Michael Brewer – a powerful Director of Music, not just a provincial choirmaster or music teacher

In the flood of articles and television reports on the sentencing of Michael Brewer, it has become most common for him to be referred to as a ‘choirmaster’, at least in the headlines (this is the case in reports in the Daily Telegraph, Times, Independent, Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror and ITV, whilst the BBC and Daily Express refer to him as an ‘ex-choirmaster’), or occasionally simply as a ‘music teacher’ (as in a headline in the Guardian). It is certainly true that Michael Brewer’s most long-term work has been with the National Youth Choir, which he founded in 1983 (a fact now conveniently omitted from the choir’s section about themselves). This is itself no ordinary choir; it is much the largest youth choir in the country and one of the most important in the world. The term ‘choirmaster’ on its own implies some minor provincial figure, and as such the story seems to have no wider significance than a comparable one about a minor local priest or occasional schoolteacher found guilty of similar offences.

But when the offences in question took place, Michael Brewer was no less than Director of Music of Chetham’s, the largest specialist music school in the country, from 1975 until 1994 (when he left the school after his affair with a 17-year old pupil was discovered, though without this fact being disclosed, enabling him to continue working with young musicians right up until 2012). In this capacity, he personally carried out the majority of auditions, monitored each pupil’s musical progress, took advanced aural classes, regularly conducted the chamber and symphony orchestras, and also directed the elite chamber choir there. Even those (like myself) with no particular aptitude for singing would be in regular contact with him; Brewer was a major presence in the life of every pupil who attended the school. In terms of seniority, his position was almost on a par with the headmaster (who for all of Brewer’s time at the school except the last two years was John Vallins, a non-musician). For someone this senior to have used his position to abuse and exploit female pupils raises very serious questions about what type of institution could enable him to act with impunity for almost two decades, not to mention how his own actions may have served to facilitate similar things from other members of staff, about which there are multiple allegations currently being investigated by Greater Manchester Police. It is an issue not merely of one errant teacher, but of the whole structural workings of an institution.

Sadly, wider allegations, some of them not yet made public, suggest similar actions on the part of comparably senior figures in other musical institutions. Abusive behaviour on the part of very junior figures at music schools (for example practice supervisors or very occasional instrumental teachers who only deal with second-study pupils), whilst devastating for the victims, could be dealt with in a relatively straightforward manner when discovered without raising any wider questions about the institution itself. This is not the case here; when the most senior staff are carrying out abuse, and this goes unreported and uninvestigated over an extended period, the very functioning of the institution, the hierarchical chain of command, protection for whistleblowers, the enactment of procedures for child safety and protection, and above all the need to prioritise the welfare of pupils over institutional reputation, need severe investigation.

Already there are plenty of rumblings from those who would like to portray this conviction and other allegations as representing nothing more than the actions of a few isolated individuals, with no wider implications for musical education. Some voicing such views seem more concerned to protect the existing state of the latter than anything – this very attitude is part of the process which allows abuse to continue unchecked. It is important for this reason to insist on Brewer’s title as former Director of Music at Chetham’s, as the manager and begetter of a whole musical and teaching culture at the school.

 

[In the aftermath of the sentencing, I would especially recommend blog entries by Jessica Duchen, who looks at the neglected subject of psychological abuse, and also rightly draws attention to the judge’s alarmed remarks at the extent to which numerous prominent musicians and others were prepared to think that Brewer’s musicial achievements somehow mitigated his other actions – ‘the seemingly wider acceptance of this type of behaviour amongst those who should know better’, and also the latest of a whole series of important blog posts on this and related subjects by Norman Lebrecht , exploring a similar angle. This distorted moral thinking amongst musicians needs to be properly challenged, as both Duchen and Lebrecht rightly imply.]


Greater Manchester Police are conducting an investigation into a variety of complaints of sexual abuse related to Chetham’s School of Music and a dedicated Operation called “Kiso” has been established to support this. As an organisation, we recognise that reporting sexual abuse, which occurred some time ago is an incredibly difficult thing to do and we will afford anyone who comes forward, all the appropriate support to discuss events in their own time. We would urge anyone who wishes to report abuse or with information, to contact Greater Manchester Police on 0161 856 6777 or via email, op.kiso@gmp.police.uk. Alternatively, persons who wish to remain anonymous may contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111 .

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In the Aftermath of the Brewer Sentencing – A Few Short Thoughts and Pieces of Information

Petition for Public Inquiry into Abuse in Musical Education – November 2013

Today Michael Brewer was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment, Kay Brewer to 21 months. I have no intention of gloating over this or anything like this; imprisonment is an unfortunate necessity rather than something to celebrate, and I would not want to make this an issue of vengeance. The solution to a musical world permeated by hatred, contempt and dehumanisation is not simply more hatred. But there is still much to do in terms of raising public awareness of abuse in musical education.

Since starting the petition I have been inundated with correspondence, including a vast amount of testimonies to sexual abuse throughout the various specialist music schools and colleges, as well as equally disturbing information on sustained psychological abuse, sometimes with lasting and decimating consequences. This can never be justified, and I do not at all accept that it is in any sense a necessary part of musical education. There have even been crazy arguments suggesting that some of those who were abused, but went on to have successful musical careers, have nothing to complain about – an example of a truly distorted moral thinking. Human beings and their welfare are more important than music or art; human interests are more vital than aesthetic concerns. That to me is the bottom line, and nowhere is it more vital than in education.

