Originally posted on spotlight:
A recent Mail on Sunday article by Paul Cahalan and Peter Henn alleged that former Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw ordered police to drop an investigation into a VIP paedophile ring. The full article can be found here
The article mentions an Evening News story by Jeff Edwards, which is reproduced below.
Evening News (London), 7th July 1980
Today I attended a meeting at the Home Office, the sixth meeting to date with child abuse survivors and their representatives and organisations, to solicit their views on the appointment of the new chair and other matters relating to the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. I was there in my capacity as convenor of the petition calling for an inquiry into abuse in music education, in the process of which I became privy to a very large range of survivor testimony, and remain in regular contact with a wide range of survivors from the classical music world.
In this post, I wish primarily to document responses to various issues raised during the meeting (an account of a meeting last Friday, December 4th, can be read here). On the whole, where I report here a view expressed at the meeting, one should not necessarily read that as an endorsement of that view.
The meeting was with Home Office Director of Safeguarding John O’Brien, and Helen Griffith and Cheryl Mendes from inquiry secretariat. It would not be appropriate for me to list the survivors and others who attended; suffice to say that it was a relatively small group, but representing a wide range of different fields of experience. The meeting was scheduled from 13:30 to 14:30; I had to leave promptly at 14:30 to attend to university business, so cannot at present report on the later part of a meeting which overran a little. However, we were promised minutes giving the essentials of the meeting, about which I will post further when they are received.
The three principal issues raised from the outset concerned the appointment of a new chair of the inquiry, whether the inquiry was to be instituted on a statutory basis, and would be judge-led, and about the period covered by the inquiry (currently set with a cut-off point of 1970). It was clear that previous meetings have produced overwhelming support for a statutory inquiry and an earlier date.
My impression was that it looks extremely likely now that the recommendation on the basis of consultation will be for the statutory inquiry, but it is less clear whether this should be judge-led or not. A statutory inquiry would have the power to compel individuals to give evidence, and demand to see documents. The advantages of the latter lie primarily in terms of experience in handling classified documents and the legal processes involved in gathering evidence and testimony through compulsion. On the other hand, a non-judge might have a deeper experience and understanding of the specifics of engaging with survivors of child abuse. It was acknowledged that no chair could realistically be expected to be all things to all people, so whatever form the inquiry ultimately takes, there is likely to be a wider panel involved. The issue of the suitability or otherwise of the current panel did not arise in this meeting. One other issue concerned the granting of developed vetting powers to the chair and panel, enabling access to intelligence documents and the like. As far as I could ascertain, there was no reason why the inquiry’s being statutory would dilute or compromise this. The case for a statutory inquiry now seems unanswerable.
O’Brien outlined some of the issues involved in making the new appointment. If this is to be a judge-led inquiry, then it is not simply a case of the Home Office’s being able to select whichever judge they like, as the judge concerned must be released from their duties by the Supreme Court. This could pose problems in the case, for example, of the one female member of this body, as their release would upset an already deeply unbalanced Supreme Court in terms of gender. In terms of finding an appropriate individual for a non-judge-led inquiry, not much was discussed, though all are aware that the Home Office have received a large number of nominations currently being considered.
Obviously the last two chairs appointed resigned on grounds (at least in part) of severe conflicts of interests based upon others who they knew or were related to, whose actions or testimony are likely to play a significant role in the inquiry. O’Brien made the reasonable point that whoever else is chosen as chair, whether a judge or non-judge, are unlikely to have no connections whatsoever to anyone or any organisation falling under the scope of the inquiry, if the individual concerned is to be someone with the required degree of expertise and experience. To which I raised the question of whether the possibility of appointing a chair from outside of the UK (in particular from a Commonwealth country, with a similar legal system) was being considered. The major argument presented against this option had to do with the significantly increased difficulties involved in the vetting process – police files and other relevant documentation are much less easily available when these are held under a different jurisdiction. With this in mind, it was argued that were a chair from outside the UK to be considered, the whole process would take quite significantly longer, and the dangers of overlooking some major conflicts of interest would be increased. From this, it looks unlikely that the new chair will be sought from abroad.
