Musicological Observations 9: Practitioners and Scholars – Advocacy vs Criticism?

A recent social media thread from Cambridge Professor of Music Marina Frolova-Walker, following reading of some unhappy Twitter exchanges between musicians and musicologists. I am not exactly sure which, but there had recently been a particularly angry set of responses to conductor Kenneth Woods after his suggestion that some young musicians were not getting the type of training and experience they need when the National Youth Orchestra spent half a programme on some contemporary works – which I have not personally heard – which he described as ‘tenth rate’ and not featuring much of consequence for the players to do. Some may not realise that any type of value judgement is rejected and even despised in some musicological quarters, and so many responses were to pile on Woods for daring to indulge in such a thing, which is after all ‘subjective’ (as if a lot of what musicologists say and write does not also fall into this category).

Anyhow, Frolova-Walker (who I am citing with permission) suggested wryly (and perhaps only half-seriously) that musical practitioners and music academics might to best to keep apart from each other, since they inhabit such different worlds, value systems, use different vocabularies, etc. This provoked considerable debate, some including myself reluctant to throw in the towel when it comes to fruitful interactions between practitioners and scholars. One of Frolova-Walker’s conclusions was ‘performing is about advocacy, musicology is about criticism’. From a position of high respect, I want to consider this dichotomy further. For the purposes of this post, I define ‘scholars’ as those who produce generally written outputs in the standard forms (article, book chapter, monograph) for academic publishers; ‘practitioners’ as those whose work is primarily in the form of practice – performance, composition, artistic installation, recording, video, etc.

This issue, which I have touched upon in earlier blog posts (see here, here, here and here) is naturally very close to my own heart, as I straddle the worlds of performance and scholarship. Sometimes I like to think this makes me able to bridge the two worlds, but equally often I can feel estranged from and sceptical about both. Frolova-Walker’s point about different vocabularies employed by practitioners and scholars is highly familiar; even such basic terms as ‘the canon’ or ‘Western art music’ are found much more frequently amongst scholars than practitioners, in my experience, whilst few scholars are happy with ideas of ‘musicality’ and the like.

I have recently published two articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement arguing for the need for universities to facilitate higher academic status and progression for a range of practitioners in the performing arts (see here and here), questioning in particular the use (in the UK) of the Research Excellence Framework as the primary measure of the value of their work. This short article is in a sense a rejoinder to those from a different perspective which realises the limits of the field of practitioners, after advocating for their academic integration.

The concepts of ‘advocacy’ and ‘criticism’ can of course have a variety of meanings or emphases. ‘Advocacy’ can mean a basically supportive though not uncritical view of some phenomenon (such as some artistic work), but can also mean either a rigid or even a defensive attitude towards such a thing, which brooks for no dissenting views, and thus can be dismissive of such views, or even try to pathologise those who hold them. ‘Criticism’ can imply something a primarily pejorative view of a phenomenon (in that sense, the direct opposite of advocacy), but here I believe it was intended more in the manner of ‘critique’, relating to a more dispassionate evaluation of a phenomenon (in the case of musicology, this could be an aesthetic critique, an ideology critique, or other type of commentary or analysis of musical phenomena undertaken with that degree of critical distance that is generally believed to be the best approach for a scholar).

Can or should musicologists be advocates? The former Regius Professor of Music at Cambridge, Nicholas Cook, thinks they should not. In a 2003 article (‘Writing on Music or Axes to Grind: road rage and musical community’, Music Education Research, vol. 5, no. 3 (November 2003), pp. 249-261), examines a range of types of advocacy found in musical writing – for individual composers and performers (especially in biographical writing), for rock musicians by demonstrating various qualities within their work, advocacy for new music, arguing for its merits in the face of marginalisation, for early music, and political advocacy for the writers’ informants in ethnomusicology. Cook is especially scathing on forms of advocacy for new music which positively valorise its alleged resistance to consumer culture (breaching Godwin’s Law in a hyperbolic passage in which he compares the view of one protagonist expressing such a position, Anne Boissière to a tradition of thought which ‘fed ultimately into the Nazi creed of “blood and soil”‘ (p. 257). But in terms of advocacy based on value judgement, after surveying in particular the relationship between this and analysis at the hands of the likes of Heinrich Schenker, Carl Dahlhaus and Rudolph Réti, Cook delivers the following pronouncement, ending in a formulation reminiscent of Leopold Ranke’s view of the job of history:

It seems to me that the idea of the musical academy acting as some kind of quality control, with musicologists or theorists issuing admission tickets to a canonic hall of fame, is way past its sell-by date, and that the prerequisite for a more open-minded approach to musical culture than musicology has traditionally had is a more modest intellectual ambition: to register, to describe, to establish the facts as they are. (p. 259)

While taking Cook’s views seriously (though not his outrageous slur on Boissière), I disagree with this rejection of value judgement and advocacy in general, reject his caricature of ‘musicologists and theorists’, and find it hard to imagine such a view coming from a practising musician, who would have a different personal relationship with the music in question. (I also do not believe there is such a thing as ‘establishing the facts as they are’, somehow free from the interpretive lens of the academic who is doing that (though this is no sense to take a post-modern ‘anything goes’ attitude with respect to relatively objective factual data), but that is a different matter.)

It is hard to see why one would wish to spend a very considerable amount of time or energy on studying music if one did not care about it, or at least find it fascinating. The exceptions might be if one has a passion for history, sociology or another discipline distinct from music, so one studies the music to learn more about the wider history, the society from which it comes, and so on. I have spent some fair amount of time considering what I consider minor and now-forgotten works in various traditions, not in order to uncover ‘lost masterpieces’ (though it is of course a bonus if one finds something really striking in such research), but rather to gain a wider understanding of the context in which other music which I do value was developed, or to comprehend better developments in style, genre, and so on.

Nonetheless, there are basic principles developed in the humanities which I believe continue to be as essential as ever in musical scholarship: maintaining a key awareness of the range of data available and its limitations, not ignoring inconvenient findings if they might interfere with a priori theories or conclusions, familiarising oneself and engaging critically with existing secondary literature and recognising the relationship of one’s own work to what has already been achieved, understanding that the assumptions, tastes, priorities and values of other times and places may be quite different from one’s own, and most importantly here, maintaining a degree of healthy critical distance from one’s subject, so as to be able to assess and interpret it in a more balanced manner, while avoiding the types of highly subjective judgements which rely essentially on whim rather than more substantive and detailed appraisal. For music, I would add the avoidance of pronouncing on music without having heard it (or, where music has been published but either never-yet performed, or no recording exists, studying the score as the next-best thing). Furthermore, in general I believe it is better if scholars are at least guarded before making blatant political pronouncements which assume the reader share their own particular ideological convictions. If the arguments and interpretations are made in a rigorous and well-substantiated fashion, the reader is perfectly capable of drawing their own political conclusions.

I do enjoy immensely reading scholarly work on music (of all types and traditions) by those who clearly have a passion for it, including on occasions when I might not share the same aesthetic view as the writer, at least initially. I may hear some music which makes an impression, but not always be clear to myself why this is the case, and am always interested to know more of its workings in order to understand more about my own reaction. Amongst large bodies of work, such as Marenzio’s Madrigals, Haydn’s Symphonies, Schubert’s songs or Miles Davis’s albums, I am interested in reading those intimately familiar with such bodies of work and their arguments for why some parts of these oeuvres might be especially distinctive. I (and I am sure a great many others) am perfectly capable of still having my own view after such reading, and of course there has always been lively debate amongst different people about aesthetic matters; Cook’s view of such advocacy as a type of hegemony appears to assume that readers will inevitably have an opinion imposed on them, and presents them as essentially passive. By contrast, as I have argued in a review-article on his book Beyond the Score: Music as Performance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), I can find Cook’s stand-offish approach clinical and alienating, objectifying and removing the life from music by treating it like a laboratory specimen. It is more ‘open-minded’ to allow for advocacy, at least of certain types, than to attempt to have it banished from scholarly writing, as Cook seems to wish.

However, to give the range of Cook’s arguments the proper consideration they deserve, some of the more questionable types of advocacy within musicology he identifies do certainly exist. The line dividing some supposedly scholarly writing on popular music from that which might appear in a ‘fanzine’ is not always carefully drawn (not least because popular music scholars are not so often well-versed in the types of more detailed perspectives on aesthetics which can be found elsewhere, including in some popular music journalism or other non-academic writing). In and outside of ethnomusicology, ‘activist’ writing can be an unedifying spectacle, eschewing attempts at scholarly balance and critical distance in favour of bald assertion of political points, to an extent that I would question whether some such work really qualifies as scholarship. And, as I said earlier, there are forms of advocacy that rest either on the simple fact that such a view is commonplace, and has been over an extended period, or the assumption that there must be something wrong with anyone who disagrees (an approach which unfortunately permeates such composer monographs as that of Lois Fitch on Brian Ferneyhough, of Pirkko Moisala on Kaija Saariaho).

The works of Fitch and Moisala may be amongst the most egregious examples, but they epitomise a wider phenomenon within writing on new music, one of the areas mentioned by Cook (about which I have been writing much for publications recently, and on which I am preparing a longer blog post). A very large number of practitioners working in research positions in UK academic departments are involved with new music, including myself. In this context I have found the dichotomy between advocacy and criticism to be most acute.

While a few practitioners also produce written and other outputs (as I do, some of which have no direct or obvious link to my own practice), others are focused primarily or exclusively on their practice. More to the point, they frequently also operate in external non-academic arenas, sites dominated by different values, attitudes and behaviours than one might find in academia. Practitioners need to network with those with the power to grant them commissions, performances, exhibits, etc., have to advocate strongly for their own work and sometimes that of others, and often cannot risk expressing views or perspectives which might give grounds for any scepticism about their work, or which those with whom they network might not favour. I have certainly found this when attempting to engage some in the new music world with issues of the development of that world in the aftermath of fascism, or the more specific example of the patronage of new music by the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung, bearing in mind that the Siemens family fortune rests at least in part on their having run slave labour camps at Auschwitz, then spent 30 years trying to fight against compensation claims from survivors – not what those who have received or wish to receive a major grant from this organisation, or their acolytes, wish to hear. Often they are part of wider networks of practitioners whose collective reputation impacts upon their own individual one, and so need to be staunch advocates for these networks.

Amongst practitioners operating in more highly commercialised environments (compared to that of new music, which can at least occasionally entertain some more critical discourse within its ranks), in which total loyalty to an employer, an outfit, a brand, etc., can be utterly essential, and anything else might have one ostracised, these issues may be even more acute. Some of those working in academic departments who are also pursuing commercial work can be mystified when they encounter the type of critical discourse pursued by musicologists, uncomprehending of why one would engage in the type of thinking which may be at cross-purposes with what might help one gain work. Similarly, study of the music industries/business can take radically different forms depending upon whether one is seeking to understand their workings, operations, priorities in the manner of a scholar, or trying to look at (or teach others) who best to succeed in them. Nonetheless, there are important figures with commercial connections who can move between such discourses.

In many institutions and conferences, I have sat through a range of events billed as research presentations by composers, improvisers, sound artists, other performers, and so on, which amount essentially to a form of self-advocacy or even self-promotion, somewhat akin to ‘artists’ statements’. The practitioner will describe what they do, why they chose to embark on a particular project, how they set about this, often with some liberal number of references both to other admired artists to whose work this practitioner links their own, and to certain intellectual figures (Gilles Deleuze or Bruno Latour are often a safe bet, and increasingly a few writings by anthropologist Tim Ingold, though rarely his highly critical articles on ethnography or soundscape), as well as to key concepts from philosophy and other fields (not always presented in a manner which accords with their recognised and established meanings) as part of the process of situating one’s work within a research culture. This is distinct from autoethnography (which, for reasons too intricate to go into here, but which I have argued elsewhere, I do think is often quite deeply linked to the framing of practice-as-research), which is not simply autobiography, but at best entails a critical perspective on the self and the practice in which they are engaged. Occasionally one will encounter a bit of critical self-reflection in such research presentations, entertaining the possibility that it entailed failures as well as successes, but I have found this increasingly rare, as if the practitioners are loath to engage in something which might make themselves seem vulnerable.

Of course there is an important place for this type of self-advocacy, but the values and attitudes it embodies appear at cross-purposes with those of more disinterested humanities scholarship. For this reason, situating practice-research (for this type of presentation invariably relates to such a thing) within the humanities may be a category error.

It would also be unfair to associate this type of advocacy and lack of critique exclusively with practitioners. I have certainly encountered it frequently in some presentations on popular music (in the manner mentioned above), certain types of ethnography dominated by simple representation of the views of the informants, with little critical interpretation (to such an extent that some such work can appear hagiographic, as I have argued in a variety of cases – see my two essays on ethnography in this volume), or those soundscape studies which consist primarily of listing a range of sounds to be found in a particular location, whereby the simple fact of the sounds being variegated appears to suffice for interpretation.

Some of those can rub off on those working in academia who are not themselves practitioners, but write about contemporary work (this was a recurrent subject in the 2017 conference at the University of Surrey on ‘Writing on Contemporary Artists’, where it was fascinating to find how many scholars working on different artistic disciplines had experienced the same issues, conflicts of interests, and so on). Many will share faculties with practitioners, sometimes working in fields related to those about which they write. In my experience, such practitioners, especially those who believe their fields to be beleaguered or little recognised in a wider social context (as with many in new music, not least electroacoustic music), can respond very negatively and even in a hostile fashion that the sort of critical writing which might do something other than simply flatter the type of work they do. While this can only be conjecture/speculation, I do believe that this type of ‘peer pressure’ often has an impact on scholars, leading them to avoid more difficult critical questions, aesthetic or otherwise. But this compromises the depth and integrity of their research, and in my view has led to scholarly writing on new music remaining a very uneven field compared to those dealing with other areas, where will not interact almost on a daily basis with individuals deeply invested in such fields.

This is the type of major conflict which can result from the integration of practitioners in academia without some grounding in wider critical scholarly discourse and the values of the humanities. It can also be damaging for teaching, if one might otherwise not necessarily deem a practitioner colleague sufficiently significant to be included in a survey of a field of work, or might wish to unpack some of the aesthetic and ideological assumptions behind their work or those of the circles with which they are involved. Here we do see advocacy and critique drastically at cross-purposes.

But I do not believe this has to be the case, so long as there is recognition the distinct qualities and types of expertise of scholars and practitioners, neither conflates these nor tries to establish a rigid hierarchy, and respects the independent perspectives and academic freedom of each. With teaching, this can be more complicated; here I would aver that on balance scholars might hold back from engaging in practical teaching, and practitioners from scholarly teaching, if they do not have considerable experience of their own in such fields. Teleological views of music history which just happen to feature the work of the composer teaching them as the telos, academic study of performance trends and cultures which are centered around the work of the performer teaching them, or abstract and dry directives on how music should be played on the basis of academic knowledge, by those who have little experience themselves of the process of performing music, are not often good practice in these respective areas.

Music-making can exist without musicology (indeed has done or continues to do so in various times and places), but musicology not engaged with music or music-making which still remains a living concern at least to some (which in no sense means any prioritisation of contemporary work), or has the potential to be so, will invite, not unreasonably, charges of ‘ivory-towerism’. Academics talking solely to each other is not always encouraging, nor an insistence that their own work is only valorised by those other academics (usually within the same sub-discipline, and often sharing a range of ideological assumptions) who by virtue of their very position can never really be more disinterested judges of the wider societal or other value of such work.

It is in my view essential that academic musicians are engaged with music and music-making existing outside of academia, without in the process sacrificing their scholarly independence. This is not about adopting advocacy wholesale, but recognising a world in which this does play a very major role, developing perspectives on this which are not blindly dismissive, but also demanding that practitioners equally recognise that academics must need share the assumptions appertaining to the particular (and sometimes small) cultural or social milieu inhabited by some practitioners.


A scathing indictment of John Vallins’ leadership at Chetham’s

I have recently been contacted by a former senior member of staff at Chetham’s in the 1980s, who had regular contact with the then-headmaster, John Vallins. With their permission, I am publishing here a letter sent to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and also to the current joint heads of the school. It offers a trenchantly expressed and troubling view of the (lack of) leadership under Vallins’ tenure. Following his lacklustre performance at the hearings, I believe a statement is needed from Vallins following the publication of the inquiry’s report.

Dear,

Thank you for the heads-up about the publication of the IICSA Report. The Report has an appalling vividness and intensity for me because, as you probably know, Chets was an important part of my life in the late eighties. It seems to me to be thorough and accurate and it provides some helpful recommendations. If well heeded it will be a useful milestone along our long and tortuous journey to a safer world for children and young people. 

I would have liked the Report to have emphasised more clearly, though, the all-important role of leaders in forming and shaping the ethos of these school communities. We can assume that there will always be a propensity for abuse in our communities; unfortunately this is a fact of life. Effective leaders know this and can protect (safeguard) us all from our wilder tendencies and channel our energies positively. For residential school communities this is the single most important factor in determining the health of the community. 

The Chets referred to in the Report was a fertile substrate for abuse of every kind: there was a total absence of what we would consider to be “normal” and essential school practice, procedures, attitudes and accountabilities. All attempts to modernise and introduce elements of professional normality were blocked and ridiculed. The Head liked to think of himself as an inspiring figurehead, someone who, as he often said, was  “effortlessly superior” to everyone else; his decisions were driven by ignorance, snobbery, foolish self-interest and prejudice… or more often simply avoided. If things became difficult he would become petulant and throw a temper tantrum. There was no “leadership” climate: rather a climate of often malevolent dysfunction with interpersonal suspicion, tension and frustration. It is no wonder that in such a climate certain adults with what we might call “borderline” personalities, and who in a well run school might have been contained or sacked as soon as problems arose, abandoned any pretence of decency and developed their appalling habits of abusive behaviour, over many years in some cases, as set out in the Report.

In my view, the Report gives insufficient emphasis to this all-important causative element, namely the Head’s abject, utter and contemptible failure to lead, and by his behaviour, his creation of the conditions in which abuse could flourish. That, to me, was criminal negligence and I will make this point to the authors of the Report.

I cannot tell you how heartening it is for me, having experienced the madness of the past and having struggled in vain to improve things at Chetham’s, to see the two of you providing the inspired, courageous, ethical and confident leadership that every one of those young people deserves and needs. I know full well how hard, how personally invasive, it can be, 24/7, and I am reassured and inspired to see your innovative, visionary and determined approach to shared leadership of this wonderful community. ****,**** and I are confident that we made the best choice for her, thanks to you.

If ever there is anything I or **** can do to assist in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.

With warm regards and bon courage!