In terms of dealing with the highly confidential and sensitive information I have received, I have been lucky enough to find a small group of people able to help me (dealing with this single-handed is just too much, in terms both of time and emotional energy, to handle). That said, nothing will ever be shared with anyone else without permission. Anyone with further information which they wish to share concerning any type of abuse in music education should contact me at ian@ianpace.com .Please do indicate if you would be happy for it to be shared with the team. We can advise on how best to proceed now, and are also in contact with the police. Please bear in mind that nothing will be shared further without permission, nor do we wish to place any pressure upon people in any respect.

Otherwise, I would like to urge everyone who has signed the petition (and anyone else) to write to their local MP, and preferably as soon as possible. The more MPs are made aware of it by constituents, the stronger the political pressure for an inquiry will be in Parliament. If you are not aware of who is your local MP, go to http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ and enter your postcode – you should be provided with full contact details for him/her. Several of us working together have produced a basic template for the type of letter you might use which is printed below – naturally feel free to modify it or replace it with something else of your own. I would recommend including a short bit about yourself, in particular stressing any connection you might have to Chet’s or any other musical institution. I have included a clause for those who might be prepared to meet with their local MP – several people have already made appointments for this. If anyone plans to do this and wants some further briefing, please do contact me.

It is also naturally paramount to attach a copy of the petition, which is attached at the top of this post.

Otherwise, I will continue to collect a list of ‘additional names’ for the petition, so please do feel free to continue contacting me if you wish to support it.

As I have said before, I have plans to write at much more length about all of this on here in time. Right now that time is not available, but I hope to make a start over this weekend.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign, and above all to those victims who have been brave enough to come forward. The following three links feature the most important broadcast features from the last two days:

http://www.itv.com/news/2013-03-25/sex-abuse-claims-spread-beyond-manchester-music-school/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21941874

http://www.channel4.com/news/chethams-sexual-abuse-andrade-manchester-music-school

I intend to give a big series of links to wider articles in due course. The following article from today, by the pioneering Guardian journalist Helen Pidd, is especially important – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/mar/26/chethams-music-school-sexual-abuse-inquiry

The full remarks of the judge prior to sentencing can be found here – warning, these are extremely graphic and could act as a trigger to some – http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-brewer-sentencing-remarks.pdf 

I am particular pleased (as much as one can be ‘pleased’ with anything here) that he chose to draw attention to the ways in which so many prominent people were prepared to back Brewer, in full knowledge of his crimes, because of some misguided ideas that his artistry mitigated against this. To confuse the artist and the person is to me one of the most fundamental errors which has corrupted artistic life at least since the 19th century – it both legitimises henious behaviour on the part of artists, and also makes it possible for music teachers to colonise and dominate their students’ whole beings, as well as to make musicians stand and fall as people purely on grounds of their particular artistic achievements. If there could be some more scepticism about this misguided notion (which some of us who have studied music under dictatorial regimes, and seen the patterns of cynicism, compliance, and complicity which can result, know to be fallacious), then something positive will have been achieved.

Dear (Member of Parliament),

I am writing as a concerned constituent to ask you to support a petition calling for an independent inquiry into sexual and other abuse in specialist music education.
This petition has been signed by over 1000 people, the majority of them musicians, and includes over 300 former pupils from Chetham’s School of Music, one of the country’s leading specialist music schools.

The petition is attached as a PDF, and it can also be viewed online, with signatories and comments, at https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/petition-for-an-inquiry-into-sexual-and-other-abuse-at-specialist-music-schools-the-list-of-signatories/ .

The call for this petition has come in the wake of the recent conviction of Michael Brewer and his wife, Hilary Kay Brewer, on charges of sexual assault against Frances Andrade whilst she was a student at the school. Michael Brewer was Director of Music at Chetham’s when the offences took place. Frances tragically took her life during the course of the trial, and a wide range of further allegations have, as a result of the court case, surfaced since the verdict.

The primary initiator of the petition, Ian Pace (ian@ianpace.com ) has been contacted by a great many people with many other allegations to suggest that abuse was a widespread phenomenon, at least in former times, and that such abuse spread well beyond Chetham’s to other specialist music institutions throughout the country – many former victims are now finally feeling empowered, sometimes decades after the events in question, to go forward to the police.

On this basis, the signatories are calling for an inquiry into the many aspects of musical education and the workings of these institutions. It is hoped that an inquiry would set out to comprehend why and how such abusive behaviour could apparently so easily occur, and would seek to make certain that current and future procedures are robust enough to ensure that this may be prevented in the future, whilst safeguarding the best aspects of such education and protecting teachers as well.

The safeguarding of all children in education must be a priority to all, but the specialist nature of music education demands a vigorous approach to their safeguarding. The bonds between a music student and their teacher are, by their very nature, intense; the level of study is demanding and the commitment to the subject by both parties means that the relationship between student and teacher is a unique one.

I very much hope that you will see fit to give your own support to such an inquiry, which would, I believe, serve to strengthen the musical education in our country, for both current and future generations.

If you would like further information, [I would be more than happy to meet with you, or] you can contact the petition organiser, Ian Pace, at ian@ianpace.com

Yours sincerely,

Greater Manchester Police are conducting an investigation into a variety of complaints of sexual abuse related to Chetham’s School of Music and a dedicated Operation called “Kiso” has been established to support this. As an organisation, we recognise that reporting sexual abuse, which occurred some time ago is an incredibly difficult thing to do and we will afford anyone who comes forward, all the appropriate support to discuss events in their own time. We would urge anyone who wishes to report abuse or with information, to contact Greater Manchester Police on 0161 856 6777 or via email, op.kiso@gmp.police.uk. Alternatively, persons who wish to remain anonymous may contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111 .