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Next time you’re at a law firm reception, or at the wedding of an attorney friend in Boston, don’t assume the musicians playing in the jazz trio or the string quartet over in the corner went to Juilliard. They may have gone to Suffolk University Law School. More than likely, they’re also members of the Boston Bar Association Orchestra, one of the few attorney orchestras in the country. Their talents aren’t showcased only at soirees in the legal community. The orchestra — about 60 players, most of them attorneys with full-time practices — recently gave its annual Esplanade concert at the Hatch Memorial Shell in Boston. Selections ranged from Beethoven to Gershwin. Throughout the year, many of the musicians splinter into duos, trios, quartets, and quintets under the bar association’s musical banner. Their services can be retained in exchange for a contribution to the Boston Bar Foundation. Violinist Dorothy M. Linsner is a workers’ compensation attorney at Uehlein Cunningham & Machanic, in Natick, Mass., and handles management duties for the group. She has been with the orchestra since it debuted in January 1985 at the Harvard Club. In those early days, there weren’t enough attorneys to fill all the musical slots. “Now, we’ve acquired such a following we always have people interested in the wind section,” she says. “Sometimes we have openings for strings because it’s a larger section. There’s a whole world of musicians out there, and we’re a part of that.” Since its premiere, the orchestra and its smaller ensembles have played at venues that have included the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Massachusetts State House, and the U.S. District Court at Fan Pier in Boston, when the new federal courthouse opened. It also has served as the pit orchestra for the Boston Lyric Opera during benefits at the Emerson Majestic Theatre. A passing comment from former Boston Bar Association President Gene D. Dahmen of Boston’s Hamilton & Dahmen led to the orchestra’s formation. She had been taking violin lessons along with her daughter and joked to a BBA colleague that musically inclined attorneys should get together in a group. “I had in mind a string quartet. Next thing I know there’s a notice out, and calls started to come in. Then we had to start,” recalls Dahmen, who isn’t active with the orchestra now but remains a big supporter. “I always played last violin,” she chuckles, “sitting in the back where no one could see, or hopefully, hear me.” Donald G. Leka, a corporate attorney and business consultant in Brookline, answered that early call to the orchestra organizational meeting and offered to take up the kettle drums. “Now they have two other lawyers who are excellent percussionists, so I do keyboards,” says Leka, noting that the orchestra also has recruited judges, paralegals, and court reporters, as well as “civilians.” For many, the orchestra taps an interest that was put on the back burner when bar exams and careers took precedence. “This is an outlet that had atrophied over the years for a lot of them, and the BBA Orchestra gave them an opportunity to return to music,” Leka explains. “They don’t think of themselves just as lawyers, but as musicians — it’s a part of who they are.” Employment and probate attorney Brenda G. Levy of the Boston law firm Simonds, Winslow, Willis & Abbott joined the orchestra soon after it began in 1985. “Music becomes a passion for us. Some of our members have played chamber music through the years,” says Levy, the principal flute player. “The concert is a way to play in public and be with friends.” Litigator Douglas H. Wilkins of Anderson & Kreiger in Cambridge was a first assistant attorney general for many years and has been a bassoonist since childhood. The bassoonist part, which comes into play with the BBA Orchestra, doesn’t dovetail at all with the rest, and as he puts it, “That’s the point.” “It’s fun, and it’s good for the kids to see me get up there at the Hatch Shell and play music,” says Wilkins, who also plays with the New England Philharmonic Orchestra. Volunteer groups being what they are, though, the orchestra sometimes has to call on other industries to supply a last-minute substitution. “If someone can’t come, we get a scientist or two,” says Levy, “or maybe a software engineer.”

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