On the importance of teaching musical theory and technique

In the period prior to the end of the Crimean War (1856), Russian musical life differed in various respects from that in other leading European countries. It was dominated by opera, but much else went on in aristocratic salons, with few regular concert societies. One exception, the St Petersburg Philharmonic Society, founded in 1802 (and which gave the premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in 1824) mostly produced popular numbers from Italian opera. To be a professional musician meant being in the service of the state, which was unacceptable to most aristocrats. Most major recitals were given by visiting foreign artists, while few Russian composers had a formal musical training. The great pianist Nikolay Rubinstein, who had begun a professional career as a pianist in 1854 (he would later give the premieres of Mily Balakirev’s notorious piano piece Islamey (1869) and was a champion of Chaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto), was made to give up this career in 1855 in order to marry Yelizaveta Dmitriyevna Khrushchova, daughter of a prominent Moscow official, as the profession was deemed as little more than a low-class entertainer. The marriage however turned sour, and Nikolay resumed his career after they separated in 1858.

Nikolay’s older brother Anton, an equally leading pianist and also composer who spent much time travelling around Europe for concerts (both brothers had also spent four years in Berlin when young), wrote an article in the Viennese journal Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst in 1855 entitled ‘Die Komponisten Rußland’s’, in which he was sharply critical of the reliance of existing Russian music on allusions to folk songs and dance melodies, provoking some fury from nationalistically-minded composers (some of it deeply anti-semitic in nature), especially Mikhail Glinka, who had been singled out by Rubinstein. But Rubinstein’s article betokened a wider view, as he would later articulate – to him, Russian music was amateurish and dilletantish compared with that he had encountered elsewhere, in large measure down to the lack of provision of professional training, especially compared to that in the German Confederation. Some other Russian composers, led by Mily Balakirev, strongly opposed Rubinstein’s plans, believing him to be planning to import foreign and academic ideas to Russia (once again, in the ugly exchanges, Rubinstein’s Jewishness and the concomitant view that he was less deeply rooted in Russian culture and tradition than others, continued to be evoked). To teach compositional and other technique, to many nationalists, was in contradiction to the idea that it lay somehow deep within the Russian soul, an almost mystical conception. But with his convictions in mind, Rubinstein sought to establish a conservatoire on the model of those in other European cities to provide the training he sought. He was able to do this in 1862, in part due to the support of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, in whose household he had earlier worked as an accompanist for singers, also due to relaxations in higher education brought in under the reign of Tsar Alexander II from 1855, enabling music graduates to call themselves ‘Free Artists’, which freed them from military service and some taxation.

Today the conservatoires in St Petersburg and Moscow (which was founded in 1866 by Nikolay) are amongst the most renowned in the world, and it is strange to think of how their very foundation occasioned such controversy. In 1871 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was invited to teach composition and orchestration (while remaining in the navy and teaching in uniform). Rimsky-Korsakov had previously been close to the Balakirev faction, but he changed ideological direction at this point and undertook his own intensive study of compositional technique, harmony and counterpoint, in order to be able to teach them. This also bore great fruit in his work, as can be found in works such as the Symphony No. 3 (1866-1873, rev. 1886).

This story came to mind in light of hearing similar arguments both over a period in musicological circles, and in an exchange (in Spanish) on social media. Commonly the type of argument in its contemporary guise goes as follows, with respect to composition teaching: ‘There is no need to teach boring things like harmony and counterpoint, the point is to allow students to be creative‘. Music theory is viewed in opposition to some sort of innate creativity, and the purpose of composition teaching is simply to liberate this, give students a type of ‘permission’ to express themselves however they want. Sometimes one will hear cited the words of John Cage recalling how his own ‘teacher’ (in a loose sense of the word) Arnold Schoenberg told him that he had no feeling for harmony and would come up against a wall which would prevent him from progressing, to which Cage replied that he would continue to beat his head against this wall (the veracity of Cage’s many anecdotes should always be treated with some scepticism, as he was clearly someone who carefully constructed his own mythology). As such, some of those identifying themselves with the field of ‘experimental music’ can be amongst the most vociferous opponents of the teaching of traditional technique (and some indeed advocate primarily for amateur rather than professional music-making).

But I find utterly unconvincing this opposition between technique and creativity, in music or any other art form. Harmony is a factor in most forms of Western music; that in jazz is every bit as sophisticated as in much classical music. Some other musical traditions, such as many from the Arab world, are primarily monophonic, but the primary focus of most education in the West, unsurprisingly and not unnaturally, is upon the range of traditions which have developed here, and this is the primary focus of most students (it would be as strange for Western institutions to discontinue the teaching of Western traditions as for Chinese institutions to do the same with their own). There are varieties of new music which owe relatively little to such traditions (such as that of Cage and some of his followers, or perhaps around Iannis Xenakis as well), but these are niche interests, like much new music (I will be writing more about this in a subsequent blog post). Most of those drawn to more integrative art music traditions, popular musics, musical theatre, film music and much else are dealing with musics rooted in developed harmonic traditions. To understand the workings of these and the possibilities thus engendered is to expand the range of possible creative application, not to narrow it.

The teaching of counterpoint has had an interesting history. In the Renaissance harmony was largely seen as a by-product of counterpoint, indicating particular ways in which musical lines formed vertical groupings of consonances and dissonances at particular points. In a gradual process from the advent of the seconda pratica at the beginning of the 17th century, harmony, and the structural relationships between different chords, came to assume an ever more prominent position in theory and education, coming to supersede the teaching of counterpoint in some places by the early 19th century, not least at the Paris Conservatoire. Certainly plenty of composers of this period, such as Frédéric Chopin or Johannes Brahms, still believed in the value of knowledge of counterpoint and studied it diligently. It was later in the century that counterpoint returned centre-stage in Paris, in the context of a post-1871 era which witnessed increased interest in earlier (pre-revolutionary) French musical traditions (which were viewed as archaic and reactionary after 1789), and became fundamental to the work and teaching of Gabriel Fauré, who was director of the Conservatoire from 1905 to 1920. Ultimately, I believe many who have studied it are deeply conscious of the value of understanding the interactions of lines even for the purpose of teaching more vertically-oriented music.

The same goes for the teaching of instrumental and orchestral technique – understanding the possibilities and limitations of different instruments, their particular characteristics and the results of performers employing certain techniques, and of course the ways in which they can be combined to optimal effect. Anyone wanting to write for live musicians can surely only gain from such knowledge, enabling more incisive use of such instruments. The same can be said for the compositional study of vocal technique.

Some such theoretical teaching is dismissed by some as simply a set of antiquated practices irrelevant to the modern era, and a means of artificially elevated the status of the group of dead white (mostly) males who developed them. But the same could be said of most technical or technological innovations which occurred in the West – would people reject the use of the telephone or the computer or the train for the same reason? In my opinion, very little music of lasting consequence is created ‘out of nothing’, most draws upon knowledge and understanding of other music which has preceded it, and can build upon or enter into a more critical relationship with its achievements (and limitations).

And once again this is not unique to classical traditions, as many others have highly developed and sophisticated styles which are the result of the application of various techniques. Sometimes these are of a different nature or constitute a different set of priorities, for sure; the sort of intricate thematic development which has traditionally accompanied a good deal of music in the sonata/symphonic classical tradition from the late 18th century is much less of a factor in popular song, for example, and other approaches to vocal writing, or particular use of instruments and electronic timbres, play a more central role. As one commentator on the thread linked to earlier pointed out, a great many blues musicians learned their craft through hours of listening, practice and imitation, which are another form of learning of technique. Those who idealise impressive instrumental improvised solos from jazz or other musicians may not always be aware of the many hours of work which have gone into developing the ability (not least the inner self-criticism) to do these, to go beyond simple repetition of known figurations, to be able to achieve fluency and genuine spontaneity, and so on; improvisation builds upon technique as much as any form of music-making.

It would be narrow to suggest that only a particular set of techniques from the common practice period should be taught (equally narrow not to teach them, however), and there is a reasonable argument that music theory and compositional technique should encompass a more plural range of traditions than has sometimes been the case hitherto. But the argument which opposes technique to creativity is myopic, primitivist and amateurish, in line with those arguments maintaining everyone is an artist and to pretend otherwise is the unwelcome hegemony of an elite, arguments which were soundly critiqued here. The professionalisation of musical education may in certain senses be ‘elitist’, in the sense that those who have had a professional training generally achieve skills and abilities which set them apart from those who have not. But to reject this type of elitism is really to reject education altogether, and (re-)institute other forms of less welcome elitism and discrimination, for if there is no reason to judge the quality of anyone’s work, one can be sure that other measures (which may relate to possession of independent means, family connections, and so on) will determine which art achieves some prominence.

Ultimately, if we eschew the teaching of compositional technique in education, we are giving students a meagre offering for the considerable amount of money they spend on such education. There are students who would prefer not to have to put in the considerable amount of self-directed study required to develop technique (definitely this cannot be achieved exclusively in the classroom), but to pander to this view is to facilitate a form of infantilisation and discourage students from developing the greater intellectual and creative maturity which will serve them well after graduation. If we want to help students be creative, we should be helping to provide them with the means to do so. And the wider the range of techniques taught, the greater the range of possibilities thus opened up.


(The story about the conservatoire and professionalisation of Russian musical life in the nineteenth century is covered in various books on Russian music and the Rubinsteins, but the most comprehensive treatment can be found in Lynn M. Sargeant’s Harmony & Discord: Music and the Transformation of Russian Cultural Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)).


A further question concerning Robert Waddington, former Dean of Manchester Cathedral, and Chetham’s School of Music

I just came across an important piece of information to which I was directed by Fiona Gardner’s book Sex, Power, Control: Responding to Abuse in the Institutional Church (Cambridge: The Letterbox Press, 2021), which itself references the 2014 article ‘Litany of Failure’ by investigative journalist Amanda Gearing, who has done the most important research into the abuse of children at the hands of Robert Waddington, who was Dean of Manchester Cathedral from 1984 to 1993. Allegations of abuse were made against Waddington dating back to when he was headteacher at a school in Ravenshoe, Australia, in the 1960s, and others followed from when he returned to England in the 1970s and during his time at Manchester. A 2020 report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was sharply critical of the lack of action on the part of the Church of England when allegations about Waddington’s activities were brought to their attention. I am unaware of any specific allegations of abuse on Waddington’s part towards pupils at Chetham’s School of Music, from which many younger boys formed a statutory part of the choir at Manchester Cathedral (the ‘stats’, as opposed to other volunteers not from Chetham’s, known as the ‘vollies’, from which latter group came Eli Ward, who has made allegations about Waddington). However, as I outlined in a 2013 post, the links between the cathedral and the school were numerous, Waddington was close to the then-headmaster of Chetham’s, John Vallins, and was on the board of governors for Chetham’s throughout his tenure as Dean, as well as being a Feoffee (responsible for the wider body including the school and the library). In this earlier post and that which I published on Friday as the second part of my response to the IICSA report on residential schools, I noted the fact that when the grevious case of Chris Ling came to the attention of the school in 1990 after he had left the country for the US together with several students, including a major police investigation (though which did not lead to extradition, which would have to wait until Operation Kiso in 2013-15), Waddington himself was on the governing body. So a governing body facing very serious allegations against a former member of staff contained at least one individual to whom all the evidence points to his having been an abuser himself (this claim is cited in Gardner’s book). The minutes from the governors’ meeting following Ling’s relocation to the US can be read here.

(‘He’ is John Vallins, the Headmaster at the time)

But there is another detail which I missed before. I noted in 2013 that Stuart Beer and Gordon Stewart both also worked at Chetham’s (they were there during my time). Gearing writes the following:

Waddington was promoted to Dean of Manchester in 1984 where he was a governor on several school boards, including Chetham’s Music School.

In the 1980s, Manchester Cathedral master of the choir Stuart Beer reported his concerns about the then Dean’s relationship with Eli Ward, to the cathedral organist and choir director Gordon Stuart, who reported to the Cathedral Chapter.

I had not previously noticed that Ward’s concerns were shared with Beer and Stuart. Considering the close relationship with the school and Vallins, was the latter made aware of any of this at the time? In light of various claims about Vallins knowing about claims of abuse but not acting upon them, this is another relevant question.


The IICSA Report into Residential Schools – material on specialist music schools and some initial thoughts – Part 2

This post continues from that which I posted earlier this week following the publication of the IICSA Report into Residential Schools, including specialist music schools. This received fairly widespread coverage in the UK media, with reports in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Manchester Evening News, and for the BBC (here and here), ITV and Sky News. A direct overview from the inquiry itself can be read here.

In the earlier post I linked to an earlier post of my own giving links to the videos and transcripts of the evidence given to the inquiry over three days in Autumn 2019. This transcript is especially key for Chetham’s, and includes my own evidence, while this transcript is particularly important in relation to the Purcell School.


I have added an extra passage at the end of the previous blog post, which I will also include here, on the role of educational guardians in residential schools, referencing a specific recent example involving Chetham’s:

Educational guardians
14. International students whose parents are not in the UK need an educational guardian if they attend a British boarding school in order to obtain the relevant visa. Educational guardians act in place of the parents while the child is in the UK, supporting the child throughout their studies and providing a home for them during holidays or weekends. He or she may be an individual appointed by the parents, such as a family member or a friend of the family, or the parents may use the services of an agency to provide an educational guardian.

15. Educational guardians are unregulated. There is no statutory licence, compulsory registration or training required for individuals or companies wishing to provide educational guardian services. If an educational guardian is appointed by a parent, the guardian is not required to comply with any standards or to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate, and the school is not required to carry out any checks. This means that individuals who are unsuitable to work with children, or even those who have criminal convictions for child sexual abuse, can be appointed as educational guardians.

16. Currently, the NMS for boarding schools permit a member of school staff to be appointed as the educational guardian of an international student, although some schools do not permit this. As Ms Richards told us, school staff acting as educational guardians blurs boundaries, with the potential to cause problems or to prevent problems surfacing. At Chetham’s in the late 1990s, for example, violin tutor Wen Zhou Li was the educational guardian of a 16-year-old girl whom he sexually abused while she was residing with him during weekends and school holidays. In 2013, shortly after the arrest of Wen Zhou Li, ISI inspectors found that there was another staff member at the school who was acting as an educational guardian to a student.


Part E of the report deals with how allegations are responded to, and the role of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) (a role introduced in 2006 to deal with allegations of abuse against children), also referencing the 2021 report Keeping Children Safe in Education (a modification of earlier reports of the same name). Various types of allegations should be referred to the LADO by a headteacher or chair of governors if the allegations involve the former, but the decision on whether the criteria are met is for one of these individuals to determine. This latter aspect has created a grey area with some headteachers claiming they were unsure whether the threshold was met. The LADO then involves police and social care, but does not investigate themselves. If they believe that an investigation by these bodies is unnecessary, they discuss how to proceed with the ‘case manager’ (usually the headteacher), leading either to further enquiries or no further action. If the former, they negotiate with the school about the nature of the investigation and who would carry it out. If an investigation finds that an allegation is substantiated with sufficient evidence, then the case manager and the LADO should meet to determine any improvements required to prevent such things in the future.

Most ambiguity seems to surround ‘low-level concerns’, which can include the use of ‘inappropriate sexualised, intimidating or offensive language.’ (p. 83) Policies are required to clarify the procedure here, and the inquiry noted that ‘Evidence was provided by residential special schools and some residential specialist music schools which had put in place procedures for reporting low-level concerns’ (p. 84). It also notes the following example of good practice:

At Wells Cathedral School, Mrs Helen Bennett, the DSL from 2006 to 2016, encouraged all staff to report any concerns about staff behaviour to her. She kept detailed notes of these concerns in a confidential file and reviewed these regularly to identify any patterns of behaviour. Mrs Bennett was able to discuss concerns with the headteacher and deputy headteacher who could take appropriate action with the staff member concerned. When Mrs Bennett retired in 2016, Wells Cathedral School continued the system, introducing an online neutral notification form to enable recording and cross-referencing of concerns. (p. 85)

This is however in contrast to the failures of an earlier case at the same school:

However, it should be noted that a low-level concerns policy may not prevent child sexual abuse by a determined perpetrator. At Wells Cathedral School, staff reported low-level concerns about the conduct of Julien Bertrand to the safeguarding lead and the senior leadership team over a period of two years. Bertrand was spoken to on several occasions and given an informal warning and reminded of the importance of boundaries and the school rules, but this did not deter Bertrand, who continued to sexually abuse RS-A202 until the abuse was disclosed to a trusted adult in 2005. (p. 86)



In the following section of Part E of the report, the Michael Brewer case (specifically that which led to his departure from the school) is referenced as an example of the problems inherent in the lack of a staff code of conduct, even after Brewer had left:

At Chetham’s School of Music, the headteacher introduced a staff code of conduct in 1995 following the resignation of the director of music, Michael Brewer, who had been conducting an abusive sexual relationship with a sixth-form pupil. Prior to Brewer’s resignation, there had been no code of conduct or other document setting out guidance and expectations regarding staff interactions with pupils. The staff code of conduct drafted in 1995 was not clear or specific regarding appropriate behaviour with students. Statutory guidance published in 1995 suggested that it may be “helpful” for schools to draw up a code of conduct in consultation with the local authority but it was not mandatory. KCSIE 2021 now requires schools to have a staff code of conduct, so that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with children are made clear. A low-level concerns/neutral notification policy relies on the existence of a staff code of conduct to set out acceptable behaviour. (pp. 87-88)


In the case of the Purcell School, a major problem was the lack of proper recording of allegations against staff:

During Mr Peter Crook’s time as headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School), 2007–2011, there was poor recording of allegations against staff. In January 2009, an allegation of sexual abuse of a student by RS-F20, a staff member at the Purcell School, was referred to the LADO from outside the school. The LADO found that the allegation was unfounded and it was referred back to the school. A very similar allegation was made against RS-F20 in 2014, but no records of the 2009 allegation could be found at the school. Guidance at the time required a “clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, and a note of any action taken and decisions reached”, to be kept on the personnel file for at least 10 years or until the individual reached retirement age. In October 2009, Mr Crook found a member of staff, RS-F80, alone with a pupil, RS-A192, on the school field in the dark. Mr Crook arranged for RS-F80 to receive further safeguarding training but did not make a note of the incident and the action taken until RS-A192 disclosed in May 2010 that she had been sexually abused by RS-F80 on that occasion and had been in an abusive relationship with RS-F80 over several months. (p. 88)


However, some better practice appears to have been followed in 2010:

In May 2010, at the Purcell School, RS-A187, a sixth-form pupil aged under 18, disclosed to a non-teaching member of staff that she had been in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of staff for several months. RS-A187 spoke to several other members of staff and telephoned Childline before the headteacher and DSL were made aware two days later, when the school notified the LADO of the allegation. Statutory guidance required allegations to be reported straight away to the headteacher, in order for the headteacher to make a referral to the LADO. (p. 89)


Nonetheless, the case involving the headteacher himself, Peter Crook, laid bare the failings of a system to protect whistleblowing, a subject to which I will return in my conclusion. Those reporting abuse, sexual harassment, sexist or racist behaviours, or other comparable things will often find that those above them wish to make them into the issue.

