the largest almost 60 but none of that mattered. The first half left us all wondering how on earth the judges were going to be able to decide a winner. The energy coming from the front spilled over to the audience and the place was buzzing.

“Wow. What can I say about the second half. If we thought the first half was good then this just blew us away. With the Essex Street Singers, together with blue sparkling hats and bow ties, singing Ain’t Misbehavin’, Travers Smith’s cover of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes, the most excellent arrangement of Pharrell Williams’ Happy by Norton Rose Fulbright, Wragge Lawrence Graham’s  Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act, with all 60 choristers clapping in time (both with the help of the audience who were keen to join in with the hand claps!), The Dev’s This Little Light Of Mine, Kingsley Napley’s And All that Jazz and finally having Tea for Two with the Sidley Singers, it was an explosion of sound and excitement all round.”

Legal Harmony
The Lawyer editor Catrin Griffiths handing over the trophy

The next Legal Harmony event will take place in October. For all the choir blogs, click here

The view from the choir stalls: Mark Trafford, 23 Essex Street (Essex Street Singers)

Southwark Cathedral has been a place of worship for 1,300 years.  The Magna Carta was drafted (for the first time) 500 years after the church there was established.  But rarely could Southwark have been the venue for such a diversity of talent, voice and experience that occurred at the inaugural Legal Harmony choir competition on Thursday 15 May.  Seven choirs drawn from international law firms, London firms, regional firms and a set of chambers all made their way to the cathedral on a beautiful May evening to perform in front of a full congregation and three eminent judges.

David Smith, of Outer Temple Chambers, had organised the event in conjunction with The Lawyer, City Music Services, LexisNexis, and Thomson Reuters. There were, he insisted, to be “no losers” in the competition. This was all about music and charity. Try telling lawyers that. Their careers and day-to-day lives are all about winning. They had practised for many weeks, and some for many years, for precisely this sort of head-to-head. Like a well-prepared cross-examination, they were ready for what Southwark and the judges had for them.

The choir of which I am a member, Essex Street Singers, was scheduled to head off first. It cannot be denied that there were nerves-a-plenty. We had formed only four months beforehand and practising had been a touch and go affair. We had not had one practice, until the day in question, when every member of the choir had been there. However, somehow, the original sound of a number of cars breaking at the same time had been turned into something with which we were happy. The question, of course, would the judges concur with our pleasure? So, after an opening few numbers by Lexis Nexis choir (How do they fit in the practice whilst writing all those books?), we were on. Although barristers are, to some extent, used to standing up in front of others to perform, this was different.

Our choir master, the patient Adam Green, raised his hand, the piano started and Va Pensiero somehow came out of nervous mouths. Within what seemed moments we were walking off having hummed the last bars of Londonderry Air. Were people clapping? Was there the odd whoop? We were happy. But what was to follow?

We walked back to the side chapel where the other choirs were. The next choir, Travers Smith were already out in front of the choir stalls doing their stuff. I turned to my neighbour: “Blimey, they are good.”

As all the other choirs waiting, the refrain was the same: “They’re good, we have no chance.” Every team, from the small but perfectly-formed Dev Singers through to Norton Rose Fulbright, the choir we can call be when we grow up, all performed fabulous music, from the sacred to the popular. Kingsley Napley were a similar size from us, and performed with great character, Wragge Lawrence Graham was born of a new legal partnership and performed in the manner of all new, young relationships, with excitement and energy. Sidley took up the final slot and hammered home their experience and range. What an impossible task for the judges.

The second half was an even livelier affair. An open bar over the interval helped oil some throats and relax the shoulders. It was noisier, funnier, but still hugely entertaining. Essex Street Singers donned sparkling hats and bow ties to match Fats Waller’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’. The other choirs all performed with great character and jazz hands were the feature of the second half. Jazz hands, arms and shaking hips were combined together for Wragge Lawrence Graham’s Sister Act performance.

We had also all noticed that David Smith was right. There were going to be no losers. All of the choirs had had a lot of fun, we had all sung as well as we could, we had all began to bond enough in the side chapel to a degree that we clapped each other in and out, rather than trying to trip each other up. 

And suddenly,  within what seemed like moments from when we first went into the aisle to strut our stuff, it was over. It was now down to the judges. There was nothing else we could do. So we waited.

And we waited.

And waited.

Was there a fight? Was there a Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Sharon Osborne showdown? We will never know. 

But, finally the judges came out.

They complimented us all. And, despite the facts that were to be no losers, there was a frisson before the result was announced.

And then it came. In the noise and the excitement, Essex Street Singers were mentioned. We were, I think, runners up, or commended; something wonderful anyway. We were thrilled.  But who had won? It had been a tough competition and everyone did well. But, as ever, there is only one winner and it was the new happy couple of Wragge Lawrence Graham. This was a late wedding present that was much deserved. They sang beautifully, performed with enthusiasm and, in their final number, wowed everyone.

It was a wonderful evening for all and a lot of money was raised for deserving causes. All of the choirs spoke of bonding well within themselves and, after a while, with each other throughout the evening. Certainly Essex Street Singers is going to try to carry on. We all enjoyed it hugely and are very grateful to the organisers for all the effort they put in.  

So, in this sacred and special venue what happened? Using old words common to our venue, all of the choirs arrived with faith in themselves, hope in their ambitions and, the greatest of all,  raised a lot of money for their charity. 

That Mr Shakespeare round the corner would have realized that lawyers aren’t so bad after all.