Tuning into the Choir World

Elaine is an in-house lawyer and sings with the Diocesan Choral Society and the Hong Kong Young People’s Chorus. Recent concerts include Chanson Éloignée in July 2017 and French Connection Hong Kong in November 2017. She also joined the SingFest Festival Chorus for their performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta in September 2017.

When I tell people I sing in a choir, the most common reaction I get is that it’s so “youthful” (“好青春”). It comes as a surprise to many people that choral singing can be a hobby for an adult. In fact, there are many adults who sing in choirs (yes, even outside of churches), and singing can be a great means for relaxation, socialising and artistic development.

I started singing in school choirs as a child and it was a big part of my junior and secondary school life in Hong Kong. I then sang in chapel choir at college in England. When I started my career at a city firm, working in Hong Kong and London, it never occurred to me to join a choir. This was partly because of the demands of working at a city firm, but more so because I myself also thought that choir was an activity for kids.

In 2015, after I had moved in-house, one of my old school friends asked if I wanted to join the Diocesan Choral Society (‘DCS’) for their summer concert. DCS is an alumni choir but unusual in the sense that it is a choir for choir alumni, not school alumni, which ensures a certain level of quality and commitment in the singers. The basic “entry requirements” are an ability to sight sing, to hold your own in pieces in eight or more parts, and to learn and memorise a concert repertoire in different languages within a relatively short time frame (say a few months). Initially it was difficult as I had not so much read sheet music in more than 10 years, but these skills do come back to you, and when the music comes together it becomes very rewarding and fun.

Choir can be quite a time consuming hobby if you take it seriously. A typical rehearsal schedule for me might be two hours on a weeknight and two to three hours on a weekend, but this could double if I am singing for more than one choir at a time. Sometimes the rehearsals ramp up before a concert and can take up most of my time outside work! In the week leading up to Singfest’s performance of Israel in Egypt, the choir and orchestra rehearsed every night under the baton of the conductor, who had flown in from England just for the concert. On top of rehearsals, I spend time reading the music, learning my part and memorising the scores. I’m fortunate in that my job does allow this level of commitment outside work hours, and I have to admit I do spend some lunch hours reading music on my own in my office.

One of the reasons I like to sing as a hobby is because it’s so different from my day job. I spend most of my time at work drafting or reviewing legal documents, but reading music and singing engages a completely different part of my brain. As someone who does not have a strong background in music, reading music can be like tackling a foreign language and it’s challenging yet refreshing.

I also enjoy being able to meet people very different to myself – ranging from university students to university teachers, doctors to artists, music professionals to bankers. I’m sure even the most hardened lawyer would agree that hanging out with other lawyers all the time can be stifling, and it’s like a breath of fresh air to head to rehearsal and just talk about music and lyrics with people who do not care about contracts rights of third parties.

On the other hand, I’ve been able to put my legal skills to use in the choral world. DCS is a registered charity in Hong Kong. I sit on the board of the choir, together with other advisors such as finance professionals and music teachers, and my legal background gives me the ability to advise on development, delivery of charitable objectives, and most excitingly, paperwork like notices and minutes (!). My transaction management skills from my days as a banking lawyer have proven transferable and useful when it comes to organising concerts and sponsorships – the struggle is trying to get my non-lawyer teammates on board with my checklists and filing system…

There are a lot of choirs for adults in Hong Kong, catering for a range of different musical abilities and interests. If you are interested in picking this up as a hobby, you can look out for open auditions held by some of these choirs, or go along to one of their concerts to see if the repertoire is right for you. Singing is for everyone but it’s important to choose the right choir for yourself to get the most out of the experience.

Diocesan Choral Society


In-house Lawyer