55. In 2009 to 2010, staff at the Purcell School reported concerns to the chair of governors that the headteacher, Peter Crook, used sexually explicit and inappropriate language with children at the school. The concerns included a meeting that Mr Crook conducted with the Year 9 boys who boarded, held at his private residence on a Sunday evening, which he later suggested was a personal, social and health education (PSHE) class in response to an incident of sexualised bullying in a boarding house. Ms Margaret Moore, a teacher, reported her concerns about the ‘PSHE class’ anonymously to the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, because she had “a genuine fear of reprisal by the headmaster”. Twenty-five members of staff then sent an anonymous letter as the “Staff Association” to Mr Smallbone stating that this incident “is only one of a number of disturbing interactions between the Headmaster and Purcell students on the subject of human sexuality” and concluding that it was an issue which concerned “children at risk”. The letter was sent anonymously for fear of reprisal by the school. Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that he did not take any action because the whistleblowers wished to remain anonymous. Mr Smallbone discussed the complaints with Mr Crook but did not refer any complaints to the LADO, despite guidance in place at the time requiring a referral to be made to the local authority without discussing the allegation with the person concerned.

56. Following Mr Smallbone’s failure to refer the allegations to the LADO, staff members reported a number of incidents anonymously to Ofsted and the local authority. The local authority found one allegation substantiated in July 2009 and advised that the headteacher should face disciplinary action. The local authority also advised that the ‘PSHE class’ was not an appropriate or sufficient response to bullying and that Mr Crook had breached “appropriate boundaries between staff and students” but concluded that there had been no intent to harm children and therefore that allegation was “unfounded”. The local authority did not appear to have considered whether the incident indicated that the headteacher may have been unsuitable to work with children, although this was a criteria for referral in the statutory guidance at the time but it did advise that the language used was inappropriate and should be dealt with through internal disciplinary procedures.

57. Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that the staff members who reported the concerns about the headteacher were whistleblowers but that he nevertheless considered that “it would have been totally wrong to discipline the headmaster and not the members of staff”. The LADO advised Mr Smallbone that disciplining the whistleblowers would be disproportionate and reminded him that staff must be able to challenge poor practice.

58. Although staff were attempting to follow procedures and raise safeguarding concerns about the headteacher with the chair of governors, their concerns were not dealt with properly, despite the fact that the 2007 statutory guidance required schools to have appropriate whistleblowing procedures in place. There was an attempt to stifle the reporting of concerns internally and to characterise them to external bodies as malicious attempts to undermine the headteacher, who was making changes to the school which were unpopular with some staff. Suspected whistleblowers were required to attend an “intimidating” meeting with governors.


The failures here and lack of action are then summarised as follows:

59. Schools have not always carried out disciplinary investigations or taken appropriate disciplinary action when a LADO refers a case back to them. Mr Crook was never made the subject of any internal disciplinary sanction for incidents of inappropriate conversation with children at the school. During the same period, in 2009, an allegation of a staff member engaging in sexual activity with a student was referred to the LADO from outside the Purcell School. The student would not support a prosecution. The allegation was considered by the strategy meeting to be “unfounded” (“this indicated that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw …. For an allegation to be classified as unfounded it will be necessary to have evidence to disprove the allegation”) and referred back to the school as an internal matter to address “unsafe practice”. The staff member had admitted to police that his relationship with the student was “too close” and that he had hugged and kissed the student on the cheek after rehearsals at his house. Although the original allegation was considered unfounded, the school had information that a teacher had acted inappropriately, which should have given rise to a disciplinary investigation.

60. The current headteacher at the Purcell School, Mr Paul Bambrough, noted that in such circumstances it would be helpful to have further guidance from the LADO on how to proceed following an allegation being handed back to the school. This is another area where schools are reliant on the LADO. Currently there is considerable variation between LADOs in terms of the time dedicated to helping schools once allegations are referred back to them.


Part F considers the nature of leadership and governance in schools in England (Wales is dealt with in a separate section, which is not strictly relevant to this post, as none of the specialist music schools are located there). The report focuses on the role of the headteacher and the designated safeguarding lead as holding primary responsibilities. In the case of specialist music schools, the report might have also noted the key position of the Director of Music, which in some cases can be almost as powerful as the headteacher, and usually has a more intimate and regular relationship with the music teachers (as the headteacher has often not been a musician themselves). But this role and its relationship to the headteacher has come under some question in recent times: for a period from 2013 the Purcell School abolished the role of Director of Music (though it was recreated again in 2018), while in 2020, following the retirement of former headteacher Alun Jones, Chetham’s created a joint headship shared between the existing Director of Music and Deputy Head.

The report notes the lack of any statutory governance requirements (such as a board of governors) for independent schools, with some overseen by a sole proprietor. While proprietors and governors are themselves required to undergo checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), Her Majest’s Chief Inspector for Education, Skills and Children’s Services, Ms Amanda Spielman, believes these are insufficient. It would be interesting to consider, had any equivalent to the DBS (or its predecessor, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), working together with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), from 2002) been in place, in the 1980s, whether this would have prevented Robert Waddington, former Dean of Manchester Cathedral, against whom many allegations of abuse have been made (in which context IICSA in an earlier report were sharply critical of a lack of action on the part of the Church of England), becoming a governor of Chetham’s from 1984 to 1993, including during the time of disclosures of abuse in 1990 against Chris Ling, who left the country. Unfortunately the IICSA report makes no reference to Waddington, and a governing body containing someone for whom all evidence points to his being an abuser himself, but this subject is mention in Fiona Gardiner’s book Sex, Power, Control: Responding to Abuse in the Institutional Church

The report emphasises the role of headteachers in creating a positive culture of safeguarding, but also how this was lacking in most of the schools examined, through poor policies and procedures, inadequate implementation of these, lack of clear staff codes of conduct, inadequate safeguarding training, insufficient awareness by leaders of risks or the signs of abuse or inappropriate behaviour, insular and inward-looking schools with little internal or external accountability, treating allegations as a reputational rather than a child protection concern, discrediting of children who complain, a lack of concern about sexual activity between staff and students, and a general culture discouraging parents, children or staff members from complaining (p. 102). All of these factors were certainly at play at Chetham’s during the period when the maximum abuse occurred, and it would appear for a long period at many of the other SMSs too. John Vallins, headteacher at Chetham’s between 1974 and 1992 (the report wrongly claims he was head from 1970) gave evidence to the inquiry, and seemed to many to whom I spoke to have communicated a sense of being aloof, complacent, and little prepared to engage with the gravity of what had occurred under his watch. The report says the following:

In this investigation, there were examples of headteachers who found it inconceivable that staff might abuse their position of authority to abuse children. Mr John Vallins, headteacher of Chetham’s School of Music (Chetham’s) between 1970 and 1992, assumed the instrumental teachers were “admirable people with absolutely right relationships with their pupils” and that extra tuition outside of school hours was a “splendid aspiration”. There was a failure to recognise that such occasions were potential opportunities for abuse and therefore no safeguards were put in place to minimise such risks and to protect pupils. (p. 103)


At Purcell, Peter Crook’s priority appears to have been to protect teachers against allegations. If such allegations are false, this is indeed a paramount concern, but Crook does not seem to have considered seriously also attempting to ensure that credible accusations were taken seriously:

Mr Peter Crook, headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School) from 2007 to 2011, drafted a document on safer working practice in 2009 which he presented as being designed to protect staff from allegations which could be made by pupils “of unsound mind”. In the document, Mr Crook described adolescents as sometimes unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality and informed staff that pupils therefore may “present a danger, even to the most careful of teachers”. Although the document was described as a draft for discussion, it may have given rise to the inference that pupils were inherently unreliable and not worthy of belief, and that allegations against staff were likely to be false. Mr Crook subsequently told police investigating a staff member, RS-F80, for sexual offences against a pupil that he did not believe the girl and that her allegation was based on fantasy and exaggeration. It was wrong for Mr Crook to seek to undermine the credibility
of his pupil in this way. (p. 104)


The action of Peter Hullah, Vallins’ successor as headteacher at Chetham’s, working primarily to protect the reputation of the school after Michael Brewer’s relationship with a sixth-form student was discovered, is viewed no more favourably:

On occasion, when allegations of child sexual abuse arose, headteachers moved to protect the reputation of the school rather than the welfare of victims and other children at the school. In 1994, Michael Brewer, the director of music at Chetham’s, resigned after his inappropriate relationship with a sixth-form student was discovered by the headteacher, Mr Peter Hullah. The headteacher suggested that it would be publicly announced that Brewer had taken early retirement on the grounds of ill health, in order to preserve the reputation of the school and its director of music. Brewer went on to work with young people in the National Youth Choir. No external agencies were notified of the circumstances of Brewer’s departure. (p. 104)


In this context, the report also noted that:

The Charity Commission told the Inquiry that some independent schools see their reputation as being of paramount importance and that this has unduly influenced the handling of safeguarding matters by some charity trustees. (p. 104)


At Purcell, the sort of leadership required to protect children was clearly lacking under Peter Crook, as established by an independent report:

As the leader of the school, the headteacher has to be a role model to staff and students, and must embody the values of the school. The headteacher must demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding and adhere to the same rules and boundaries as other staff. An independent review of safeguarding practice at the Purcell School in 2019 found that Mr Crook, headteacher from 2007 to 2011, “did not provide a good role model”. The review concluded that, under the leadership of Mr Crook, the school “did not have a culture of safeguarding”, “safeguarding was not well understood” and “the attitude of senior leaders was complacent”. Mr Paul Bambrough took over as headteacher of the Purcell School in 2018. He said that the high turnover of staff in the headteacher role over the previous 10 years meant the school had no clear identity or idea of its function. Mr Bambrough sought to develop the safeguarding culture and ethos of the school by ensuring that everyone in the school was aware that the “overriding priority is to ensure that all students in the school are safe, happy and healthy”. He considered that consistency in messaging from the headteacher was of central importance in facilitating a safeguarding culture. (p. 104)


The report however considered Wells to have a better approach to such things, at least according to their own account:

Openness and transparency are key to a protective environment. Schools with a strong safeguarding culture responded promptly and appropriately to allegations and concerns, including complaints about non-recent incidents. Wells Cathedral School said that in the aftermath of allegations or safeguarding concerns, it cooperated with external agencies and reflected on opportunities to learn from mistakes in order to improve safeguarding arrangements in the school. (p. 105)


A little later in the section, the report considers further the role of governors and the need for them to act as a check on headteachers, which was not the case at Purcell:

Evidence from the schools examined showed that far from encouraging challenge from governors, some headteachers were resistant to scrutiny, while some governing bodies lacked the ability to challenge school leaders. In some cases, such as at Clifton College and at the Purcell School, governors simply ‘rubber-stamped’ the decisions of the headteacher or failed to address shortcomings in the safeguarding practice of the school, even when these issues had been identified by external safeguarding professionals. (p. 107)


In the case of both Chetham’s and Purcell, there was further reason to believe the governing body negligent in terms of their responsibilities in this respect:

42. The Inquiry heard that at many of the schools examined governors did not monitor the effective implementation of safeguarding arrangements through the scrutiny of safeguarding incidents which arose at the school. This was the case at Chetham’s prior to 2013 and at the Purcell School during the tenure of Mr Graham Smallbone as chair of governors from 1998 to 2010.

43. The local authority’s inspection report on Chetham’s in 2013 found there was little evidence that the governing body had held the school to account to ensure that safeguarding arrangements were “implemented, applied robustly, monitored appropriately, or evaluated effectively”. The ISI also inspected Chetham’s in 2013 and found that there was inadequate oversight of the safeguarding arrangements at the school. The governing body had no means of monitoring the implementation or effectiveness of safeguarding policies and procedures, for example by sampling cases which occurred at the school. In response to the ISI’s findings, the school endeavoured to improve transparency and accountability by creating new formal structures for the oversight of safeguarding. A dedicated safeguarding committee was established within the school’s governing body. It received anonymised reports of all safeguarding incidents which arose at the school, to ensure the school’s policies and procedures were complied with in practice and to enable assessment of the effectiveness of the school’s safeguarding processes. (p. 108)


The role of the Chair of Governors, Graham Smallbone, comes under further harsh scrutiny:

53. The Inquiry heard detailed evidence about governance issues at the Purcell School, where the chair of governors did not deal appropriately with concerns reported by staff about the headteacher, failed to hold the headteacher to account for his inappropriate behaviour, failed to refer matters of concern to the LADO and did not engage transparently with external bodies.

54. In the 2009/10 school year, the chair of governors, Mr Smallbone, was made aware of a number of complaints and concerns regarding the conduct of the headteacher, Mr Crook, in relation to inappropriate conversations with pupils. Mr Smallbone discussed the complaints with Mr Crook but did not refer any complaints to the LADO. Several direct referrals were made by whistleblowers on the school staff and in July 2009 the local authority found one allegation against the headteacher to be substantiated. It was referred back to the school so that the board of governors could take disciplinary action against Mr Crook but in September 2009 Mr Smallbone asked the LADO to reconsider the outcome of the case. It was inappropriate of him to question the outcome or ask the LADO to reconsider it. Mr Crook said that he was never informed by the chair of governors or anyone else that an allegation against him had been substantiated.

55. Mr Smallbone also heard a recording of Mr Crook speaking to Year 9 boys using language which Mr Smallbone described to the Inquiry as “absolutely unacceptable”, although he had previously told the governing body it was “very good with only very minor exceptions”. An independent review commissioned by the governing body in 2009 considered that Mr Crook had used inappropriate language with pupils and recommended that Mr Crook be given a formal final warning and placed on probation. The local authority had also recommended that disciplinary action be taken. Mr Smallbone declined to follow these recommendations to take disciplinary measures against Mr Crook but assured the local authority that disciplinary action had been taken. An independent review commissioned by the current headteacher of the Purcell School concluded in 2019 that the failure to discipline Mr Crook was a misjudgement on the part of the chair of governors and that he failed to properly hold the headteacher to account for inappropriate conduct.

56. Staff at the Purcell School at the time perceived that governors lacked accountability for their failure to hold the headteacher to account. Ms Margaret Moore, a whistleblower at the school during the headship of Mr Crook, told the Inquiry: “the governors ultimately, in that independent school, were in control, and they could do and say what they wanted to”. (pp. 110-111)

The final passage relating to SMSs in this section of the report does acknowledge some positive actions taken by Chetham’s after a critical report on safeguarding in 2013:

Independent school governors are not accountable to the local authority or to the Department for Education in how they exercise their oversight role. Such schools may choose to create an additional oversight mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the governing body. After Chetham’s failed to meet safeguarding standards in 2013, in addition to creating a sub-committee of the governing body to monitor safeguarding at the school, an Independent Safeguarding Commission was established by the school, composed of individuals who were independent of the school and its governing body. The Independent Safeguarding Commission’s role was to have independent oversight of the safeguarding arrangements at the schools and to scrutinise the safeguarding committee of the governing body. It could request reports from the safeguarding committee and could also invite staff with safeguarding roles to present reports and answer questions regarding safeguarding at the school. (p. 112)


The next section looks in detail at existing and projected requirements in terms of safeguarding training for staff, and the need to renew these. Once again, Wells was cited as an example of good practice:

Effective training goes beyond the minimum of ensuring staff have read and understood the relevant parts of KCSIE and the school policies and procedures. Staff should have a clear understanding of the safeguarding risks which could arise in their school and how to be alert to signs of abuse. Mrs Helen Bennett, the former DSL of Wells Cathedral School, explained that she adapted and supplemented the training materials provided by the local authority to address particular aspects of a residential music school and used real-life examples to emphasise the importance of safeguarding: “I just didn’t really hold back on the dangers that were out there”. Mrs Bennett said that face-to-face training took place on a frequent basis, with training sessions tailored to different staff roles, including ancillary staff such as boarding house cleaners, “to keep child protection and safeguarding a bit of a buzz in the school, because I wanted people to be part of a team. I wanted everybody to be involved”. (p. 116)


This was in sharp contrast to Purcell under Peter Crook:

Mr Peter Crook, former headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians, said that he did not receive any training from the DSL, and considered that he kept up to date with safeguarding by reading bulletins from the professional associations of which he was a member. Evidence showed that he lacked the safeguarding knowledge and awareness that would be expected of a headteacher. (p. 116)


The report also considers the lack of any special requirements in terms of training for those working in boarding schools, and concludes that these are needed. I would add that there should be extra forms of training for all involved in teaching music, because of the specific dangers there (the same may apply to dance, though with different specific dangers). (p. 118) It also the need for governors to have mandatory training and for there to be a standardised safeguarding course for these and proprietors. (pp. 120-122).


The following part of the report, on the role of inspections of schools, makes further reference to Chetham’s and Purcell:

31. During the 2013 inspection of Chetham’s School of Music, the headteacher, Ms Claire Moreland, initially failed to declare that a member of staff, Wen Zhou Li, had been arrested for non-recent sexual offences against a pupil only two or three weeks before the inspection. The ISI had been given this information by the local authority which was conducting an inspection at the same time and therefore knew to press the headteacher on this point. This illustrates both the extent to which the inspectorates are reliant on headteachers telling the truth and the importance of information-sharing.

32. In 2009, at The Purcell School for Young Musicians, there was a concerted effort by the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, to manage and downplay the safeguarding concerns that had been raised in respect of the headteacher to Ofsted, despite an allegation against the headteacher being found to be substantiated by the local authority. The inspector recorded that, after meeting with the chair of governors, she “felt very confident that the issues are being addressed appropriately and effectively by the governing body”. The Ofsted report did not address the fact that the local authority had been notified of concerns by whistleblowers on the school staff who had no confidence in the safeguarding regime at the school. The report stated that “There has been a small but effective element within the staff team which has actively undermined the headteacher and the school”. This was not a fair or accurate representation of the actions of whistleblowers on the school staff. The inspectors were too ready to accept the assertions of the chair of governors.