The issue of schedule for appointing the new chair is highly important. O’Brien clarified in response to a question that in the event of a new government and new Home Secretary, the latter could certainly cancel or change the nature of the inquiry – that is in their powers. If, however, the inquiry is already underway and has statutory powers, this would be much harder (though not impossible) for them to do. With this in mind, he was prepared to give an assurance that the Home Office are treating as a matter of urgency the appointment of a new chair before Parliament goes into recess at the end of March.
In terms of the scope of the inquiry, it was made clear that this is focused upon abuse occurring in institutions, not familial abuse. This is in no sense to imply that the latter is any less important or prevalent, just that it takes different forms and requires different types of investigations. Some attendees raised some complicated cases which blur the boundaries between familial/private and institutional abuse, especially in religious contexts. Whilst the basic position was restated, my recollection is that these types of cases might be able to be considered, some of which might be considered institutional abuse anyhow.
Of great important to all is the issue of support provided by the inquiry to survivors who opt to talk about their own experiences. The Home Office are currently consulting with the Department of Health as to the best way to provide this, and are aware that at present this appears to be the exclusive responsibility of survivor organisations; they are prepared to take advice from these organisations on the best form such support will take. To set up the support system does however require the chair to be in place.
It is envisaged that the inquiry will look into thousands of institutions and speak to maybe tens of thousands of individuals. Whilst the issue of whether the cut-off date should be extended was not discussed further in any detail during the period I was able to remain, O’Brien mentioned that for some people, the scope of the inquiry was too broad; for others it was too narrow. No firm decision in respect to this appears to have been made yet.
Where those giving evidence to the inquiry make allegations against individuals connected to institutions, these will generally be taken to the police afterwards, but this does not mean that the names of those who make the allegations will also be given to the police (in some cases the police may simply be instructed that they should investigate a particular institution). It is understood that some individuals may not wish to take their allegations to the police, and this would naturally be respected. It was implied if not completely clearly stated that where allegations involve an individual who remains a danger to others that it may be necessary to take these to the police regardless. Further clarification is required on this subject.
For all correspondence to the inquiry, the place to go is the website, which features a page for sending such correspondence. Whilst correspondence will be treated in absolute confidence, records will be kept of correspondence received.
More convoluted is the issue of the regions covered by the inquiry. At present, the Terms of Reference of the inquiry make clear that it will cover England and Wales only, not Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands (nor other British Overseas Territories such as St Helena). There are separate inquiries already underway in Northern Ireland (with which this inquiry intends to co-operate deeply) and Jersey, whilst the Foreign Office have recently announced an inquiry into child abuse in St Helena. But in particular, no inquiry has yet been created or announced in Scotland (though recent reports have suggested that one is currently being planned by the Scottish Government).
We were told that in July, when this inquiry was first announced, the Scottish Government pledged full co-operation, and there is no reason to think this position has changed (one should note the formation of a new Scottish Government with the resignation of former First Minister Alex Salmond following the September referendum). This co-operation would apparently extend to making available any information and documentation required. This may cover some matters for public institutions, but in the event of a statutory inquiry in England and Wales, the statutory powers would not extend to Scotland. This could mean that, for example, some Scottish legal institutions would not be bound to participate even where their activities have implications outside of Scotland (consider, for example, the case of former Scottish Solicitor General, the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, whose name has been linked to abuse allegations both north and south of the border).
The regularly touted suggestion of a Royal Commission to cover all parts of the United Kingdom and associated territories is, we were told, only possible if the different regions with devolved legislation agree. Scotland could be included in the over-arching inquiry, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Government. The Royal Commission in Australia, which covered the whole of the country, was apparently only possible because each of the states agreed.
With this in mind, it is time for survivors, representatives, campaigners, journalists and politicians all to put pressure upon Nicola Sturgeon to announce either a separate inquiry or that Scotland will be included in the large inquiry. It is not entirely clear which member of the Scottish cabinet would take direct responsibility for a Scottish child abuse inquiry, but it be likely to be either Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning Angela Constance, or Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing & Sport Shona Robison MSP. These politicians should also be repeatedly questioned on whether they will support such an inquiry.
