I thought the Club was in need of some more woodwind players, and a widening of the scope of its membership. As the constitution allows I asked Susanna Whawell to join.  Susanna is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and the Institute of Leadership and Management, and director of Auxilium LPM, a firm specialising in Legal Project Management, Legal Audits and Data Analytics.  More importantly, for today’s purposes, Susanna is a saxophone player.

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What instrument do you play?

Saxophone, clarinet and piano

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

The first instrument I learned to play was the violin, through peripatetic teaching at primary school. It’s fair to say that I was absolutely terrible playing the violin, and I would like to retrospectively apologise to the neighbours, as absolutely no one wants to live next door to an 8 year old  nascent violin player. That I was so terrible was in no way a reflection of the teaching, and after a couple of fruitless years, my violin teacher gently encouraged me to consider other instruments and so I took up the piano at roughly the age of 10. I then fell in love with the saxophone, and pestered relentlessly until I was given a very battered second-hand alto saxophone, from which the C# key dropping off, and the G# kept sticking no matter how well I cleaned it. (It would be safe to say that given my lack of prowess with the violin, there was no willingness to spend on an expensive instrument this time around). As fortune would have it, I turned out to be a great deal better at playing the saxophone, and by the age of 14 I had taken and passed my grade 8. By this time, I’d finally proved that I was going to stick with this one, and a rather nicer Selmer series II became mine, an instrument I still have and play regularly. By this stage I was playing with North Yorkshire’s county band, as well as various school bands and occasionally helping out at other local events. At county band we formed saxophone quartet, and we did exceptionally well busking one summer. At 16 I was invited to audition for the National Youth Wind Orchestra, who I played with for another two years, and then in various bands and groups whilst I was at university. Along the way I learned to play the clarinet to a moderate standard, and continued with my piano playing. I was hugely fortunate to have excellent teachers – peripatetic music was still encouraged – and, whisper it, grants were still available and I was the very privileged recipient of one which part funded my beautiful tenor saxophone, also a Selmer series II. After graduating, and in the early years of having a proper job there was less time for playing, but as I moved around the country with each new placement, I would take the time to find a band looking for a saxophonist.

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Who do you play with now?

At the moment I’m not playing with any bands, one of the downsides of living in a remote location. The upside being that at least I can practice at top volume without disturbing the neighbours! Where do I find the time & do you think it affected your work in the law. My working day is well structured and as a practice we made the decision to switch to four-day working week nearly 4 years ago. This gave all employees a much better level of control over their work/life balance and means that I have time to play each day if I wish. In terms of how it affects my work, I enjoy playing, and, strangely, I enjoy the discipline of scales and exercises as much as the freedom of playing pieces. The skills of concentration, attention to detail and holding in balance precision and fluidity when playing, and especially when learning a new piece are great ways to think laterally. A tricky piece needs to be broken down until you can get your fingers and brain around it, much like a tricky work problem. It’s also virtually impossible to think about anything else if you’re playing properly, which is a great way to reset if you’ve had a difficult day.


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

Practice and self-discipline. There is no shortcut to becoming good at what you do whether that’s playing an instrument or in a professional capacity. And my advice to lawyers? Don’t leave things to the last minute; no one thanks you for it, and you’re much more likely to make silly and expensive mistakes.