The final relevant section of the report is that on conclusions and recommendations. The most relevant aspects are as follows:

  • The dangers of sexual abuse in boarding schools are especially acute, are not addressed in current statutory guidance and standards, and the problem is heightened for those whose parents are overseas.
  • There are many cases of poor leadership, especially on the part of headteachers, and governance, while there are too few checks on independent schools.
  • Statutory training does not involve minimum standards, leading to inconsistency, nor does it address the particular needs of certain types of schools.
  • There should be a single inspectorate body (currently there are two), and better sharing of information between different parts of the system (schools, local, authorities, DBS, etc.). This would also address cases where school leaders do not disclose all the necessary information.
  • DBS checks do not make enhanced certificates compulsory for supervised volunteers, for whom the system is in general too loose.
  • Recruitment decisions have been made without full and proper assessment of relevant information.
  • The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) does not deal with those doing work such as being cover supervisors or teaching assistants, and should do.

As for recommendations to the Department of Education and the Welsh Government, the relevant ones are as follows:

  • A new duty for boarding schools to inform the relevant inspectorate of allegations of sexual abuse and other serious incidents, with professional/regulatory consequences for breach of this.
  • A system of licensing and registration of educational guardians, with DBS checks.
  • National standards for LADOs, and clarification that they can be contacted for informal advice too.
  • Modification of governance standards within the Independent School Standards, involving external scrutiny, transparency and honesty, and forbidding a proprietor to be a safeguarding lead.
  • Standards for independent schools to be brought in line with those for free schools or early years provision.
  • National standards for safeguarding training, mandatory for headteachers, safeguarding leads and safeguarding governors.
  • Schools to be required to inform the relevant inspectorate if they have referred a staff member to DBS, TRA or Education Workforce Council.
  • More guidance for supervised volunteers working with children, and ensuring DBS checks are free of charge to them.

Questions of mandatory reporting, support for victims and survivors, and vetting and barring will be revisited in IICSA’s final overall report, to be published later this year.

These may all seem quite general, and few of them specific to music schools, but nonetheless are all important developments. Overall, the report goes much further than any previous document in placing in the public domain a good deal of information relating to grievous past errors, neglect, complacency or even corruption such as has allowed abusers to act with relative impunity in a range of settings. I know from speaking to a range of survivors how important it is for much of this to be made public by a goverment-appointed body, in terms of clearly laying the issue of the responsibility not only with the abusers themselves, but also the institutions which failed to protect these survivors from them when children. There is absolutely no reason for any such survivors to ‘blame themselves’, as unfortunately the earlier processes of obfuscation, cover-up and denial on the part of the institutions have encouraged.

I believe various individuals deeply implicated in this ought to make some statement of their own, at the very least to acknowledge the severity of what has happened – in particular John Vallins, Peter Hullah and Clare Moreland, all former head teachers at Chetham’s, and Peter Crook and Graham Smallbone from Purcell. As was recounted in a piece for the LRB Blog by Laura Newey written soon after the IICSA hearings, one attendant there was incensed by Vallins’ testimony, claiming not to know about the abuse going on at the hands of Chris Ling, and shouted from the gallery at him (this was edited out from the video); in my own testimony I also made reference to various indviduals who had come to me with evidence that they had indeed told Vallins. If it may be the case that sexual abuse of the type perpetuated by Brewer, Ling, Gazelle and others is less likely today than it was in earlier decades, that is some consolation, but as Newey wrote, it is a ‘low bar’; there remain various types of other physical or emotional abuse and bullying which are often part of the culture of music education, and these are equally important to address.

I would have liked to have seen more consideration in the IICSA report of the wider culture at the schools (as well as the institutional structures). This is touched upon but not pursued in any depth, though may be somewhat daunting for non-musicians to consider. Undoubtedly this is an area which warrants much further study and research, some of which I will be undertaking myself.

Overwhelmingly the report identifies a prioritisation of the reputation of schools over the welfare of pupils, and does allude to the power and influence of revered music teachers, a theme about which I have also written on multiple occasions previously. The relatively unregulated form of patronage which exists in the wider musical world militates against those who have experienced abuse, assault, harassment or other discriminatory treatment from coming forward, and some wider regulatory measures to protect such individuals are needed, even if this means a less ‘hands-off’ approach to arts funding than has hitherto been the case.

As I mentioned in my previous post, despite clear evidence and knowledge of the activities of Philip Pickett, it took a long time before individuals finally felt able to go forward. How many are intimidated into staying silent so as not to ‘rock the boat’? How many fear that all they have worked for as a musician stands to be taken from them if they register a complaint, and may risk opprobrium from other musicians (as has been the case for some of those courageous ones who have come forward since the Brewer trial)? But people knew, some of these activities were relatively ‘common knowledge’ in sections of the music world. How many choose just to look the other way and ignore these in their own self-interests, leaving the victims even more isolated? Similarly, how many see individuals being mistreated in various environments, educational, workplace or even social, and think the simplest option for them is simply to tacitly go along with this, so as to stay with the ‘in group’? These types of bullying behaviour and complicity with the same may start at school but by no means necessarily end there. And all the evidence of intimidation and marginalisation of abuse survivors points to the same processes and behaviours being commonplace, and exploited maliciously. Principled whistleblowers like Margaret Moore are very much the exception rather than the rule. The whole music world needs to look at itself, and stop pretending that being involved in such an elevated field of practice somehow makes such concerns secondary.

I would also draw people’s attention to the recommendations submitted to the inquiry by lawyers Slater & Gordon, who represented a range of survivors. When IICSA produces its final report, then it will be time to reflect more widely on these.


The IICSA Report into Residential Schools – material on specialist music schools and some initial thoughts – Part 1

Today, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse have published their long-awaited report into residential schools, including specialist music schools, following their hearings in Autumn 2019. As a participant in the inquiry who gave verbal evidence and also a wide range of written data, submitted via lawyers Slater and Gordon, I wanted to draw attention to the sections relating to specialist music schools (as the report is 223 pages long), and offer some comments. I earlier published a post with a wide range of links to the testimonies and videos from the inquiry, and also an extensive range of testimonies collected at the time from former pupils at my former school, Chetham’s School of Music. Other relevant posts are indexed on my home page – perhaps most relevant are my digest of reported cases of abuse from 1990 to 2012, and detailed account of the trial of Michael Brewer and the aftermath.

Chetham’s School of Music, cloister buildings.

The report details widespread abuse throughout the four English specialist music schools (SMSs), including various cases for which circumstances including the fact that the alleged perpetrator is deceased precluded criminal proceedings. I am very glad that they have drawn attention to the allegations against Rzysard Bakst at Chetham’s and Marcel Gazelle at the Yehudi Menuhin School (for which I and several others worked with Channel 4 News to bring the story to light) in particular. But key to this type of report is not just which perpetrators carried out which incidents, but also how they were able to do so within the institutions in question, how those institutions responded when such allegations came to light, and which measures either were or have been put in place to safeguard pupils. It is clear that there were extremely serious deficiencies on the part of the schools, which enabled these incidents to happen. I link these to a much wider toxic culture (as attested to in the Chetham’s testimonies linked above) of reckless abuse of power, premature sexualisation, bullying, harassment, physical and emotional as well as sexual abuse, and in general, a privileging of the reputation of the institutions over the welfare of the pupils, as is made clear in the report. Furthermore, as also identified in the report, there are specific factors relating to specialist music schools which make pupils especially potentially vulnerable: the power and charisma of teachers, the intensely competitive environment in which the chances of ultimate success are low, the intimacy of the 1-1 teaching relationship, and more. From when these schools were founded (Purcell and Menuhin in the early 1960s; Chetham’s, Wells, and St Mary’s, Edinburgh, all became wholly or partially SMSs at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s), the dangers in terms of child welfare should have been obvious, but my research has uncovered little evidence of any particular concern about this on the part of those invested with power and responsibility at the schools. All sought inspiration from schools and pedagogy in Eastern Europe: the Central School in Moscow was the direct model for the Menuhin School, and by implication also St Mary’s (which was itself modelled on the Menuhin School), the Purcell School; Rosemary Rapaport, co-founder of the Central Tutorial School, later Purcell School, was inspired by what she saw in Czechoslovakia, and also wrote about the contrast between what students achieved in the UK and in Russia; the plans for Chetham’s were explicitly compared to schools in Russia and Hungary, and both John Vallins and Michael Brewer visited Hungary and the Soviet Union to seek information on approaches to tuition; pedagogy at Wells was deeply influenced by the violinist Yfrah Neaman, Lebanese-born but Moscow-trained. Furthermore, many teachers at the schools came from Eastern European ‘schools’ of playing and pedagogy, and made much of the mystique associated with these in the West. Specialist music education was in large measure an Eastern European development (there are a few precedents in Weimar-era Germany and even in the Third Reich, but these were not long-lasting) – many such schools sprung up throughout Eastern Europe after 1945, inspired especially by the model of the Moscow Central School, founded in 1932. Approaches to teaching which were developed in highly authoritarian and undemocratic societies were being transplanted into a Western liberal democracy; a theme of my forthcoming history will be the stark incompatibility of these with the wider values, including child welfare and nurturing, which should have been expected in the UK. To this day debates continue to rage as to what is reasonable in terms of expectations on young people studying music and dance at a high level, with examples from Russia and China cited in opposition to a more liberal and child-centered approaches.

Through the course of events, the actions of particular head teachers and music directors has been especially deficient, even when not directly involved with abuse – the report makes reference to John Vallins, Peter Hullah and Clare Moreland at Chetham’s, and Peter Crook at Purcell. The testimonies of these individuals and some others at the hearings were not impressive, and communicated to many alumni with whom I am in contact a sense of complacency, marginalisation, and even denial. Alas it is probably unsurprising to many to see confirmation that institutions have sought to protect their own reputations and those of their most senior staff, in the face of allegations of abuse, bullying, harassment, and so on, and those going forward to register such things can find themselves shunned, marginalised or victimised. This is why mandatory measures and reporting are needed, and proper protection offered for those who come forward. There is still a long way to go in this respect, and I will say more about this when writing about the report’s conclusions in a subsequent post. Many dangers are present in tertiary as well as primary/secondary music education: some will be aware of the case of Philip Pickett, jailed in 2015 for eleven-and-a-half years for offences including rape of female students in locked sound-proofed practice rooms. Also shocking was the reaction of the then-principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the late John Hosier, simply telling the parents of one girl who was attacked to take her to study somewhere else (see also my articles following the Pickett case here and here). I am aware of detailed testimony relating to another former conservatoire principal of a similar nature, from two individuals unbeknown to each other when they spoke to me, and relating to two different teachers who had committed grievous sexual offences. When considering going to the police about these cases, they were threatened with expulsion and career ruin by the principal in question. The possibilities for such corruption of power, in a world in which reputations are everything, and careers are greatly fragile and dependent upon good favour within narrow circles, must be addressed as a matter of urgency.


Here are the key passages from the IICSA report:

In 2013, Michael Brewer, the former director of music at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, was convicted of sexually abusing a former student when she was 14. His victim took her own life after giving evidence at his trial. This prompted other former pupils to come forward, with 47 alleged perpetrators reported to the police, 35 of whom were connected with the school. Four were charged with criminal offences, including Christopher Ling who had abused eight young girls, often in the guise of ‘rewards and punishments’ at his home during tutorials, during music courses in school holidays and at the school itself. This first came to light in 1990, shortly after Ling moved to the USA, taking a group of girls with him as pupils. Extradition was not pursued and no further action was taken at the time by the school or by others. It was, as one victim put it, “as if it hadn’t happened”. (p. 2)

At the Purcell School, a specialist music school, allegations against staff were not responded to appropriately under the headship of Mr Peter Crook. This is unsurprising, as the headteacher demonstrated a failure to understand some basic principles of safeguarding. For example, in 2009 Mr Crook took a group of Year 9 boys to his home, discussed his own sexual experiences with them, told the boys how to measure their penises and told them he would ignore it if he caught two boys masturbating each other. When this came to light, it was decided that no disciplinary measures were to be imposed on the headteacher.

Teachers and others exploited their positions of trust to abuse children in all the various types of educational settings the Inquiry considered. Some settings pose heightened risks. Boarding schools were described to us as “the ideal environment for grooming”, as the children have an increased dependency on those around them. (pp. 2-3)

In the specialist music schools examined, the power and influence of often revered and influential music teachers made some pupils even more vulnerable to being sexually abused by them. The reputations of both the musicians and the schools were often seen as more important than their victims and potential victims when allegations were made or concerns were raised. The response was similar when concerns were raised about well-liked and generally respected members of staff in other school contexts, in both the independent and state sectors. (p. 3)


There are details of the testimony of RS-A2 and RS-A3 on pp. 7-8, both relating to horrific abuse at the hands of Chris Ling. I will not give all the details, but quote here aspects relevant to the environment and response of the school. Very notable is the behaviour of houseparents (in a position of loco parentis in such schools), for which the evidence is damning.

RS-A2 was a boarder at Chetham’s School of Music (Chetham’s) in Manchester in the 1980s, from the ages of 13 to 18. She was far from home and found the atmosphere in the school to be “oppressive” and very competitive. She felt that there were no staff members who were approachable.

Christopher Ling became RS-A2’s violin tutor at Chetham’s when she was 15. RS-A2 said that she saw Ling as a father figure, and that he had convinced his students that he was their only chance of success. RS-A2 noticed that Ling frequently commented on the appearance of his female pupils, and he sometimes gave RS-A2 a shoulder massage for pain she developed from over-practising.
[…..]
When Ling’s abuse of pupils at Chetham’s came to light in December 1990, RS-A2 was interviewed by Greater Manchester Police in the presence of the housemistress, Mrs Anne Rhind. Although the female police officer who interviewed her was “kind”, RS-A2 had the impression that Mrs Rhind was worried about the impact on the school and that she was angry with RS-A2.

After RS-A2 disclosed the abuse at school, she spoke to her mother about it on the telephone. RS-A2 said that she later discovered that her mother tried to contact her at Chetham’s, but Mrs Rhind would not let her speak to or see RS-A2, saying that she was busy. RS-A2 said that she had not known at the time that her mother had tried to see her because Mrs Rhind did not tell RS-A2 that her mother had come to the school.

Some time after she was interviewed, RS-A2 recalled being told by the police that the case would not proceed due to a lack of evidence. Neither the police nor the school offered any counselling or support.

RS-A2 was allocated a new violin teacher at Chetham’s who also made sexual allusions in lessons and forcefully kissed her, but RS-A2 did not report it. She did not think she would be listened to: “if the other abuse hadn’t been listened to, then why would this?”

RS-A2 provided another statement to the police in 2013, when the case against Ling was reopened. Ling shot himself in the head when US marshals arrived at his home to serve extradition papers upon him in September 2015. When she heard of Ling’s suicide, RS-A2 felt that again the voices of his victims had not been heard. She felt shocked and angry, and described his suicide as “a final kick in the teeth”.

The sexual abuse has continued to affect RS-A2 emotionally and physically, causing problems with trust and self-esteem, and has affected her relationships with men. RS-A2 has not played classical music since leaving Chetham’s and finds it difficult to listen to it. (pp. 6-7)

Also:

[…..]
RS-A3 joined Chetham’s when she was 15 years old, living at the school as a boarder. Ling was her instrumental teacher and RS-A3 said that she looked up to him as an inspiring teacher. He continued to sexually abuse her, not on school premises but at his private residence, during additional lessons or tuition courses at weekends and in the school holidays.
[…..]

In autumn 1990, during a self-awareness course, RS-A3 disclosed that she had been sexually abused by Ling. Her parents were informed and reported him to the police. By this time, Ling was teaching in the United States and RS-A3 was in the sixth form at Chetham’s. Greater Manchester Police interviewed RS-A3 and several other girls at the school, although RS-A3 recalled being told by the police subsequently that there was not enough evidence to extradite Ling to face trial in England.

In 2013, the police reopened the case against Ling. RS-A3 was interviewed again by the police because the evidence gathered in 1990 had been lost. Extradition proceedings were initiated to bring Ling back from the United States to face trial in England, but Ling killed himself before he could be extradited.

When RS-A3 heard of his suicide, she felt a sense of relief but also was disappointed that Ling had never faced justice for his actions:

“I wanted it confirmed that we were telling the truth and I have missed out on the recognition of what we had gone through. I am especially angry that the school will never be held accountable”.

The abuse continues to affect RS-A3. She struggles to show her feelings and feels numb and disconnected. She gave up playing the violin as it triggered uncomfortable emotions. (pp. 7-8)


The following passage relates to the nature of specialist music provision in the UK, about which I am working on a history at present.

B.2: Music schools

2. Through the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS), the Department for Education provides income-assessed grants or bursaries to pay all or part of the fees for children at specialist music or dance schools in England. The schools themselves decide whom to offer places and may withdraw a place according to their own policies.

3. There are four specialist music schools in the MDS in England:

• Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (Chetham’s);
• The Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey;
• The Purcell School for Young Musicians in Hertfordshire (the Purcell School); and
• Wells Cathedral School in Somerset
.

These four specialist music schools are independent boarding schools, although day pupils also attend. In all four schools, there have been allegations of sexual abuse of students by teachers or other adults working at the school.

4. A watershed moment came in 2013, when Mrs Frances Andrade took her own life shortly after giving evidence at the trial of Michael Brewer. The former director of music at Chetham’s was convicted of sexual offences against her when she was a pupil and boarder at the school (when named Miss Frances Shorney, as she is referred to below). Mrs Andrade’s death and Brewer’s conviction were widely reported in the press, prompting many former pupils of Chetham’s and the other specialist music schools to come forward and speak about their experiences of child sexual abuse within music education from the 1960s to the present day. Many spoke to the police through Operation Kiso, a large-scale investigation by Greater Manchester Police. Many more contacted Dr Ian Pace, a musicologist and former pupil of Chetham’s, who had written a number of articles on his blog, Desiring Progress, regarding the trial of Brewer and the incidence of child sexual abuse in specialist music education.

Chetham’s School of Music

5. Chetham’s is situated in the centre of Manchester, close to Manchester Cathedral. The Cathedral choristers are educated at the school.79 It became a co-educational specialist music school in 1969, having been a boys’ grammar school since 1656. Chetham’s is the largest of the four specialist music schools, currently providing full-time academic education, in addition to specialist music tuition, for just over 300 pupils aged between 8 and 18. More than one-third of its student body is in the sixth form (aged 16 to 18). At the time of the Inquiry’s hearing in October 2019, the school had 220 boarders and around 10 percent of its students were from overseas.

