THE (NOT SO) LONELY LITIGATOR’S CLUB 31: THE MUSICAL SECTION: NIKOLAS CLARKE – THE CONDUCTOR’S TALE

Having had 30 lawyers write about their experiences in lockdown it is now time to vary the membership. Indeed  the club constitution requires us to lighten the mood and provide cheer to the profession.  So I have decided to expand the club’s musical section  The next tranche of members will be from lawyers who are also involved in making music.

(It is fair to say that some of the existing members already qualify, Hilary Wetherall sings in a choir, Spike Mullings is a bass player, Paul Nichols is a singer in a band, Snigda Nag & Paul Magrath both play guitar,  and Gabor Covaks plays the mandolin).

The first “non-founding”  musical member is  barrister Nikolas Clarke, who conducts the orchestra of barristers and judges run through the Bar Musical Society.  (The fact we are starting off with orchestral music should not be seen as confining the club to any one type of music,  lawyers playing each and every genre of music are welcome).

What instrument  do you play?

 I play the piano and sing, but my main thing (not an instrument as such) is conducting.

How long have you been playing and how did you find playing through your time studying law/early years of practice.

I started learning to play the piano when I was 6, later with the singing, joining the church choir when I was 10.  I started conducting at about 16 and that was the focus of my degree before the law conversion.
I have never been one for practising the piano, but playing has been a constant companion, including during the early years of the Bar.  There wasn’t much time to get groups together, but I did some conducting work with an existing civil service choir and a few things with small ensembles at the Bar.
In 2008 I formed a choir with a friend and colleague in chambers.  That has gone from strength to strength.

Who do you play with now and what type of music?

I conduct the choir (St Genesius Choir), which does three or four concerts per year and sings Evensong every quarter.  About four years ago I started an orchestra of barristers and judges through the Bar Musical Society.  We usually do a joint concert (choir and orchestra) and a children’s concert (the orchestra) in Middle Temple Hall each year.
I don’t really play in public, other than getting roped in to play the organ for weddings occasionally, but have a dedicated long-suffering piano duet partner.

 

What’s your usual type of performance.

We have sung lots of the standard stuff with the choir, Handel’sDixit Dominus,MozartRequiem,etc.  Last year we didDido and Aeneasand were very lucky to have Emma Kirkby singing Dido with us.  
For the children’s concerts we have also done some of the standard repertoire (Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals),but we also did an adaptation ofThe Magic Flute with professional soloists and last year an adaptation ofThe Nutcracker,which included a real sugar plum fairy.  Sir Richard Stilgoe usually narrates those concerts, which are great fun and, I hope, give the children some idea about the joy of amateur music-making.

 

People always ask – “where do you find the time”

Most of the people in my choir also sing in other choirs and generally have at least two rehearsals a week already.  The rehearsals are not just a means to a musical end, but an essential part of the process; socially, emotionally and musically.  So I embrace the process!  We rehearse near chambers and in the evenings and I have enough control over my practice to mean that I have never missed a rehearsal, even if I sometimes have to rush away afterwards to prepare my cross-examination afterwards.

The great thing about the Bar, and being self-employed, is that I have been able to balance a fairly busy musical life with my job.  I still get panicky in the quiet periods of my practice, but at least I can fill them with (legal) photocopying and score preparation.  

Do you think it helps or affects your day to day work as a lawyer?

It is a wonderful release and I do think it is important to do something different.  I am always delighted to meet other musicians in the robing room and have recruited a few players for the orchestra that way.
People say things about logic and maths and music, although I have never been totally convinced by that, but the rehearsal-planning has improved my spreadsheet skills, which is useful for those complicated pension loss claims…  

Do you have any advice for lawyer/musicians or musician/lawyers out there?

Come and join the orchestra, obviously.