Neil Beynon: When legal eagles become festive songbirds

Neil Beynon
Neil Beynon
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It has performed at venues around the world, from New York to Paris, Rome and Venice, but the Faculty of Advocates Choir will be on home soil when a proud milestone is reached this Christmas. The choir, founded in 1996, is staging its 21st charity carol concert, raising funds to add to the thousands of pounds it has donated down the years to Edinburgh City Mission for its work with the homeless. Given this anniversary, perhaps it is an occasion for some reflection.

In my view, successful choirs or orchestras, at whatever level, best operate on the model of a clear chief executive and a separate director of music or conductor. In the case of the Faculty Choir, the former role has been held for the whole period by Sheriff Ross Macfarlane, QC, and for most of the time the latter role has been carried out by myself.

We have tried to ensure members of the choir have a real connection with the Faculty ie as serving or past members of the judiciary, solicitors, counsel, members of staff, law students, family members and others involved in the legal world.

Wherever possible, we try to perform some new material each year. We have been lucky to have had a number of choral pieces composed specially for the choir by the previous Lord President, Lord Gill. His compositions can be quite challenging to perform, but I believe it is important that contemporary music is performed in conjunction with the more traditional material.

Apart from the annual carol concert, the choir has performed both secular and religious music in a whole variety of places in Scotland and abroad. Highlights have included a concert of religious music at Notre-Dame in Paris, evening services in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. And we have been fortunate enough to appear off-Broadway in New York.

We have also sung at a number of weddings, memorial services and meetings for those associated with the Faculty of Advocates. All these occasions have been memorable.

Perhaps the most ambitious project = we completed was a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opera at St Cecilia’s Hall in Cowgate, Edinburgh. The principal roles were sung by Anna Poole, QC, and James Mure, QC, with all of the other solo roles sung by practising lawyers. The project required a significant commitment but was an unforgettable experience for all.

All our attention is now focused on this year’s carol concert, always a highlight in the choir’s calendar and we are delighted to do this for such a good cause. It is on Sunday, 17 December, at 6:30pm in The Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, Edinburgh. Admission is free, with a collection at the end for Edinburgh City Mission.

The concert will last about an hour, with a popular mix of music and readings, but one carol we will not be performing is Ding Dong Merrily on High. Why is this the case? Over 30 years ago, when I was conducting this carol, I forgot a critical repeat – the result was chaos. I’m afraid I didn’t fully learn my lesson because I made the same mistake with the Faculty of Advocates Choir a couple of years ago. Luckily, on this occasion there was no chaos. The worst to happen was that one of the choir sotto voce pointed out my error when I returned to my chair. I’m not prepared to risk a third time! But just about everything besides…

Neil Beynon is a member of the Faculty of Advocates