Chris Ling’s views on sexing up classical music

I intend to write at length for this blog on Chetham’s, where I was a pupil from 1978 to 1986, and much to do with the fall-out from the conviction of Michael and Kay Brewer for sexual assault, the shocking revelations about Malcolm Layfield, Chris Ling and others brought to light through the pioneering journalistic work of Helen Pidd and Philippa Ibbotson, as soon as time permits. Many reading this will have already seen the absolutely harrowing articles about Chris Ling published in the Guardian, here, here and here – a story that has been at least part-known by many musicians for a long time, but which was successfully hushed up by Chetham’s at the time. Only now, more than 20 years later, are the women affected being acknowledged in terms of what they went through.

But Chris Ling is still able to carry on running an agency in Los Angeles with impunity. I wanted to post here a section from an article in the Omaha World Herald, published on August 22nd, 1999, thus seven years after Ling fled the UK as the sexual abuse allegations were first being investigated, which is even more sickening in light of what has now been made public. In the context of continuing attempts to ‘sex up’ classical music, the reality of what Ling was actually doing with his students should be considered whenever one encounters similar talk.

‘Hot, Sexy and Hip Classical Musicians Drop Necklines, Turn Heads, Win Applause’, by Kyle Macmillan

‘Just look (and who can resist?) at those sultry, sometimes scantily clad vixens who frequently grace television and print advertisements for beer, automobiles, apparel and classical music.

Wait a minute. Classical music?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. A field that used to be associated with the staid and stodgy has gone hot and hip, as promoters and presenters put an increasing emphasis on youth and sex appeal.

Call it babes in music land. Call it sex and violins. Few trends have had a more visible or far-reaching impact on classical music in the 1990s, as Midlanders will soon discover when the 1999-2000 season gets under way.’

[....]

‘All are beautiful, and all capitalize on those looks in their publicity efforts. A little more than a year ago when Warner hired a new agent, CHL Artists Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif., the firm immediately had sensual photographs shot of her.

“Wendy is a very pretty girl,” said Christopher Ling, CHL’s president, “and she’s a marvelous cellist. I don’t think it demeans her talent to have a picture of her that says she is a pretty girl. We’ve simply put photos out there which are new, which are good. And I hope it will attract a younger audience.”

Attracting new, young audiences has become an obsession in the classical-music world, which is facing alarming drops in ticket and compact-disc sales as the patrons on which it has long counted are growing old and dying.

To snare new buyers, many promoters, publicists and presenters are striving to combat what Ling calls the field’s “very staid, very boring image.” Traditionally, he said, it has not really tried to sell itself, settling for bland, rudimentary marketing and publicity efforts.

“If you looked,” Ling said, “at the CD covers of pop, it was very clever. It was always presented in a new way. And I believe the same thing should be said of classical music. And I’m very glad to say that over the last seven or eight years, that’s exactly what has happened.”‘


12 Comments on “Chris Ling’s views on sexing up classical music”

  1. Ed McKeon says:

    This is sending a shiver down my spine for all the wrong reasons. Looking forward – if that’s the right term – to your full comments on the Chetham’s scandal when you’re back.

  2. MsJinnifer says:

    Agree with all that, and yet there is a big qualitative difference between “sexing up” for publicity purposes and abusing young girls. The former does not account for the latter which is a massive abuse of trust and an exploitation of the intense, often idolising relationship between teacher and pupil. Any teacher must be able to accept adoration by their pupils while not exploiting it in any way.

    • ianpace says:

      That’s a good point, and I think it would be disingenuous to try and deny that a sexual aspect to musical performance exists. But it so easily becomes all-pervasive, and the primary focus – and that sort of perspective can be very dangerous, especially for young performers. And even if clearly much more of a factor for female performers, I also find some of the ways of capturing and selling male performers, in an excessively ‘boyish’ manner, can be rather unsettling.

  3. patrick evans says:

    I sent the Guardian link to the female conductors, players in Lings agency today. Hopefully they will refuse to be represented by him and will pass it on to the others there. What else can we do?

  4. Patrick Jones says:

    And now this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/12/chethams-music-school-allegations-increase
    Allegations against Bakst and a reference to a fifth, as yet un-named, teacher being investigated by GMP.

    Warm regards, Ian – and I hope you keep up your engagement with this issue.

    • ianpace says:

      Warm regards to you too, Patrick (do you still go by ‘Paddy’)?

      • Patrick Jones says:

        Once a Paddy, always a Paddy! ….in musical circles, at least.

        I don’t like to think back to my time at Chets (for unrelated reasons), but these stories rather force me to. Looking back with adult eyes, the rumours about Layfield and Ling were so established that its not credible to think that there wasn’t a lot of discussion about this amonsgt staff – who were overwhelmingly decent ethical people, yet nothing ever happened. Sadly, when I couple this with Layfeild’s appointment to HOS at RNCM, and then, bewilderingly, to the RNCM board (!!?) I can only draw the conclusion that there was a generation above us who didn’t, perhaps don’t, consider this to be very important.

        At school, I remember thinking it just strange that any of the girls would willingly sleep with Layfeild or Ling, both of whom seemed a bit repelent. As an adult, the ‘willingness’ is unclear and the manipulation and coercion that must have gone into these ‘seductions’ is obvious, and their colleagues ability to play blind, just depressing.

        It’s hard to see JV emerging well from this, which I find sad as I repected him a lot (yes, I know, I might have hidden that respect pretty convincingly at the time!), but the true extent of this must finally come out, and I’m so happy, Ian, that you’re using your voice to apply pressure.

        • c.welford says:

          Spot-on commentary, Paddy. It’s tempting to view all this out of the context of the day in which these events and alleged events occurred, and look rather through the viewfinder of today’s rather different cultural attitudes. That is not to say that any kind of sexual abuse or abuse of the fragile teacher-pupil relationship should be viewed excusable or acceptable at any time, but just that this kind of occurrence was, I would imagine, far more widespread in educational establishments than it possibly could be today. I agree with you very much about JV. I find it very hard to imagine he would have turned a blind eye to any such goings on, and yet, paradoxically, I’d say it was almost common knowledge (amongst the pupils at any rate) that flirtations and ‘romantic’ relations existed in places that should have been off-limits. I hope there is a way in the future for young musicians to provide the incredible and passionate education we were fortunate enough to receive, and in the casual and creative atmosphere that leads to musical excellence, but in complete safety. I can’t imagine it’s easy.

  5. Dear Bloggers,

    I am a producer working for BBC News on the Chetham’s, RNCM scandal. I am trying to speak to the victims in these cases especially those of Chris Ling. I appreciate that this is not an easy thing but if there’s any chance of a chat my email address is judy.skidmore@bbc.co.uk.

    Many thanks,

    Judy

  6. […] Chris Ling’s Views on Sexing Up Classical Music (11/2/13) […]


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