These are all the principal points I recall being discussed. It was a productive meeting, as it would appear have been earlier meetings with others. I continue to urge all survivors and others with a direct interest in the process to engage with the Home Office and the Inquiry Secretariat. It is by engaging that we can hopefully work to ensure the best type of inquiry, and above all for this to be instituted prior to the General Election in May 2015.
New article on abuse and classical music by Damian Thompson in the Spectator, and some wider reflections on classical music and abusePosted: December 5, 2014
A new article went online yesterday on abuse in the classical music world – Damian Thompson, ‘Classical music’s dirty little secret’, The Spectator, December 6th, 2014. It contrasts in particular the revelations about alleged abuse within the El Sistema organisation through the work of Geoff Baker, and those about abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and elsewhere, featuring an interview with me on this and related subjects. The article goes deeper than most have done previously, and I would urge all to read it.
I have been reflecting more widely on the relationship between the callous exertion of power in music and also aestheticised outlooks, and the abuse of both children and adults, and wanted to share a few thoughts growing out of what I said for the Spectator interview. I have published previously on this in the Times Educational Supplement here and here, and will write at more length on these issues at a future date. At the heart of this lie the issues of the exploitation of power beneath an artistic veneer, and the relegating of human interests secondary to other aesthetic or more abstract concerns, an subject which has exercised me for a great many years. Here are my thoughts for now.
There are multiple ways in which sexual abuse occurs in musical education in the UK (see my earlier posts here and here for documentation of various cases since 1990). One involves abuse of pre-pubescent boys in choirs, and has been found time and time again in many leading private schools; another involves adolescents, primarily but not exclusively girls, who are sexually exploited by instrumental teachers, especially in specialist music schools and at summer music courses and the like. There is also of course much evidence of abuse of both sexes by private music teachers, who are often not subject to the same checks as those working in some institutions. The process of sexual exploitation of adolescents also continues with young adults in conservatoires, in a similar fashion. Instrumental teachers have great power and prestige which can easily be exploited when they have access to vulnerable, sometimes star-struck, girls and young women. The many stories I have heard are utterly hideous and depressing. Teachers regularly reduce their students to tears so they can then comfort and sexually touch them, or ask the students to perform sexual acts as a sign of how much they ‘trust’ them. Some are told they can only do justice to certain types of music when they have become a ‘whole woman’, as a prelude to sex. Other teachers simply attempt to force themselves on students in lessons in ways which can be terrifying and amount to attempted rape. Some have been told by directors of institutions that if they dare to go to the police, then they can give up any hope they might have had of a musical career; those with powerful connections are indeed often in a position to do this.
But there are certainly non-sexual forms of abuse which have gone on at all the music schools as well, which can be just as damaging. The issues of abuse in the classical musical world are not in my opinion simply about some people in power being sexually attracted to some musicians – I don’t think that is something surprising, unnatural or wrong, even if they act on those desires, when the musicians are above the age of consent and of course consenting. But I believe these link to a deeper culture of power and its wilful exertion, a vocabulary and mentality of sexual predation as a strategy to demean, dominate, humiliate for reasons that are far from merely sexual. In this field, in my experience, there is no reason to believe that female teachers are any less likely to be culpable than male ones (and in the case of actual sexual abuse the gender divide is not necessarily so simple; even where not actual perpetrators, some female teachers and others have been amongst the most staunch defenders of abusers, and acted in hateful and vicious ways towards those they have exploited).
In such a context sexual abuse can often be an extension of other forms of emotional and physical abuse, in order to enforce a relationship of domination and dehumanisation mystified by the aura surrounding ‘artistic’ personalities and their relationships to others. An artistic aura and its associated temperament can often mask simple cases of fragile egos and other insecurities, which can be bolstered by dominating others. Such domination works best with a willing or at least helpless victim in the form of a child, or one who acts and appears like one.