6. Incidents of child sexual abuse which occurred at Chetham’s between the 1970s and the 1990s led to five adults who worked with children there facing criminal charges. Some allegations of child sexual abuse at Chetham’s were reported after the alleged perpetrators had died, resulting in no further action being taken by police.’ (pp. 24-25)


The report looks specifically at the cases of Michael Brewer and Chris Ling, as well as the nature of Operation Kiso, set up soon after the Brewer trial. The case of Michael Brewer has been the most prominently reported because of the trial of him and his former wife, and the tragic suicide of their victim Frances Andrade, née Shorney, during the course of the trial. Especially notable here are the details of how Brewer’s departure from the school were handled, in such a manner as enabled him to continue working with young people. On the grapevine, at the time of his departure, I heard rumours about some scam involving a violin manufacturer and him, but this would have been far less serious. It cannot be underestimated how fundamental a role Brewer played in the lives of all who attended the school when he was Director of Music (some early reports described him simply as a choirmaster, which downplayed his power – see my earlier blog post here on Brewer), and as such what it meant to see him convicted of such a serious crime.

Michael Brewer

7. Michael Brewer was the director of music at Chetham’s for 20 years, from his appointment in 1974. He was appointed by and directly accountable to the governing body (known at that time as the School Committee), rather than the headteacher. Brewer was a powerful figure, having complete autonomy over all matters relating to music. Mr Peter Hullah (headteacher from 1992 to 1999) told the Inquiry that “the Director of Music was the School”. Brewer was also highly regarded outside the school. He left Chetham’s in December 1994 and continued to work with young people as the artistic director of the National Youth Choir, which he had founded in 1983. Brewer was awarded an OBE in the 1995 New Year’s Honours List for services to music education.

8. Frances Shorney was a boarder at Chetham’s during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Brewer groomed and sexually abused her when she was 14 and 15 years old in his office at Chetham’s and also at his family home. The sexual abuse escalated from kissing and touching to oral sex and penetrative sexual intercourse. At one point, because Miss Shorney was exhibiting emotional and behavioural problems, the headteacher, Mr John Vallins, agreed that she should move into the Brewers’ family home in order to help her cope with the pressures of the school. Brewer continued to sexually abuse her when she lived with his family. It was not until many years after she left Chetham’s that she felt able to confide in a fellow musician about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a pupil, before making formal allegations to the police in 2011.

9. In the course of its investigation into the allegations against Brewer, Greater Manchester Police spoke with a number of former pupils of the school. Several recalled that it was common knowledge amongst the student body that Brewer had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Miss Shorney and that Brewer had targeted other girls. One witness told the police that Brewer had made aggressive sexual advances towards her on a school trip when she was 16, which she had rebuffed.

10. The police also identified a former pupil, RS-A187, whom Brewer groomed and then engaged in sexual activity with over several months in 1994, when she was 17 years old and he was 49. RS-A187 gave evidence for the prosecution at the trial to show that Brewer had a sexual interest in the teenage girls in his care. Brewer did not face any criminal charges in relation to RS-A187, because it was not a criminal offence for a teacher to engage in consensual sexual activity with a pupil over 16 until 2001.

11. In November 1994, the headteacher, Mr Hullah, became suspicious of the nature of the relationship between Brewer and RS-A187. Mr Hullah asked the housemistress, Mrs Anne Rhind, to speak to RS-A187, and later spoke to Brewer himself. Brewer immediately acknowledged to the headteacher that a personal relationship had developed with RS-A187 which “did cross a professional boundary”, and said that his position had become untenable and that he wished to resign immediately.

12. The governing body accepted Brewer’s resignation with immediate effect, which brought the headteacher’s investigation into the matter to an “abrupt halt”. Brewer faced no disciplinary action. The reason given publicly for his departure was that he had retired due to ill health. Brewer told the court in 2013 that this was Mr Hullah’s suggestion, and accepted that this had been a “cover-up”. Mr Hullah told the Inquiry that Brewer had resigned and not retired, and that Brewer had not complained of any health problems at that time, but he denied that there had been a cover up in 1994. Mr Hullah stated that he had informed the governing body of all the circumstances of Brewer’s resignation from the school.

13. Brewer was paid his full salary from when he left Chetham’s in December 1994 until August 1995, which Mr Hullah considered to be a gesture of goodwill on the part of the governing body. Brewer continued to be associated with Chetham’s as an advisor and to work closely with young people as the artistic director of the National Youth Choir. Mr Hullah did not notify the National Youth Choir, the local authority or the Department for Education (which at that time operated ‘List 99’, a barred list of those deemed unsuitable to work with children) of the circumstances or the fact of Brewer’s resignation, although there was a statutory duty to notify the Department for Education of such resignations.

Mr Hullah did not consider that the circumstances of Brewer’s resignation were such as to require any referrals or notification.

14. In February 2013, Brewer was convicted of indecently assaulting Frances Shorney on multiple occasions when she was under 16.105 The trial judge sentenced Brewer to six years’ imprisonment and described him as a “predatory sex offender” whose behaviour was “manipulative and depraved”. He noted that Brewer’s power and influence in the school was such that he was able “with little, if any, prospect of challenge from anyone else”. He also expressed surprise that witnesses testified to Brewer’s good character in the knowledge that he had conducted a clandestine relationship with a pupil, and appeared to be “more than happy to overlook one of the most shocking aspects of this case”. (pp. 25-27)


The case of Chris Ling constitutes the most serious of all the allegations relating to Chetham’s, but was essentially ‘hushed up’ for over 20 years, even though many including myself were fully aware of the nature of his departure both from the school and the country (though not the scale or full nature of the offences). It is quite amazing to note the lack of interest on the part of headteacher John Vallins in Chris Ling’s whereabouts, together with his pupils, after fleeing to the United States.

Christopher Ling

15. Christopher Ling taught the violin at Chetham’s. He was recruited by Brewer in 1985. He left Chetham’s at the end of the school year in summer 1990 for a teaching role at the University of Miami, taking with him as his pupils a small group of girls from Chetham’s.

16. In autumn 1990, a female pupil at Chetham’s, RS-A3, disclosed that she had been sexually abused over a long period of time by Ling, who had been her violin tutor. Greater Manchester Police began a criminal investigation. The police identified eight girls who alleged they had been sexually abused by Ling while they were pupils at the school. The victims were aged between 9 and 15 years at the start of the abuse, which ranged from kissing, spanking and sexual touching to full sexual intercourse in some cases. Ling operated a reward and punishment system which enabled him to facilitate the sexual abuse, most of which took place at his private residence during tuition at weekends and on music courses during the school holidays. Some sexual assaults occurred in a small coffee room at Chetham’s.

17. Two of Ling’s victims, RS-A1 and RS-A2, gave evidence to the Inquiry. They both recalled making statements to the police in 1990. RS-A1 was interviewed at home over five hours. RS-A2 was then 16 years old. She told the Inquiry that she had been interviewed by the police in the presence of the housemistress, Mrs Rhind, which she found unhelpful. She had the impression that Mrs Rhind was worried about the reputation of the school and was angry with her.

18. RS-A2 recalled the police subsequently telling her that the case would not proceed due to a lack of evidence. Mr Vallins recalled that the police said there was sufficient evidence to charge Ling but that the offences were not extraditable. It appears that the prosecutor was wrongly advised by a senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer that it was not possible to seek extradition from the USA in the circumstances.

19. Once it was clear that Ling would not be prosecuted, the school did not carry out any investigation into his conduct, nor did the governors or headteacher initiate any review of child protection arrangements at the school. The school did not notify children’s social care or the Department for Education of the allegations. The school did not make contact with Ling’s employer in the USA at any point. Mr Vallins stated that the school was not aware of where Ling was teaching, even though he had taken a number of pupils from Chetham’s with him. No school policies or procedures were updated or introduced. The children affected were not offered any counselling or any other form of support by the school. RS-A1 recalled “It was as if it hadn’t happened”. (pp. 27-28)


In the section on Operation Kiso, do note also further comments relating to a houseparent.

Operation Kiso

20. In the aftermath of Brewer’s trial, the police received a large number of complaints by former students of Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM, a college for students aged over 18, some of whom had been pupils at Chetham’s) alleging non-recent sexual abuse of pupils and students by staff. In February 2014, Greater Manchester Police launched Operation Kiso, a large-scale investigation into sexual offending at both institutions. During this investigation, 47 alleged perpetrators were reported to the police, 35 of whom were associated with Chetham’s. A number of the allegations related to staff who were deceased and therefore could not be prosecuted, including the highly esteemed piano teacher Ryszard Bakst, against whom the police compiled a “compelling”file of evidence, including complaints from six women. Criminal charges were brought against four men for sexual offences against pupils at Chetham’s: Nicholas Smith, Malcolm Layfield, Christopher Ling and Wen Zhou Li.

21. Nicholas Smith was associated with Chetham’s as a visiting conductor. In September 2014, he was sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting a 14 or 15-year-old Chetham’s pupil in the late 1970s. Smith had invited RS-A164 to his cottage for the weekend, as he knew she was homesick and unhappy, having endured “frankly sadistic” treatment at the hands of a housemistress. He sexually assaulted her by knocking her to the ground and groping her while his wife was in the bath upstairs. RS-A164 had been a pupil at Chetham’s at the same time as Frances Shorney and decided to come forward after reading reports of her death.

22. Malcolm Layfield taught and conducted chamber music at Chetham’s in the 1970s and 1980s, and also at the RNCM where he was appointed head of strings in 2002. Layfield was tried and acquitted in 2015 of the rape of an 18-year-old student in the 1980s, when he had been in his 30s. During the trial, he claimed that the sex had been consensual but admitted behaving “shamefully” by having consensual sexual intercourse with a number of his female students from Chetham’s and the RNCM, the youngest of whom was 17, during the 1980s.

23. In 2013, a teacher at Chetham’s, Wen Zhou Li, was arrested and charged with the rape of an overseas student, RS-A165, in the late 1990s.123 The charges were withdrawn before trial due to evidential issues. RS-A165 then brought a civil claim against Chetham’s for the sexual abuse she alleged that Li had committed against her when he was her tutor and her educational guardian at the school. In May 2021, a civil court found that Wen Zhou Li had kissed RS-A165 on several occasions in a teaching room at Chetham’s when she was 15, and that this was “the beginning of an escalating course of sexual assaults” committed in his car and in his flat, where she stayed on occasion because he was her educational guardian.The judge found that “Mr Li exploited the opportunities presented by being [RS-A165’s] teacher and by being her guardian”. The judge also found that Li was instrumental in persuading RS-A165 and her parents that she should leave the school where she was studying music and follow him to his new teaching post at Chetham’s in 1996. Chetham’s was ordered to pay damages to RS-A165.

24. During Operation Kiso, Greater Manchester Police re-investigated the Christopher Ling case. Because the original files of evidence were no longer in existence, the police had to interview the complainants again and build a new case file. The investigation identified 12 women who alleged that they had been abused by Ling as children, eight of whom had been pupils of Ling’s at Chetham’s. The Chetham’s pupils included RS-A1, RS-A2, RS-A3, RS-A4 and RS-A5, all of whom provided accounts of their abuse to the Inquiry.

25. In 2014, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service pursued Ling’s extradition from the USA to stand trial in England on 77 sexual offence charges relating to 11 complainants. In September 2015, as US Marshals arrived at his Los Angeles home with a warrant for his arrest, Ling shot himself dead. (pp. 28-29).


Then there are the following sections on the other three specialist music schools in England. That on the Menuhin School, which mentions the allegations against Marcel Gazelle, and also raises questions about safeguarding responses to other more recent allegations.

The Yehudi Menuhin School
26. The Yehudi Menuhin School was founded in 1963 by the celebrated violinist Yehudi Menuhin with the objective of educating young string players and pianists with exceptional musical ability from across the world. It began with 15 pupils and remains the smallest of the specialist schools, with 86 students across nine year-groups as at March 2019, and 68 full or weekly boarders. Sixty-one pupils benefit from MDS funding.130 The school is situated in Stoke d’Abernon, near Cobham in Surrey.

Allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse
27. In May 2013, following press reports of the trial and conviction of Brewer and the death of Mrs Andrade, Channel 4 News broadcast a segment focussing on allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse at specialist music schools. A number of former pupils spoke to Channel 4 News to allege sexual abuse by Mr Marcel Gazelle, a renowned pianist and the first director of music at The Yehudi Menuhin School. He died in 1969. One complainant recalled him coming into the dormitory in the morning, and his hands tickling her under the bedclothes “where they shouldn’t be”.

28. Around the time of the Channel 4 broadcast, four women contacted the headteacher, Dr Richard Hillier, to inform him of sexual abuse by Gazelle when they were among the first pupils at the school in the 1960s. All allegations were referred to the police, who logged the reports but took no further action as Gazelle was deceased. Dr Hillier discussed the complaints of non-recent sexual abuse with the school’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL), the senior management team and the chair of governors. No changes were made to school policies, because Dr Hillier was satisfied that music staff were no longer permitted to access boarding houses.

29. In 2009, a former student, RS-A218, contacted the director of music with allegations that a non-music teacher repeatedly sexually abused her over a 2-year period in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when she was under 13 years of age. RS-A218 did not wish to make a complaint to the police, and it appears that the allegation was not referred to the police at that time. When the director of music brought the allegation to the attention of Dr Hillier in 2013, Dr Hillier arranged to meet and speak with RS-A218 before referring the matter to the police, without naming her, in accordance with her wishes.

RS-F13
30. In around 2006, a female student complained that her tutor, RS-F13, had made sexualised and inappropriate comments in one-to-one instrumental lessons, which made her uncomfortable. The student was moved to another teacher by the headteacher, Mr Nicholas Chisholm. Mr Chisholm warned RS-F13 verbally about using inappropriate language but at that time he did not consider this to indicate a possible safeguarding risk and so the matter was not notified to the local authority.

31. In 2013, another female student, RS-A204, made an allegation that RS-F13 had attempted to kiss her a year previously. The allegation was referred to the local authority designated officer (LADO). A disciplinary investigation concluded that the disputed allegation was “unsubstantiated”. However, the school had sufficient concerns regarding RS-F13 that restrictions were placed upon his teaching relating to the time and location of his lessons. RS-F13 also had to undertake further safeguarding training.

32. Around the same time, a former student of a different specialist music school, RS-A170, made a complaint through Operation Kiso that RS-F13 had a sexual relationship with her in the 1980s, when she was 16 and his pupil.143 RS-A170’s account to the police raised issues regarding her consent to some of the sexual activity but she declined to support a prosecution. An internet search by a Greater Manchester Police officer revealed that RS-F13 was teaching at The Yehudi Menuhin School but the officer did not record this information and did not pass it on to the police force to which the case was referred (the alleged incidents were not connected with Chetham’s or the RNCM and did not take place within the operational area of Greater Manchester Police). No police force contacted The Yehudi Menuhin School in connection with RS-A170’s allegations to ascertain whether any potential safeguarding risks to children were appropriately managed. The Yehudi Menuhin School was not made aware in 2013 of the existence of RS-A170’s allegations about RS-F13’s conduct. Had the school been aware of this information, it would have been relevant to the investigation of the allegation made by RS-A204.

33. Further concerns regarding RS-F13’s conduct were raised in 2014, when a parent complained to the school’s DSL that RS-F13 had an overly close relationship with her child. He wanted to take photographs of her, would not permit her father to stay when he gave lessons at his private residence, gave her hand massages and seemed to have power over her. The pupil was moved to a different teacher. Dr Hillier and the DSL decided that the concerns did not warrant discussion with the LADO. A short time later, RS-F13 resigned from the school over an unrelated issue regarding new contractual terms. (pp. 29-31)


The section on Wells Cathedral School concentrates in particular on the case of Julien Bertrand, another case, the relationship of pupils to cathedral staff, and another case involving allegations against Malcolm Layfield, who faced criminal investigations with relation to Chetham’s, as documented above/

Wells Cathedral School
34. Wells Cathedral School is an independent day and boarding school for boys and girls in Somerset. It is a relatively small school of around 750 pupils from nursery to sixth form. There are 556 pupils in the senior school, approximately half of whom board, and there are 188 pupils whose parents live overseas. Unlike the other specialist music schools, it is predominantly an all-round school, with only around one-quarter of its pupils (approximately 160) from Year 6 upwards enrolled in the specialist music programme. It has very close links with the neighbouring Cathedral – all choristers are educated at Wells Cathedral School and some Cathedral employees have contact with pupils through the choir and music teaching.


Julien Bertrand
35. In 2006, Julien Bertrand, a former member of staff at Wells Cathedral School, was convicted of sexual offences against RS-A202 and another boy at a school where he had worked previously, and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. Bertrand groomed RS-A202 and his family over a number of years. The offending began at a different school when RS-A202 was 14 years old, culminating in penetrative sexual assaults at Wells Cathedral School when RS-A202 was 17 years old. Bertrand began working at Wells Cathedral school as a graduate music assistant in 2002, with responsibility for supervising practice sessions for those pupils who were specialist musicians. Bertrand quickly volunteered his services as a French assistant and a badminton coach, and was appointed assistant housemaster in 2003. Several members of staff at Wells Cathedral School voiced concerns to the deputy headteacher or the headteacher about the conduct of Bertrand in relation to pupils at the school, and especially towards RS-A202. Bertrand was given an informal warning in 2003 for inviting RS-A202 to his room late at night.155 In 2004, Bertrand began an Open University course to train as a music teacher, whilst he continued working at the school. Around this time, the boys in the house where Bertrand was assistant housemaster were noted to be making comments about his closeness with RS-A202. These concerns were discussed with the housemaster, who spoke to Bertrand and considered that this failure to observe appropriate boundaries was due to Bertrand’s inexperience in the
role. In 2005, RS-A202 disclosed to a member of Cathedral staff that he had been sexually abused by Bertrand. The deputy headteacher was informed and he immediately reported the allegations to the police. Bertrand was arrested the same day. His flat at the school was searched and the police seized evidence including photographs and videos of RS-A202 and other boys. The headteacher suspended Bertrand and prohibited him from entering the school grounds.

36. RS-A202 was offered counselling with the school counsellor, which he accepted. The parents of children at the school were informed that Bertrand had been suspended following an allegation of sexual abuse, without identifying RS-A202. The school had obtained written references before employing Bertrand but after his arrest the DSL found that the references were missing from Bertrand’s file. It was suspected that Bertrand may have removed them himself. Following the arrest of Bertrand, Wells Cathedral School reviewed and revised its safeguarding policies and practice, including the staff code of conduct. External training providers were invited to give safeguarding training to all staff.


Other safeguarding concerns

37. In the early 2000s, a number of low-level concerns were raised in relation to the conduct of RS-F23, another member of staff at Wells Cathedral School. The DSL was concerned by RS-F23’s repeated infractions of school rules and failures to maintain appropriate professional boundaries. The DSL kept detailed dated records of any concerns reported to her by staff, as well as her own observations of RS-F23 and his interactions with children at the school. The DSL ensured that all reported concerns were passed on to the deputy headteacher or headteacher. The school took a number of actions in response to these concerns, which included giving a formal warning in relation to aspects of his conduct, ensuring he was mentored in his paid role and requiring him to cease his voluntary role at the school, which had given him access to the boarding house.

