LA lawyers put objections aside to make music

AP News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2009 6:45 AM

If a defense attorney, a prosecutor and a judge were to walk into a music hall what would be the first thing they'd do?

"Spend a half-hour arguing legal motions," veteran Los Angeles lawyer David Waller says one of his colleagues told him when he learned Waller would be toting his cello to a rehearsal of the fledgling Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic Orchestra.

But there was no time for that on this night.

The orchestra had just two hours to run through Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5," Edvard Grieg's "Triumphal March" and a rousing John Philip Sousa number, followed by a couple more classical and pops pieces.

In just a few days the group's 60-plus members would be decked out in black tie, playing their biggest gig to date _ the grand opening of the Los Angeles County Bar Association's new downtown office. Not that anyone in the ensemble of brass, woodwind, string and percussion sections seemed to be showing any nervousness.

"We're not just a bunch of lawyers playing music. We're actually a good orchestra," maestro Gary S. Greene, who organized the ensemble earlier this year, said confidently before putting his players through their paces.

Greene, a litigation attorney, didn't threaten to sue anyone who intruded on anyone else's solo. But he did bring his baton down quickly whenever various musicians wandered off to the beat of their own drummer during the rehearsal at Wilshire United Methodist Church, a cavernous but acoustically stunning old cathedral in a particularly tony section of Los Angeles' west side.

"Blend. Play softly. That's where I want everybody soft so you can hear the trombone," Greene implored as they struggled with a challenging selection from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I."

A few minutes later one could hear the crash of a music stand as it vibrated off an elevated rehearsal stage and came smashing down on the brass section.

Superior Court Judge Brett Klein, the orchestra's first trumpet player, refrained from holding anybody in contempt. The judge, who earlier this year oversaw a dispute pitting the estate of music superstar Michael Jackson against an auction house, was too busy concentrating on nailing his part in "Trumpet Fanfare."

By showtime, he and other members of "L.A.'s only legal philharmonic orchestra" were ready for their appearance in the large lobby of the bar association building, opening with a melodic "Trumpet Voluntary" before moving on to uptempo favorites like Souza's "Washington Post."

"I played in the UCLA Symphony Orchestra as a student," said principal bass player Jack Lipton before the show. "It's just wonderful to be playing in an orchestra again."

The orchestra hit its stride this month at a Christmas-week holiday concert in which it performed a mixture of classical and pops pieces. At the end of the two-hour performance emceed by actress June Lockhart, a longtime friend of Greene's, the audience of more than 300 rose to give a standing ovation.

"The thing that's so amazing to me is to see all these judges and all these lawyers who are such brilliant musicians," said Lockhart. "As children they must have said, 'Mommy, I want to play the violin.' And Mommy must have said, 'No, you're going to go to law school and then you can play the violin.'"

The group joins a handful of attorney-driven orchestras around the country, including the Chicago Bar Association Symphony where Judge Diane Wood, who was on a short list of candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, heads the oboe section. Atlanta and Boston also have orchestras.

But unlike those ensembles, which either augment their ranks with non-lawyers or are led by a professional musician, the L.A. group recruits only attorneys and is under the baton of Greene, who in his spare time is also concertmaster for the Los Angeles Junior Philharmonic.

The lawyer says he never doubted he could recruit an all-attorney orchestra for Los Angeles when he put out the call at the beginning of the year. What did surprise him, he said, was the quality of the players he quickly attracted.

"We have two Julliard grads and a number of people who studied at the nation's top conservatories," Greene said. "We have people who received master's degrees in their instruments."

First violinist Natalia Minassian, for example, simultaneously studied music at Julliard and political science at Columbia University before going on to earn a law degree. When the opportunity to play in an orchestra came along the commercial litigator jumped at the chance.

"It's the only environment where lawyers are making harmony as opposed to dissonance," she joked.

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On the Net: http://www.lalawyersphil.org.