At the same time, I think we need to look hard at the way audiences and others ‘consume’ and psychologically dominate musicians, especially young ones. Is the young performer presented in a rarefied fashion for an audience’s delectation so different from a glamour model, or even one in a window in a red light district? Are they meant to have a will of their own, or merely to please others?
The world view of the nineteenth-century aesthete still has a profound impact upon classical music culture, certainly in the UK, US, France and some other places. I have spent quite some time studying this in various contexts (not least the ways in which this outlook can be linked to fascism, as diagnosed in different ways by Walter Benjamin, Roger Shattuck and Frederic Spotts). The aesthetic movement was a type of quasi-aristocratic rearguard group of aesthetes reacting against the growth of bourgeois society and mass culture. They believed moral questions and human interests to be of little importance relative to their own notions of beauty. This beauty was of course something only a small number were in a position to appreciate, an aesthetic aristocracy if you like, and they often viewed other human beings in purely aesthetic terms. I believe this is profoundly dehumanising. There is also a considerable overlap between early aesthetes, including Pater, Wilde, Huysmans, Crowley and others, and the movement of ‘Uranian’ poets and some artists, a group of pederasts who were described in the volume Betrayal of Youth as like a nineteenth-century version of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
To the aesthete, a young boy not yet faced by the doubts, moral choices and responsibility of an adult, is unthreatening and more ripe to be adored and salivated over. If you look at pederastic photographs of naked young boys in classical poses by Wilhelm von Gloeden, who was associated with the Uranians (and whose work I have earlier written about in terms of its influence upon some music of Michael Finnissy), you will see a similar thing. Certain qualities are favoured – looks suggesting arrogance but submission, petulance and self-centeredness, and sometimes exaggerated hyper-masculinity, absolutely nothing which would suggest an emerging mind or any trappings of an intellectual-to-be.
I have seen exactly the same attitudes at play regularly amongst those with power in the classical music world. Young men and women favoured to the extent they exhibit (deliberately or unwittingly) certain of these attributes. Some men because they look like a slightly thuggish rent boy, some women because they can give the right type of Shirley Temple-like sickly-sweet smile. Fundamentally, they become objects, and often the critics, administrators, radio producers and so on who favour them will abandon them as they get older, so they can move onto their next bright young things. This is all part of the same processes of domination of which sexual abuse of children is the most extreme form.
There’s a very obvious continuum, to me, between von Gloeden’s arrogant yet submissive naked boys and the picture of Gustavo Dudamel with a smug and self-satisfied expression, showing how his willingness to conform to the needs of others is rewarded with a Rolex watch. Similarly between Lewis Carroll’s pederastic pictures of young girls and some of the images routinely encountered of young female violinists. The same is true of the publicity materials and discursive constructions around numerous Wunderkind young composers and performers. The arbiters of classical music enmesh musicians into their own web in ways which bear an uncanny resemblance to the grooming strategies of paedophiles. I have even come to consider more sinister interpretations of the apparent innocence, suffused with unspoken desire, which I hear in works such as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, possibly representing dances of naked boys (in part) at an ancient Spartan festival, at a time when the concept of ‘Greek love’ (love between men and boys) was very much in vogue in British and French artistic circles.
There were tyrannical teachers and educational practices which grew in the nineteenth century. It was seen as perfectly acceptable to beat students; teachers put them through gruelling (and generally useless) regimes of exercises so that the few who had not had a nervous breakdown or suffered irreparable muscular damage could feel themselves blessed and ‘toughened up’ for a musical career, in which they could inflict the same on their own students. Learning, practising, and music-making were made mind-numbing and conducted in an atmosphere of intense fear. In the educational culture bequeathed above all by the early Paris Conservatoire, the emphasis was no longer upon producing a rounded musician and individual, as in earlier times, but more simply a streamlined playing machine. But in many places these methods were found to be unsatisfactory in many respects and more mature and humane approaches began to take their place, which also often produced much finer musicians.