38. In addition, Mrs Helen Bennett stated that in her role as DSL, she received and recorded a number of concerns over a period of several years that a member of Cathedral staff had given lifts to boys in his car, and had allowed children to enter his accommodation next to the school grounds, which was a breach of his contract with the Cathedral. Mrs Bennett said that she discussed her concerns with the Cathedral safeguarding staff but, to her disappointment, no formal disciplinary action was taken by the Cathedral in respect of this conduct by a member of its staff. Since May 2019, a written Safeguarding Partnership has been established between the school and the Cathedral. The headteacher, Mr Alistair Tighe, considered that under the partnership agreement it would “probably not” be open to the Cathedral safeguarding authorities to take a less serious view of a safeguarding concern than the school, because of commonalities in their respective policies. A code of conduct for Cathedral staff coming into contact with choristers was in development at the time of the Phase 1 hearing.

39. In 2013, allegations came to light regarding the misconduct of Malcolm Layfield towards a sixth-form pupil under the age of 18 on a Wells Cathedral School music tour abroad in 1990. Mr Layfield was not a member of staff but had accompanied the school tour as guest conductor. There was no criminal prosecution arising from the allegations. When the allegations were reported in the press in 2013, the school decided to commission two independent safeguarding reviews from external experts – one to examine the school’s response in 1990 to the rumours which had surfaced at that time, and a second to audit the effectiveness of the current safeguarding arrangements at the school. The first review, by a former police child protection officer, concluded that the school had acted in accordance with child protection practice in 1990, by attempting an investigation and questioning potential witnesses (the girl had not wished to speak to the headteacher or make a complaint at the time). The second review found that the school’s safeguarding practice in 2013 was compliant with statutory requirements, although it made some recommendations for
improving the security of the school site, which were implemented by the school
. (pp. 31-33)


The section on the Purcell School is longer than all the others except for Chetham’s, and raises equally serious issues about the way the institution dealt with allegations and the behaviour of former headteacher Peter Crook.

The Purcell School for Young Musicians
40. The Central Tutorial School for Young Musicians was founded in 1962 in central London, changing its name to The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School) in 1973 and moving to its current site in Bushey, Hertfordshire in 1997. It teaches 180 boys and girls from the ages of 10 to 18, although almost half the student body is in the sixth form. The majority of the pupils board but it has approximately 40 day pupils. The school had 36 international students in October 2019.

41. The Inquiry examined concerns raised regarding Mr Peter Crook, the headteacher of the Purcell School from 2007 to 2011, and allegations made against two members of staff, RS-F20 and RS-F80, during his headship.

42. A former teacher at the Purcell School, Mr Duncan McTier, was the subject of allegations brought to the police during Operation Kiso. In November 2014, he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and one attempted indecent assault which took place in the 1980s. The three victims had all been students of McTier, two at the RNCM and one at the Purcell School. In 1985, McTier had attempted to indecently assault the 17-year-old Purcell student by trying to grope her at his home after a private lesson. In response to newspaper reports that McTier had been charged with offences against students, the Purcell School issued a press release which stated that McTier had not been an employee of the school but had given private lessons to some pupils. The press release stated that a recent inspection report by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) confirmed that the school’s procedures were robust.

Allegations against RS-F20
43. In January 2009, while attending an external course, a Purcell sixth-form student aged under 18 alleged that she had been in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of staff, RS-F20. The allegation was reported by the course leader to the local authority who notified the police. The student, RS-A160, spoke to the police and indicated that there had been consensual sexual activity with RS-F20 when she was over 16. This would have constituted an ‘abuse of trust’ offence under section 16 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. RS-F20 was interviewed by police and denied any sexual activity but did accept that he had hugged RS-A160 and kissed her on the cheek.173 RS-A160 was not willing to support a prosecution and the investigation concluded that the allegation was “unfounded”.

44. The case was referred back to the Purcell School. The headteacher, Mr Crook, arranged for RS-F20 to undertake further safeguarding training with the DSL. No disciplinary action was taken against RS-F20, and his subsequent behaviour and contact with students was not monitored. No records of the allegation or of any steps taken were kept by the school.

45. Five years later, in 2014, another sixth-form student under the age of 18 made similar allegations against RS-F20. RS-A191 disclosed to a friend that she had a sexual “relationship” with RS-F20, and showed text messages of a sexual nature from RS-F20. The police and the local authority began a joint investigation, and notified the Purcell School. The then headteacher, Mr David Thomas, suspended RS-F20 and also notified the chair of governors, the DSL and the deputy headteacher. While the local authority investigation considered that the allegations were substantiated, the police concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute RS-F20, as RS-A191 was unwilling to provide evidence. A police application to obtain a Risk of Sexual Harm Order in order to restrict RS-F20’s contact with children was unsuccessful.

46. The case was referred back to the Purcell School for an internal investigation. RS-F20 resigned before a disciplinary meeting could take place. Mr Thomas took the view that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the disciplinary investigation. He made a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), setting out the circumstances of RS-F20’s resignation from the school and also notified the Charity Commission of the incident. The DBS referred the case to the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) but it had no jurisdiction because RS-F20’s role was not defined as unsupervised teaching work. The Purcell School retained records relating to the 2014 allegation against RS-F20, and liaised with police subsequently when concerns were raised about RS-F20 contacting female pupils at the school via social media.

Allegations against RS-F80
47. In May 2010, RS-A192, a Purcell sixth-form student aged under 18, disclosed to a member of school staff that for some months she had been in an inappropriate relationship with a young staff member, RS-F80. RS-A192 spoke to several other staff members and reported the abuse to Childline before the school notified the LADO of the allegation two days later. RS-A192 alleged that RS-F80 had digitally penetrated her six months earlier, on the school field in the dark, when they were disturbed by the headteacher, Mr Crook. Mr Crook later told the strategy meeting and the Inquiry that he had not witnessed any sexual activity between RS-F80 and RS-A192 but recalled that he had told them to go inside and requested the DSL to ensure that RS-F80 received some further safeguarding training. At the time, Mr Crook did not report the incident to the LADO or arrange for anyone to speak to RS-A192, and no record of the incident was made.

48. After the LADO was notified in May 2010, the police commenced a criminal investigation. RS-A192 and RS-F80 were both interviewed, as was the headteacher. Mr Crook told the police that he thought that RS-A192 was not telling the truth, and believed that “fantasy and exaggeration featured heavily in her account of events”. When RS-F80 was interviewed by police, he admitted that an inappropriate sexual relationship had existed and that RS-A192 had told the truth about the sexual activity on the field. On 23 September 2010, RS-F80 accepted a police caution for the offence of sexual touching while being in a position of trust and was placed on the Sex Offenders Register. The LADO reminded the headteacher to refer the case to the Independent Safeguarding Authority to consider whether to bar RS-F80 from working with children, which he did.

Safeguarding concerns relating to the conduct of the headteacher
49. Throughout 2009 and 2010, a number of concerns were raised by staff and some parents regarding the behaviour of Mr Crook, in relation to inappropriate conversations he was alleged to have had with children at the school.

50. The first concern to be raised related to a meeting with the headteacher, the housemaster and the Year 9 boarding boys at the headteacher’s private accommodation on the school campus, on a Sunday evening in May 2009. Mr Crook described it as a personal, social and health education (PSHE) lesson and a “sexual talk”. He told the Inquiry it was in response to an incident of sexualised bullying in the boarding house involving two or three boys from that year group, in which two boys were rumoured to have ejaculated onto the bed of a third boy. A covert recording of the headteacher was made by one of the boys, which did not surface until some months after the meeting was held.

51. During the meeting, Mr Crook spoke to the boys at length about puberty, masturbation, pornography and other sexual matters. He discussed his own sexual experiences and fantasies. He told the boys how to measure their penises and spoke to the boys about sexual experimentation with one another, telling them that he would ignore it if he caught two boys masturbating each other. Mr Crook used explicit and obscene language during the meeting.

52. A group of school staff wrote anonymously to the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, about the meeting at the headteacher’s house. Mr Smallbone responded by letter, stating that he could not respond to the concerns without knowing the identity of the staff members. When no action was taken, whistleblowers on the school staff subsequently anonymously notified the local authority of their concerns about the conduct of the headteacher. The local authority considered the complaint over a series of strategy meetings in which the chair of governors participated. The local authority decided the allegation was “unsubstantiated” on the basis that the incident did not amount to a safeguarding risk. The local authority sent social workers to the Purcell School to ascertain the welfare of the boy who was alleged to have been bullied.

53. A number of other complaints were notified to the LADO regarding Mr Crook’s alleged conduct and language with pupils. The local authority considered each allegation, and all but one were concluded as unfounded or unsubstantiated. In July 2009, the local authority found an allegation was “substantiated” that Mr Crook had used obscene and inappropriate sexually explicit language when questioning two students who were rumoured to be in a sexual relationship.

54. The substantiated case was referred back to the school for the board of governors to take disciplinary action against Mr Crook. In September 2009, Mr Smallbone requested that the LADO reconsider the conclusion that the allegation was “substantiated”. The LADO declined to do so. The governing body commissioned an “independent review” to ascertain why staff had reported their concerns directly to the LADO, which the chair of governors considered to be in contravention of school procedures. The reviewers interviewed 47 members of staff. Their conclusions included that Mr Crook had “used totally inappropriate language with pupils and has taken a dangerously personal interest in their sexual conduct” and recommended that he be given a formal final written warning and placed on probation. The governing body convened a disciplinary meeting in November 2009, when they decided not to discipline the headteacher with a formal warning or otherwise.

55. When a covert recording of Mr Crook’s remarks surfaced several months after the initial referral, the local authority reconvened a number of strategy meetings to consider the matter again, and concluded that the allegation was “unfounded” as there was no evidence of any intent to harm children. The strategy meeting concluded that the ‘PSHE lesson’ was not an appropriate response to the allegation of bullying and that Mr Crook had made inappropriate remarks to the boys. They advised that these concerns should be dealt with through the school’s own disciplinary procedures, which Mr Smallbone assured them had been done. In fact, Mr Crook was never the subject of any disciplinary sanction in relation to his inappropriate conversations with children at the school.

56. Mr Crook resigned from the school in November 2011, having signed a compromise agreement.

57. In 2018, the governors of the Purcell School commissioned an independent safeguarding review to consider the school’s responses to a number of previous child safeguarding concerns. The reviewer noted that “the Chair of Governors and the Headteacher in post at the time of the case studies were not available for interview and so the reviewer was only able to examine documentary evidence”. The reviewers concluded that Mr Crook had made a “serious error of judgement” in holding a PSHE session in the manner he did and that it raised questions about the safeguarding culture of the school. The independent review also concluded that the chair of governors had not acted impartially in dealing with the complaints against the headteacher and that the failure to discipline Mr Crook was a “misjudgement”. (pp. 33-37)


The following passages from the section on Boarding Schools are also very relevant. Following the revelations of the Brewer trial and other information coming into public view about sexual and other abuse at Chetham’s, I noted amongst the alumni community marked differences in responses between boarders and ‘day pupils’ (those who commuted in on a daily basis, and were not resident). Many of the latter were less inclined to believe in the scale of the issue and its impact upon former pupils, not having experienced that sense of vulnerability which comes from being away from home, not being cared for by those with a personal investment in one’s welfare comparable to that of a parent, and feeling so much at their mercy. The consequences of this for those who suffered abuse (as well as chronic bullying and other behaviours) could be catastrophic.

3. Boarding schools could be said to provide “the ideal environment for grooming”. Certain characteristics unique to the boarding environment heighten the risks of sexual abuse of pupils by staff.

3.1. Boarders are under the authority of adults in the school and are dependent upon them for their welfare. Staff may live on site and spend time alone with individual children, creating opportunities for grooming and abuse, as was the case with Julien Bertrand, who sexually abused a boarding pupil at Wells Cathedral School. For children living away from home, staff play a unique role in their lives and this may create a dynamic of power and control that can be abused by offenders. The innate power imbalance between children wanting to succeed and staff responsible for helping them can facilitate abuse. This is especially true of staff with pastoral roles, such as housemasters or housemistresses and matrons. In some boarding schools, a sense of staff having power and control over pupils may be exacerbated by a strong sense of hierarchy within the school.

3.2. There is often a higher incidence of individual tuition at boarding schools, in music or sports coaching or for additional academic tuition. This can lead to unique and close relationships developing between pupils and staff. At Chetham’s in the 1980s and 1990s, both Michael Brewer and Christopher Ling, amongst others, exploited their positions of power and their one-to-one tuition with pupils to sexually abuse children.

3.3. Some boarding schools, especially long-established institutions, have developed strong traditions and a particular ethos in which the institution’s own rules and ways of doing things are seen as paramount. This may lead to a sense of exceptionalism and the tolerance of perceived ‘idiosyncrasies’ from staff, which can mask abusive or grooming behaviours. This enabled Jonathan Thomson-Glover’s offending to go undetected at Clifton College: “With a father and a grandfather who were Old Cliftonians, he had a deep understanding of the school’s history, culture and values, which camouflaged his eccentric behaviour”.

3.4. Boarding schools often produce a strong sense of group allegiance and very close relationships may exist between members of staff, some of whom will live together on site. Pupils’ awareness of such allegiances between staff may make it more difficult to identify staff members in whom they may confide, impeding the reporting of concerns. As was reflected in the evidence from Clifton College, parents as well as school governors in the independent sector may have attended the school themselves and have a strong loyalty to the institution and a tendency to protect its reputation.

3.5. Boarding pupils can be emotionally isolated because they are separated from their parents. Sometimes parents may choose to send their children to boarding school to distance them from domestic difficulties. Some boarding schools are also geographically isolated and some have limited opportunities for contact with people outside of the school. This was the case with many of the schools referenced in Counsel’s closed residential schools account.

3.6. Around one-third of boarding pupils are international students who are living far away from their families, having to adapt to what may be a very different culture, and who may also encounter difficulties in communicating in English. Some international pupils may have limited opportunities to contact their families, either because of time-zone differences or because of the regime of the school.

3.7. The very nature of boarding schools can create a number of issues that can compromise effective safeguarding. The school may exist within a “bubble where there is little influence over the norms of the school from the outside environment”. Boarding schools may be less often visited by external agencies, which can find it difficult to understand their practices and ethos. (pp. 57-58).


Then there is a section looking at specific dangers in the context of specialist music education, drawing in part on my testimony. The creation of a special conference between music and dance schools to discuss safeguarding is to be welcomed, but there is still much more work to be done on the specific dangers of this type of education in all respects – also relating to the psychological welfare of those who will invest a large amount of their time and emotional energy during formative years to an elusive goal which few will attain (because of limited amount of work). These former pupils, sometimes having to deal with feelings of failure and worthlessness, are every bit as much a part of the schools’ legacy as those (including myself) who have gone onto successful musical careers.

C.3: Additional risks in specialist music schools
8. The Inquiry heard evidence about child sexual abuse and safeguarding concerns which arose at the four specialist music schools in England. These are boarding schools, although some pupils attend as day pupils. All the specialist music schools include overseas students amongst their boarding pupils, who may be far from home and family
.

9. Music schools present particular challenges in terms of safeguarding. Instrumental tuition involves a high proportion of one-to-one teaching, usually with the same tutor, and often a degree of physical contact will be necessary. At specialist music schools, tuition may be provided by renowned and distinguished instrumentalists, who teach on a freelance basis without qualifications or training for teaching children. In the case of choir schools, choristers will come into regular contact with adults in the choir, or working at the cathedral, who are not employees of the school. Children who aspire to become successful musicians may look up to and even revere their teacher, who may seek to exploit their power and authority. There can be great pressure on children to succeed and make a career in the somewhat closed world of classical music. Concerns about being seen as ‘difficult’ may dissuade children from making complaints about their teachers, who can have significant influence over their future education and career. Evidence from former pupils indicated that the atmosphere within specialist music schools could be intensely competitive and emotionally charged, with insufficient regard for the emotional well-being of children.

10. The specialist music schools are independent boarding schools and are required to comply with the Independent School Standards and the NMS for boarding schools. Currently, there are no additional safeguarding requirements for specialist music education, notwithstanding the additional risks in these settings. A safeguarding conference took place between the specialist music and dance schools in 2018 and these schools now meet twice a year to discuss safeguarding. (pp. 59-60).


There is also an important passage on the role of educational guardians in residential schools, referencing a specific recent example involving Chetham’s:

Educational guardians
14. International students whose parents are not in the UK need an educational guardian
if they attend a British boarding school in order to obtain the relevant visa. Educational
guardians act in place of the parents while the child is in the UK, supporting the child
throughout their studies and providing a home for them during holidays or weekends.
He or she may be an individual appointed by the parents, such as a family member or
a friend of the family, or the parents may use the services of an agency to provide an
educational guardian.

15. Educational guardians are unregulated. There is no statutory licence, compulsory
registration or training required for individuals or companies wishing to provide educational
guardian services. If an educational guardian is appointed by a parent, the guardian is not required to comply with any standards or to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service
(DBS) certificate, and the school is not required to carry out any checks. This means
that individuals who are unsuitable to work with children, or even those who have criminal
convictions for child sexual abuse, can be appointed as educational guardians.

16. Currently, the NMS for boarding schools permit a member of school staff to be
appointed as the educational guardian of an international student, although some schools
do not permit this. As Ms Richards told us, school staff acting as educational guardians
blurs boundaries, with the potential to cause problems or to prevent problems surfacing.
At Chetham’s in the late 1990s, for example, violin tutor Wen Zhou Li was the educational
guardian of a 16-year-old girl whom he sexually abused while she was residing with him
during weekends and school holidays. In 2013, shortly after the arrest of Wen Zhou Li,
ISI inspectors found that there was another staff member at the school who was acting as an
educational guardian to a student.



I will follow this up with another blog post considering the remaining sections of the report which are relevant to specialist music schools, their conclusions, and offer some more extended reflections of my own.


The Enduring Value of Shakespeare (contra #DisruptTexts) – a short discussion

One of the least inspiring cultural phenomena of the last few years has been the growth of the #DisruptTexts movement, founded in 2018 in the US. Broadly, this US-based movement is spearheading an attack on the teaching of classic literature in schools, on the grounds that these primarily embody values of their time now deemed unacceptable in terms of gender, race, social justice, etc. As is typical of such social justice movements, they pretend to inclusivity (in the case of DisruptTexts, towards allocating a central place to recent Young Adult (YA) literature in place of the classics) but in reality their attitudes and actions are highly denunciatory, more concerned to exclude than include, and pathologise any who disagree (a similar phenomenon to that about which I have recently published with respect to classical music – see also here and here). A decent summary by Lona Manning can be read here. One teacher in Massachusetts expressed pride in having Homer’s The Odyssey removed from the curriculum.