But then with the Cold War and the Soviet need above all to produce competition winners rather than rounded musicians, there was something of a backlash. Dictatorial approaches to teaching, with no concern for the wider consequences, came back into fashion. Some were aped in the West, crowding out some alternative approaches. Several of the specialist music schools in the UK – all of which were founded between 1962 and 1972 – were explicitly modelled on Russian institutions and styles of teaching, at a time when considerations of the welfare of children and the dangers of such hothouse environments hardly registered.
I have heard major allegations of abuse at all five institutions. The schools have certainly all produced some successful musicians, but if they are happy to take credit for these, they must also take responsibility for the ruined lives, sometimes racked by depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and more, which are equally their legacy. The effect of a school upon all who attended it, not just a small successful minority, matters.
Bullying and malicious exploitation of power in musical education are also rampant. Insecure teachers do this plenty. One of my own former students underwent some serious bullying at the hands of another teacher on a course, who tried everything he could to undermine this pianist by repeatedly spreading malicious talk about him to others, doing all he could to humiliate him in front of others (and before he was about to perform) and so on, because he saw him as a threat. Various people complained about the behaviour of this teacher, but of course nothing was done. This individual once proudly pronounced ‘I get students who think they are good – my job is to make them realise they suck’. This attitude is all-revealing – it is not about helping the student, but playing power games to bolster the teacher’s own self-esteem.
Other types of behaviour I have often encountered have deeply shocked me – just the callousness of it all. One privileged young composer thought nothing of fabricating false rumours about a rival, claiming he was being beaten up by his father, so as to portray this rival as unstable and thus unlikely to be up to being a composer. What has shocked me even more is how many people know this and other similar things about this person, but are completely unbothered by it – certainly it did not impede his own progression in academia. I know one instrumentalist who feigns friendship in order to gain other musicians’ confidence, so that they might reveal such things as spells of depression, which he then uses as malicious gossip to undermine them; another did the same when he found that one woman was going through a legal process in which she alleged her father had abused her. A prominent musician, upon being appointed to a prominent position, bragged to others that now he had the chance to get revenge on all those who had previously stood in his way.
Classical music and its associated culture is still shot through by some fundamentally hierarchical nineteenth-century values which are little in vogue any longer in other cultural fields. I am not saying we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, but do believe much rethinking is necessary. Sexual abuse in classical music is maybe the most extreme symptom of a wider corruption. When you have a culture which idolises a small few ‘great men/women’, sees narcissism, bullying and despicable treatment of others not simply as unavoidable evils but actually as signs of artistry, and encourages an attitude of awe and submission, rather than concrete and critical engagement, then the dangers of abuse are acute.
Whilst figures such as Beethoven or Wagner or Furtwängler or Britten continue to be idolised not just for the work they produced but for the personalities they were, then the role models for younger musicians are fatally flawed. We should reject entirely the idea that musicians are a breed apart, and discourage such thinking.
To classical music abuse survivors – please do let me or the Home Office know of your wishes for the inquiryPosted: December 4, 2014
I will be attending the meeting about the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse at the Home Office on Monday December 8th, to accompany a survivor from a music school. This meeting is one of several to consult with abuse survivors and their representatives on their wishes for the national inquiry (here is an account of the meeting which took place at the end of October).
The website for the inquiry is here – this includes details of the Terms of Reference for the inquiry, the panel, and various other factors.
Amongst the major issues which have come up are whether the inquiry is to be statutory and judge-led, thus having statutory powers to demand evidence from institutions, where the cut-off point should be (at present the inquiry plans to look at events from 1970 onwards, but have indicated they may be prepared to go back further), and of course which institutions are to be considered.
I believe that the Home Secretary are serious about really listening to what survivors want from this inquiry, and what aspects will make them feel safe about participating, in the sense of being prepared to speak to the panel about their own experiences and other information. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for such an inquiry, and I have good reason to believe that the panel may seriously look into abuse in musical education.
With this in mind, I want to call upon all survivors either to let me know of their wishes in this respect (either by posting here, under a pseudonym if desired, or e-mailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org ), preferably before Monday, or to contact directly the Director of Safeguarding at the Home Office, John O’Brien, at email@example.com. I assure everyone who contacts me (and they can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org ) that confidentiality will be absolutely respected, but also that I will forward their wishes as they stand. The important thing is that the Home Office and the Inquiry Secretariat hear what you think, not just what I have to say.