This movement is concentrated in the United States, in a country where the status of ‘high culture’ has long been more fragile than in other parts of the Western world, and a number of the debates are primarily centred around North American literature, assumed as central. The social justice claims which accompany it really speak to a particular type of high consumer culture focused upon short-term gratification, in which the types of more challenging and mind-expanding cultural experience, taking pupils and students outside of their comfort zones so as to encourage exploration of other times and places, or less familiar perspectives upon the world, are increasingly marginalised. Non-western canonical literary traditions barely feature in the debates, nor recognition that large parts of the world have highly sophisticated cultural traditions dating back many centuries or millennia. But it was alarming to see Penguin Books recently announce a partnership with #DisruptTexts, presumably in order to convey some message about their corporate image. Yet the ultimate outcome of the movement would be to render large sections of their own catalogue redundant – the classic writings of Cao Xueqin and Murasaki Shikibu every bit as much as those of Homer or Nathaniel Hawthorne. I hope that Oxford University Press do not follow suit.

Not all on the left are enamoured of the movement, which substitutes petty culture wars for a politics grounded in individuals’ and social groups’ material circumstances. In particular, the World Socialist Web Site, representing the views of the Trotskyite Fourth International, published a scathing critique by David Walsh. This concentrated in particular on Shakespeare, a frequent target of DisruptTexts, noting his importance to iconic African-American literary figures including Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Walsh concludes:

A vast accumulation of human experiences, thoughts and feelings, pent up by institutions and religious dogma for hundreds of years, were able to find expression, not only in Shakespeare’s plays, of course, there were dozens of gifted dramatists in England, but most powerfully and concentratedly in his.

#DisruptTexts and its co-thinkers are dedicated enemies of enlightenment and education. Students, teachers and serious academics should treat them with derision, challenge them and expose their ignorance.

Walsh followed this up with an interview with veteran Australian Shakespeare actor John Bell, of which here is a short passage:

[JB]: I think the hardest part of course is teaching it [Shakespeare]. There aren’t that many teachers skilled in teaching Shakespeare. I’ve met so many people throughout my life who say, ‘Oh, I had a terrible time at school with Shakespeare.’ It takes a certain skill and dedication and imagination to teach Shakespeare in a way that’s inspiring to teenagers. It is difficult, but I think it’s also indispensable.

DW: Of course, there’s the claim as well that this is part of the establishment, this is “white culture.” There is an establishment Shakespeare. In Britain, there is certainly an establishment Shakespeare and there are political, patriotic-nationalist reasons and so forth, but that’s not the essential truth of it. There is some connection between Shakespeare and the modern world. Not that the world developed from his work, but that he reflected upon and provided some of the most profound insight into this developing modern world and you can’t understand that world fully without his understandings and his art.

JB: Shakespeare has been adopted by the establishment and used, I suppose, especially during the colonial era as a kind of shining example of what the establishment could achieve. But he himself was a down-to-earth entertainer who had nothing to do with big establishment as such. We have to understand what he was doing and what his work is really about. It exists entirely outside the establishment and most theater companies aren’t part of the establishment. They are self-starting, surviving, living on the smell of an oily rag. This kind of company manages to exist not with the heavy support of the establishment.

This interview elicited some interesting responses from friends on social media, relating more widely to issues of artistic canons and so on (see my earlier blog post here), which I am sharing here with their permission (I emphasise this very strongly). These are not necessarily in the exact order they were posted, and I have not heard from a few participants about their consent to publish, so am omitting their comments for now. These present a range of perspectives on the subject, by no means all in agreement with the position I take above, but a range of intelligent and thoughtful responses, in my view.

From Isaac Malitz:
[1]. Key issues (focusing on music, but applicable to literature, etc.)
[a] The “Canon”, the “Western Tradition”: Uses and mis-uses.
[b] Who owns the Canon? Is it *The* Canon, or *A* Canon
[c] Toxicity in white western culture, and its hijacking/misuse of [a]
[d] Proper attention to the above => better art[e] Is our artistic culture declining?

[2] The best thinkers on the above that I have found:
[a] White toxicity: WEB DuBois: https://medium.com/religion-bites/the-souls-of-white-folk-by-w-e-b-du-bois-354f91ca08ef?fbclid=IwAR0wxMFGPQrijvacY5GxVsHsKqIFRRGGwieV9tnkCtkfw94oHbdmYYNAEas
[b] White toxicity: Thomas Paine on “African Slavery in America”: https://constitution.org/2-Authors/tp/afri.htm
[c] Davone Tines: A superb musician, a very smart guy who has figured out how to navigate the above and produce great art. Tines has found a big-picture constructive view on some of these issues. And his views translate into better performances, much-better performances. Worth a close read.
[i] Long profile article, written by Alex Ross, New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/…/davone-tines-is-changing…
[ii] Review of Tines’ very very successful recital that he has constructed: Built on the model of the Mass and ancient traditions, but constructed in a personal, contemporary conception.Superb craftsmanship, knowledge, intelligence; authentic and compelling.https://www.sfcv.org/…/davone-tines-redefines-rules…
[iii] This recital was presented by MEC [Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles] in September. Here is the program, and a portion of the program notes. Apologies for the photos of the program, rather than text form. https://www.mondayeveningconcerts.org/9821—davoacutene-tines.html?fbclid=IwAR3Lc5teIqCSX85bC2E_jcnk5ZpoUY8uWGDgW9hlBzV_lvJ3iR_FWrB-YkU
https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipNdWfQzg_kD4Nw5cB9rZtgZ1VygYHrbT34utXar0o4thJAb2EAjXPNcv3FdGZ31CQ?key=OUlDb0ZFMWQ1dVlxblpkZFYzcXlKR01JUGpaUzFn

From Franklin Cox, in response to an earlier post from Malitz along similar lines: Isaac Malitz, my problem with this is that any aspect valued by a dominant culture could be picked out and waved around and attacked as representing the sins of the whole culture. I think it’s the fallacy of “accident” (and “hasty generalization”), identifying an elite class with a highly-valued cultural figure, and attaching that cultural figure to the worst evils committed by that class. It’s the same tactic used to attach Beethoven to Nazi crimes, or to European racism. (Oddly enough, Puccini or Verdi, both widely played during Italian fascism, almost never seem to be the targets of this tactic.)

This argument might have been more relevant back when the elites of the dominant white culture valued Shakespeare highly and had pretensions to being highly cultivated, but that’s not really the case any more, and in fact I think this was less common in the past than most people think. During the high point of slavery, Shakespeare’s work wasn’t valued as much as it was later; it wasn’t until the 19th century that it became a central part of the curriculum, which was then expanded into mass education. The argument could be best applied to the British elite class, because Shakespeare became closely allied with the British mission, etc. But in the US, Shakespeare has always been a tough sell.

A more accurate target would be the leading literary figures of the day who were validating racism. Leading Anglo modernists, for instance, were racist and even proto-fascist. T.S. Eliot, for instance, was both, and he was one of the most widely-taught poets in the 20th century college literary curriculum in the US. I think even there the case is dodgy, as The Waste Land is a highly complex and elusive artwork, and about the least likely motivator one could find for motivating an angry mob.

Most of the arguments of this nature come from the literary class, which Du Bois was a member of, and the literary class often tends to overstate its importance. In the past it tended to be educated in largely the same curriculum, but again that’s not really the case any more. Shakespeare doesn’t play a central role in the curriculum of the sort it did in DuBois’s day. And the people organizing white mobs were not, I don’t think, doing this in Shakespeare’s name, or citing Shakespeare to unify the masses.

I think these sorts of arguments end up serving as a distraction, and they are also used as part of an anti-elite culture agenda. Partisans of pop culture use these tactics all the time, because it’s very useful for their purposes.

From me: Ezra Pound had clear and explicit fascist sympathies. But how many of today’s fascists read Ezra Pound?

Also, in response to a comment about ‘nasty white culture’, I posted: I think there are nasty elements in most cultures in the world.

A reply to this from Franklin Cox: I would extend that to “all”, if you look closely enough.

I’m not relativizing things; there are some cultures that have descended into mass murder (the earliest written records we have are marked by massacres), and others that have been relatively peaceful. But a large portion of humanity has been effectively enslaved throughout the entire history of humanity; ancient civilizations were essentially slave cultures, and slavery and caste culture appeared throughout the world–and are still present throughout much of the world. The poor classes lived in misery and with brutality unimaginable to our tender civilized sensibilities. Within these strata women were effectively more enslaved, and so forth.

When I was young I fell for some of the “but the East was different” rationales, but India had a harsh caste system that still is present, China and Japan were largely repressive caste/slave societies run by a distant elite, and so forth. Those of us who love the art of other cultures tend to minimize those aspects.

If you love the art of past periods and peak behind these curtains, you will pretty much always find slavery, oppression, violence, and so forth. Some small cultures managed to evade the big states, but I don’t believe for a moment that they didn’t practice violent and murderous acts when it was deemed necessary, or that there wasn’t societal repression in them. In fact, I think the denial of the harsh dynamics of social differentiation is one the most dangerous illusions one could have, fostering a naïve and totalizing conception of an ideal society.

So given this tawdry history, any art you love from anywhere or from any period grew out of oppression, unfairness, and probably brutality and murder.

The artists who did the best work were usually from the middle and lower classes, and becoming good at art was their ticket into “good society” and out of poverty (and often out of unspeakable misery). Shakespeare is an excellent example of this–in fact the Elizabethan Renaissance is full of ambitious, tremendously gifted commoners such as Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. They benefited from the opportunities they had and didn’t criticize their patrons (although Shakespeare revealed with tremendous subtlety the illusions of the upper classes). That was the norm pretty much everywhere.

Shakespeare’s work in fact took ages to become canonical, because he wrote for the public theater, which had a low reputation among the aristocracy. Ben Jonson did this as well, but wasn’t as successful as Shakespeare and settled on the more common path to success, writing Court masques and a tedious series of tributes to the wisdom and taste of aristocratic patrons.

Most of the poetry of the period was of this nature. The Shakespearean type of play was still considered disreputable as late as the 18th century. Frederick the Great, for example, wrote disparagingly of Shakespeare and Goethe as authors for the common rabble (Goethe used Shakespeare’s history plays as his models for Götz von Gerlingen; Hugo a generation later scandalized the French elite the same way). Beethoven was another example–in fact, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were all commoners, as were almost all the major composers of the period. Music was their ticket out of Nowheresville. Beethoven is in fact exceptional for the liberties he got away with in his ideas and behavior; in earlier times he probably would have been crushed.

Now of course Beethoven and Shakespeare flattered elites in order to succeed. But if there’s ever a case for artists from the lower strata of society distinguishing themselves on the basis of their talent and ceaseless energy, it’s those two (there are, of course, others). The default validation system until the 19th century was aristocratic. Shakespeare and Beethoven became central figures in bourgeois validation systems, which implicitly held open the promise of universality.

I recognize the horrid conditions of the working classes in England in the 19th century and the slaves in the South–and the (effectively) slaves in Russia as well. But in England and America, the long, rocky path to universal education was opened, and this path was gradually adopted by other European countries. Part of the curriculum in Anglo-Saxon countries included Shakespeare, and in music Beethoven.

One can of course criticize all sorts of elements and content of these earlier curricula. Sexism was reinforced, slavery was validated, and so forth, and Shakespeare and Beethoven got hooked to this baggage.

But on the other hand, we’ve made stunning progress toward universal education, haven’t we? We’ve made astonishing progress in opening up opportunities to all strata of society, at combatting sexism and racism, and so forth. If one studies the history of societies closely and looks at the changes over the last two centuries, one sees a logarithmic expansion of knowledge and opportunity. Deep into the 19th century, elites were often denying the basic humanity of people from the lower classes. But luckily this ideology lost the battle. (These views are still present, alas: just look into the heritage of Ayn Rand, for instance, who is a central pillar of oligarchic “Libertarianism”.) But each generation is imperfect, and each next age can look back in horror at what the previous generation believed and condemn it to perdition. This is, however, only possible if you have an idealistic ventures such as “universal suffrage” or “opening opportunities to all members of society” or “ending racism”. So the urge to condemn the past is constantly trapped in a performative contradiction.

Every past age can be condemned, and its best products burnt to exorcise the past, but then the next generation can do the same. I’ve gotten tired of this performance. Trying to understand the past is much more difficult than attempting to extinguish it.

And it’s also important to remember that we become the past with brutal swiftness.

From Peter Tregear: “I think that current reactions against Shakespeare and so on, are in large part reactions against this toxicity”. Hmmm, I’m really not so sure about the ‘large part;’.. These reactions just so happen to be also in lock-step with the views and actions of those who care little for the progressive causes espoused but would who still remove the capacity of our educational institutions even to offer Shakespeare (or other forms of ‘high’ culture) to people (of any ethnic origin etc) outside those who can afford it. I rather agree with Australian commentator Guy Rundle when he wrote recently that “The right and the technocrats would have come for the humanities no matter what happened. But there would have been a real fight to be had if they had not been undermined from within.” https://www.crikey.com.au/…/australias-world-class…/

He also says “this sort of left’s inability to hold two ideas at once — that there is a reflexive, inquiring process of free thought, that it is the pre-condition of the university, and of human liberation and flourishing in modern conditions, and that it has also been a tool of domination — has helped to wear away at the legitimacy of the institutions they are belatedly trying to defend.If the study of global astronomy is nothing more than “a cover”; if Arab studies are only Orientalism; if, as another Overland piece suggests, Emily Dickinson’s poetry is nothing other than “white elitism”, why should taxpayers stump up for any of it? It has no more social claim than the funding of badminton or stamp-collecting — just a hobby a few people like to follow.”

From Himadri Chatterjee: I’m coming to this debate late, and I don’t think there’s much I could add to what has already been said. But, to reiterate some of those points, I don’t think there has been any civilisation or culture anywhere in the world that has not been guilty of the most appalling practices. If we were to be guilty of what our forefathers have done, there’s not one of us who could sleep in our beds at night. To reject products of a civilisation on the grounds that that civilisation had toxic elements would be to reject everything everywhere – all poetry, all music, all painting, all sculpture, etc.

I personally think that the current angry rejection of what is generally termed “high culture” has nothing whatever to do with social justice, and everything to do with resentment – resentment of the very idea that certain products of culture (that the resenters don’t understand) have an intrinsically higher value than others.

In post-Independence India, when streets and places named after various colonial administrators were being renamed, a street in Calcutta (as it was then) was renamed to *honour* an Englishman: Theatre Road was renamed Shakespeare Sarani. I’d wager the people who made that decision understood the nature of colonial oppression somewhat better than the DisruptTexts mob and their ilk.

From Hai Di Nguyen: I’m going slightly off-topic here, but I am Vietnamese. Vietnam was under Chinese rule for about 1000 years & has had conflict with China lots of times throughout history, even now. China took some of our lands, & islands. But I can still love Zhang Yimou’s films (before “Hero”) & love “Hong lou meng”.I see the point that the anti-white thing spills over to Shakespeare, but frankly I find it idiotic. What does Shakespeare have to do with any of that?

The idea about aggression & stuff in so-called white culture is also annoying, there’s something egoistic & condescending in the way some people act as though white people are the most evil in the world & the rest don’t do anything similar, as though we’re noble savages. You can find bad things everywhere, & guess what, some of the bad things that happened in the West in the past are still happening now in other countries.

Unfortunately I’m one of those people with extreme opinions about Zhang Yimou lol, I think his masterpieces are before “Hero” & his career from “Hero” onwards, including “House of Flying Daggers”, went downhill. That’s when he started serving the CCP & lost his soul, which is a pity, because I do think he’s extremely talented.

Then a subthread begun by Steven Waling: This is partly an Australian thing. Australia is nearer to China than Britain. How much classic Chinese literature do they study? Or Japanese? Plus they have their own indigenous culture. Plus these damned colonials seem to have acquired their own culture in the over 200 years since the Brits decided to take other peoples’ land from them. Why apart from nostalgia should they study Shakespeare except as an example of World literature? If I’d grown up in France I’d expect to read Moliere; if Russian Pushkin etc etc…

Ian Pace: Why study Shakespeare? Because it is so incredibly rich in characters, drama, ideas, emotions, language and more, as a vast number of people have found in many parts of the world over centuries.

I see no particular reason why one has to be Russian to read Pushkin, either, except linguistic ones. I’m not yet at the level where I can read Russian literature in the original (but still working on it) but have managed a few Pushkin poems.

Waling: I know how good Shakespeare is. And I see no reason why it shouldn’t be studied or watched or acted by all sorts of people. But I also know there’s a lot of literature out there I haven’t read that also probably has those qualities you mention. They just haven’t had the equivalent to the Shakespeare industry to back them up.

Also, when I was mentoring African writers, I actively had to discourage some from regurgitating Wordsworth & Coleridge tropes. That came from their being taught exclusively English lit in African schools. Shakespeare’s many great things but he didn’t grow up in the streets of Bulawayo.

Pace: Well, which other literature do you think can compare with Shakespeare (I can think of some, and am sure there is other literature I don’t know, but doubt there is that much, worldwide).As for where Shakespeare grew up, I don’t accept this realist view of literature being based in experience. On the contrary, I am fascinated by writers’ abilities to create new and unknown worlds.

Waling: I’m fascinated by the same thing; but a new world has to start from where the writer is not from some poor imitation of Wordsworth’s Lake District. There’s a lot of deeply imaginative writing coming our of Africa for instance. Achebe’s writing for instance is hardly realist. And I do love Shakespeare and think everyone should have access to him. But I won’t get into arguments that revolve around who’s best because they’re pointless.

Hai Di Nguyen: “Why apart from nostalgia should they study Shakespeare except as an example of World literature?”

You honestly think that people teach or study Shakespeare because of nostalgia? I love Shakespeare and English is not even my mother tongue or my first language.”

If I’d grown up in France I’d expect to read Moliere; if Russian Pushkin etc etc…”Here’s some news for you: French people also read Shakespeare, Russians also read Shakespeare, the Chinese also read Shakespeare, etc.

If you want to read, or promote, other writers or literature of other countries, go ahead. But now you’re implying that Shakespeare is irrelevant (“he didn’t grow up in the streets of Bulawayo”), and that he’s considered the greatest only because of the Shakespeare industry.