Some survivors and organisations have indicated their intention to withdraw from participation (see this open letter). Whilst having immense respect for some of the signatories of this, and sharing some of their concerns, I do believe that constructive, critical engagement is the better option. We have come a long way in getting this far, and I would worry that if the inquiry ends up being postponed until after the general election, its future may be in jeopardy. I am prepared to believe the view of Labour MP Tom Watson that his political opponent, the Home Secretary Theresa May, is committed to this inquiry and getting to the truth, unlike some of her political colleagues. I was very impressed at the last meeting I attended and want to encourage people in the classical music world to participate and make their views known.
The following is an interview I did with composer Michael Finnissy just before a performance I gave of his notorious piano cycle English Country-Tunes in February 2009, connected to a Finnissy festival organised jointly between Plymouth University and Dartington College. It was published in the journal Notations, Volume 1: Music and Evolution (February 2009).
The following is an interview I gave with Philip Clark, published in International Piano in the November-December 2006 issue.
[UPDATE: I have been informed of the omission of the student award in the 2014 list (this was not included in the earlier years either, as it is awarded in a different fashion and so does not appear on the shortlists). I would thus like to point out that in this category there was one ethnic minority award given this year. More broadly, I would stress that the issue is not of the decisions of this award-giving body, with respect to ethnicity, gender, or any other factor, considering that nominations come externally and are not determined by the BCA, but of the lack of representation of ethnic minorities within the field of new music in general. This is an issue which needs debating more widely.]
A year I published an article on here looking at the representation of British-born ethnic minorities in the British Composer Awards. Following the announcement of the 2014 awards yesterday, I wanted to update the figures I provided then.
2003: 100% white (11 awards)
2004: 100% white (11 awards)
2005: One composer of African/Afro-Caribbean origin, all others white (Radio 3 listeners award) (11 awards)
2006: 100% white (12 awards)
2007: 100% white (13 prizes)
2008: 100% white (11 prizes awarded)
2009: One composer of African/Afro-Caribbean origin, all others white (in jazz category) (13 prizes awarded)
2010: Two composers of East Asian origin (chamber, and international) (13 prizes awarded).
2011: 100% white (13 awards)
2012: 100% white (13 awards)
2013: One composer of East Asian origin (international award) (14 awards, one joint).
2014: 100% white (13 awards)
Total number of awards given 2003-2014: 148. Total number of white composers: 143. Thus 96.6% white composer winners.
Total number of awards given to British Composers: 140. Total number of white composers: 137. Thus 97.9% white composer winners.
Of the five non-white winners, two have been winners of the international award, one of the chamber award, one of the jazz award, and one of the Radio 3 Listeners’ award. Three of these are of East Asian origin, two of African/Afro-Caribbean origin.
Going through the shortlists for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 one finds the following:
2011: 41 names and 1 collective of five individuals. One individual of East Asian origin.
2012: 39 names, all white
2013: 39 names, one of East Asian origin
2014: 36 names, all white
Since 2009 there has been a prize for jazz composition, a field with historically strong associations with African-American communities. Of the six winners of this, five have been white. Of the 18 names shortlisted, 16 have been white.
All of this points to the forms of composition recognised and rewarded by the BCA being overwhelmingly white (bearing in mind that according to the 2011 census, only 87.1% of the UK population were white). No individual of South Asian origin has ever won a BCA award, despite their accounting for around 5% of the population, whilst the representation of individuals (two) of African/Afro-Caribbean origin falls well below the figure of 3% of the population they make up; one of the names only won because nominated by Radio 3 listeners, the other in the category of jazz composition.
This is not to criticise the awards necessarily, nor their organisers, rather to point out a wider issue in new music, as I have argued elsewhere. To what extent can new music be viewed as part of a multicultural Britain (or in other Western countries), or is it a field disengaged from black and minority ethnic (BME) cultural and musical traditions?