Jonathan Bate covers this subject in “The Genius of Shakespeare”. Colonisation, with English becoming an international language, is certainly a factor, but there are also inherent qualities in Shakespeare that make him appeal to people from many different countries and cultures, people with different views and different political backgrounds, and so on.

Waling: I bet they don’t teach Shakespeare in the French literature classes though.

Nguyen: 1/ I have never understood this kind of complaint. The language of Australia is English, what’s unusual about literature classes in Australia teaching the greatest works in English, including Shakespeare? The way the greatest works in French are taught in France, and I assume other French-speaking countries, or the greatest works in Vietnamese are taught in Vietnam?

When I lived in Norway, I was in the IB (International Baccalaureate), so I studied Shakespeare and other English-language works in my English class. It was Norway, but the programme was in English, so we studied works in English. What’s so special about Australians, who speak English, studying Shakespeare? You study Shakespeare in the original, whereas Chinese works for example would be in translation.

2/ That being said, Shakespeare is taught in other countries: https://teachingshakespeareblog.folger.edu/…/shakespea…/ I’m aware that Shakespeare is taught in Vietnam. Not a lot, obviously, but he is.

Waling: yes I know he is. And I’m not complaining. But if you are in Africa, and all your education is fixated on Eng lit classics & not on African literature (of which there’s loads, no doubt good and bad, how do get the idea that your own culture has its own worth? And they speak many languages in Australia as well as English (as they do in English.) I do love Shakers but I do suspect a pedestal doesn’t suit him, or any great artist.

Nguyen: I don’t know what’s being taught in Africa, but this conversation is not about Africa.

The official language of Australia is English. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, but the official language/ the common language is Vietnamese.

I don’t think this is about putting anyone on a pedestal. But Shakespeare’s influence is undeniable. People may not like that Shakespeare became the most influential writer over the past few centuries (Tolstoy for one didn’t like it), but it so happened that he had huge influence on not only the English language but also literature and other arts (music, paintings, ballet, etc.) around the world. That’s just how things are, and people lose if they choose not to know Shakespeare.

I do promote non-Western classic literature on my blog (and on twitter, back when I was using it) though.

Lukas Ligeti: Greetings from Africa (Johannesburg). Personally, I reject expecting a person to have certain influences or write in a certain way just because they come from a certain place. Africa, just like everywhere else in the world, is way too complex to allow the imposition of simplistic identity categories on people and expect them to create accordingly. Some art/culture belongs to those who care about it. Nationalistic/ethnocentric approaches cause people to stir their own little pots rather than expanding their horizons. To me, creating art means creating new worlds, so why not look beyond what you already know? Shakespeare is one of those writers that allow for new insights every time you read them, but to me this discussion is more broadly about the crisis that the fixation on identity is causing in the arts – well-intentioned people wearing horse blinders, a fear of intellectual expansion, a retreat into the autobiographical.

Franklin Cox: I don’t really accept the notion that it’s somehow improper or harmful for African students to be influenced by English poetry, etc. For one thing, even for most modern British students, Shakespeare’s work is already distant from their own experiences, the language is distant, and so forth; for Americans it is even more foreign. Germans have their own version of Shakespeare through tremendous 19th-century translations into German.

Sure, if Shakespeare and Wordsworth are the only things being taught, that might be a problem, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. In fact, back when I was in high school our English teacher got in trouble for teaching Shakespeare in the Advanced English class, because it was too hard for the Advanced English students.

We can all learn a tremendous amount from highly accomplished cultures, and I especially value non-American traditions. Recently I’ve been obsessed with Japanese cinema of the 30s and 40s, which I think perhaps has more masterful achievements than any other tradition. I was brought up on Classical European music, but this didn’t prevent me from composing my own quite different music over the last five decades or so. I love a great deal of French and German poetry, and so forth.

I do acknowledge a problem if only historical works from a distant culture are taught. But is that really the case?

Pace: I am an atheist, but get an immense amount from reading Dante’s Divina Commedia, quite a bit of which (especially in Paradiso) is intimately linked to esoteric late medieval theological debates.

Waling: I get the feeling that people think I’ve got something against the teaching of Shakespeare or his influence on world culture. I don’t. But I did get the distinct impression that English Lit was all many schools taught in Africa, a continent where bookshops are still rare. African writers still have to get published outside their own countries to find audiences. So yes Franklin it really is the case, at least below university level. I had one writer tell me all about the ‘hills and vales’ as if his country were in England. I’m in favour of Shakespeare being an influence, among others. But when it’s still a hangover from colonial days I’d say it reeks of white privilege. In Japan Shakespeare influenced the film Throne of Blood but so did Japanese classic writing. Or there’s the influence of Homer’s Odyssey on Caribbean literature. But in neither of those cases do you get the “cultural cringe” that the “home country” is better than your own place.

For information, Hai Di Nguyen’s blog is here. Himadri Chatterjee’s blog is here. Both are highly recommended for those interested in literary matters.


The departure from academia of a brilliant scholar unafraid to critique the relationship of culture to capital

No photo description available.
Paul and I at the Hartlepool Headland, Xmas 2019. Also accompanied by Emily Tan and Lindsay Edkins, not in the picture!

For several months, various friends have known about the upcoming departure of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott from academia, at the age of 43, to take up a job in the Civil Service. To friends he is Paul, and I will refer to him as that from this point, as I am mourning the loss to the profession not only of a brilliant scholar, but also a close personal friend.

Paul published a ‘farewell blog post’, which has been widely shared on social media. In this, without engaging in any targeted critiques of individual scholars or groups, he identified the heart of the problem with which he no longer wanted to be continuously embroiled: an approach to scholarship which preaches dogma and allows for no dissent from orthodoxies, in drastic opposition to the spirit of critical thought which was what drew him to academia in the first place. He exemplified this with a stark statement (an imaginary one, but definitely of a type with which many will be familiar) about how, on account of the interactions between nineteenth-century music and imperial societies, ‘The classical music canon must be decolonised’ (my emphasis). He followed this with a considerably more nuanced view compared to this dogmatic utterance. Then he noted the necessary consequence which would likely be drawn of the dogmatic statement: that music departments stop teaching Beethoven and Wagner, rather than the alternative he suggests by which such music can be used as a means of understanding more about the social contexts from which they emerged. Then he went on to describe his own sense of joy and liberation upon discovering a lot of such music, coming from a background in which it played almost no part. There was a real sense of sadness in the portrayal of a situation in many quarters in which anyone who dissents from this type of ideology is subject to personalised attacks, shaming, no-platforming, and attempts to have them removed from their posts, and how the dogmatic approach mirrors that found in media, politics and business. This was not a world in which he any longer wished to operate.

At first, Paul’s blog post provoked a lot of expressions of sadness and regret, combined with various individuals imploring musicology to look at itself and how it has got to this state. I certainly recognise quite a bit of what he diagnoses, though some of this is more prominent in the US than the UK, and in the UK it is found in certain quarters much more than others. There is a pronounced divide within the UK sector between the ‘post-92’ institutions (former polytechnics before 1992) which in large measure (with a few exceptions) focus on more vocational teaching of Music Technology, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Popular Music Performance, and so on, and the Russell Group (the elite group of research-intensive institutions) in which there is a greater emphasis on a humanistic approach to the study of a wide historical range of music, ethnomusicology, critical academic study of music and its contexts, analysis, performance practice, and so on. Various institutions fall in neither of these groups, and often combine aspects of both approaches. Many of the Russell Group and mid-ranking institutions have taken on aspects of popular music (notoriously Oxford University’s recent introduction of a part-core module in Global Hip-Hop), music business, in some cases music technology, and so on, integrating these into wider curricula, but there has been less traffic in the other direction. Few outside of conservatoires would be able to complete their studies without at least facing some critical questions about the reasons for a canonical repertoire and especially the role of popular music and non-Western traditions relative to this, but many studying popular music can limit their focus exclusively to such music, usually overwhelmingly from the English-speaking world and from a relatively limited historical period, To engage with older historical popular traditions, or those around the world less deeply indebted to the Anglo-American model, is far more rare. Even within part of the sector, there are more than a few ethnomusicologists who heap down criticism on most things related to Western art musics, its traditions, and associated scholarship, often in deeply impugning, accusatory and denunciatory ways (there are some examples of this in this article, which can be found together with the companion piece ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography’ in this book) , but react with horror at even the slightest critique towards their own field. And, as for example expressed in relatively mild form in this exchange following a quite denunciatory radio talk by one professor on ‘Dead White Composers’, there are plenty in academia who will happily dismiss centuries of heterogenous traditions with a few tawdry adjectives (or, in many cases, claiming it to do little more than embody feudal, imperial, racist, misogynistic values – all true in some ways, and of other musics, but far from a nuanced picture) whilst making extravagantly liberatory or emancipatory claims for their own favoured popular musics.

But some of the responses on social media to Paul’s resignation post, including some from academics, exemplified a lot of what he was diagnosing. While a few respectfully questioned some of the arguments made and whether he represented the reality appropriately, others were extremely aggressive, personalised, espousing contempt bordering on hatred, righteous, while others flagrantly misrepresented what Paul’s article actually said, or attempted to undermine his words on ad hominem grounds. Others even claimed that the article caused ‘hurt’, and then felt obliged to denounce it and him as a result. There were no personalised attacks on anyone or any groups in the article, but this was not true of the responses, some of which seemed calculated to cause maximum hurt. This was the unedifying spectacle of a pile-on, and it was deeply disappointing to see some scholars, perhaps the types Paul had in mind when he spoke of those claimed to be ‘generally quite well-meaning’ but not ‘brave’, feel pressure to join in the mobbing.

Paul was clearly a brilliant scholar from the outset. His early work on Elgar (in Edward Elgar: Modernist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), drawing upon his PhD; Elgar: An Extraordinary Life (London: ABRSM, 2007); and the edited collection with Julian Rushton, Elgar Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)) made a very significant contribution to a wider body of scholarship drawing the concept of musical ‘modernism’ more broadly than hitherto and highlighting, with the aid of various analytical tools, the ways in which musical strategies, aesthetics, processes, structures and more left an indelible mark even on work not usually considered together with the most radical figures.

He became a full Professor at the relatively early age of his late 30s, and continued to be highly productive, having to his name by the time of leaving academia five sole-authored monographs, several edited volumes, and countless articles and book chapters (an unfinished book comparing neo-Riemannian analysis with Hugo Riemann’s own work will be completed by another scholar). He was also a highly respected, though far from uncritical, mentor to many junior scholars.

The most important aspect of his work, in my view, was his endless exploration of the relationship between music, musicology, and capital. In this he came from a position on the radical left, drawing upon Marxist models of capital, and was very critical of what he saw as much more casual work in which ‘capitalism’ is essentially viewed as synonymous with any system in which goods are bought and sold. Paul, by contrast, examined what he perceived as the ideological complicity of various strands of thinking fashioned as progressive, democratic, anti-elitist, etc., with the interests of capital. His position was made clear in the Preface to The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012):

But as well as critiquing scholarship on modernism in particular, the book constitutes a broader ideological critique of all manifestations of what could variously be termed postmodern, pluralist, or as Badiou would say democratic materialist musicology. I will therefore make a Leftist case for the possibility of an emancipatory politics that is diametrically opposed to the relativist–cultural sweep of (the bulk of: emphatically not all of) modern ethnomusicology, empirical musicology, musicology of pop music, and all other crypto-capitalist work on what are called musics, by showing how modernist music (on this new dialectical definition) helps to advance our most pressing present concern – to escape the horrors of the present by imagining the transformations of a coming society. (p. xiv)

The following passage indicates his type of argument at full flow:

[Richard] Taruskin’s second suggestion is that ‘cast[ing] aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity’. Let us turn this on its head and insist instead that concealing the moral consequence of obfuscated xenophobic–capitalist aesthetic preferences at the start of the twenty-first century is an obscenity. What Taruskin is doing, of course, is to deny the emancipatory potential of classical music – not because he particularly disbelieves it, I expect (he wrote a five-volume history of it, after all) – but because it pleases him argumentatively to assault other musicologists. In parallel, he wants to say that popular classical music is more valuable – which is to say (as he does) more consumable – in the world of late capitalism. But this aesthetic decision in favour of the popular over the recondite has ethical consequences that Taruskin neither admits nor – as is clear from his gruff rejection of any possible link between aesthetic choice and ethical act – would acknowledge. But capitalism has subjects, subjects who are exploited, limited, have their life’s possibilities minutely circumscribed and controlled. Declaring in favour of the popular is fine as far as it goes, but doing so while denying any possibility of a truth-statement that exceeds the definition of the merely popular (that is, ideologically normative) with the intention of tearing apart the prevailing understanding of the situation – which for us today is global neoliberal capitalism – is simultaneously to declare in favour of the dictatorship of Capital, and the impossibility of its revolutionary destruction.

More extended such arguments can be found in the longer passage from this book, a link to which I posted earlier. In general, a good deal of his strongest critiques were directed at a particular Anglo-American ideological viewpoint, now common within musicology, which can loosely be associated with postmodernism, a position of high relativism which remains oblivious to the influence of capital. For myself, while I can no longer subscribe wholly to the type of Marxist thinking with which I once had some sympathies (and especially not the neo-Maoism of Alain Badiou), and believe the relationship between popular art and capital to be somewhat more complex, I do have other sympathies with various of his arguments from a social democratic perspective, one which rejects the untethered reign of market forces and the commodity principle as a fundamental measure of the value of everything, but believes in regulation, a strong public sector (including in the realms of education and culture), progressive taxation and public spending, and also which does not necessarily view the ‘state’ always as a malign and hegemonic force, but one which can equally act as a democratic check on the power of capital and big business. In this post, I have collated some examples of musicologists who are more explicit in appealing to commercial forces and the market as a supposedly emancipatory alternative to other means of cultural production, or sometimes denying there could be any alternative to the former. This is a perfectly legitimate perspective, and one which deserves proper consideration, but there are many obvious reasons to doubt the extent to which such an ideological viewpoint should be associated with the political left.

Paul also repeatedly returned to the issue of Anglo-American xenophobia in musicology. He was not alone in this; even Nicholas Cook, coming from a very different ideological and scholarly perspective from Paul, had reason to criticise what he called ‘the xenophobic essentialism that Taruskin seems on occasion to erect into a historiographical principle’ (Nicholas Cook, ‘Alternative Realities: A Reply to Richard Taruskin’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 30, no. 2 (2006), p. 208; a reply to Richard Taruskin, ‘Review: Speed Bumps’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 185-207). Paul wrote about the ‘E→G→N short circuit’, which he associated especially with Taruskin, whereby Europeans (E) become conflated with Germans (G) which become conflated with Nazis (N). This is rooted within a tradition of neo-conservative thought, which sees American-style capitalist democracy, fascism, or Stalinist communism, with the latter two also seen as very similar in many ways, and European social democracy distrusted and sometimes demonised for its lack of wholehearted embrace of the US model.

Paul’s final book as an academic is The Event of Music History (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2021), some of which I am continuing to process at present, and about which I plan to write a more extended response. In this he sought to address fundamental historiographical questions and the question of what constitutes a ‘subject of music history’. He concentrated critical attention on postmodern theories of history such as those of Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, Keith Jenkins or Alun Munslow, as well as a range of alternative models provided within musicology, in particular some outlined by James Hepokoski (in ‘Dahlhaus’s Beethoven-Rossini Stildualismus: Lingering Legacies of the Text-Event Dichotomy’, in The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini: Historiography, Analysis, Criticism, edited Nicholas Mathew and Benjamin Walton (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 15-48). These could be delineated into four categories: (1) a critique of Western European canons and their ideological underpinnings; (2) an attempt to dilute what is perceived as an elitist, anti-democratic and German-centred canon by greater incorporation of Mediterranean opera, performer-centered composition, nationalistic works not traditionally viewed as significant, or types of popular or commercial music; (3) a more pronounced shift away from a German-centered canon towards alternative traditions coming from the opposite side of the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’ as articulated by Carl Dahlhaus, so that the likes of Donizetti, Verdi, Paganini or Liszt move to centre stage, while a focus on performance replaces score-based analysis, quite deeply distrusted; (4) more difficult to summarise, but employing the opposition between the ‘drastic’ and the ‘gnostic’ cited by Carolyn Abbate (in ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 3 (2204), pp. 505-36), borrowed from philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, focusing above all on musical reception, and valorising the performative/drastic in opposition to the gnostic. Paul examines these in some detail, in all cases critically, and proceeds in the book to engage with the work of Theodor Adorno to a more thorough extent than previously, leading to extended chapters returning to the central figure of Beethoven, the role of analysis in discerning the ‘truth content’ of his works, as well as questioning some reductive models of the relationship of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ style to the Napoleonic era and so on.

I have significant differences with Paul on many issues. He is deeply invested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, about which I am more sceptical, as I am about some intellectual figures he strongly favours, such as Badiou or Slavoj Žižek. I take a somewhat different view of such issues as the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’, and have perhaps greater sympathies with views which believe in a certain decentring of a particular Austro-German canon (and as such, have more time for strategy 2 above, which has informed some of my own teaching), and even with those which make a rather stark valorisation between highly commercially focused music-making and that which exists with some degree of protection from the vagaries of the market. In that respect, I do not so strongly go along with every aspect of Paul’s critique of some of the arguments of Richard Taruskin, even though I also maintain some aspects of this and other critiques of this body of work. Paul is not sympathetic to the most of the field of historically-informed performance, from a position probably closer to that of Pierre Boulez than Taruskin, while I see this field as of huge importance and value. Furthermore, I believe some of Paul’s critiques themselves to be too all-encompassing in nature, though it is important to note, for example, his critique of some work of ethnomusicologist Henry Stobart was balanced by a counter-example taken from another ethnomusicologist, Martin Stokes. While heavily critical of a lot of directions in ethnomusicology, this did not amount to a blanket rejection of this sub-discipline. For myself, I think study of at least one musical tradition from outside of Europe or North America should be an core part of most music curricula, showing students very different musics, social and cultural contexts from those with which they are likely to be familiar, but have a variety of critiques of some methods and ideological positions associated with ethnomusicology.

But I recognise a lot of the tendencies outlined in Paul’s resignation post, especially the level of dogmatism, with bullying, pathologisation and demonisation as an alternative to any attempts at communication, engagement and scholarly critique with those of divergent viewpoints. This is very unbefitting of academia, and the very converse of genuine diversity (which should include ideological diversity) and a spirit of critical thinking. Paul has left behind an important body of work, and numerous other contributions to academic life – for example as an elected trustee of the Society for Music Analysis, like myself, and through his immensely generous work creating and maintaining the Golden Pages, an invaluable resource for all musicologists listing upcoming conferences, dissertation abstracts, citation guides, online resources, university music departments, and more. But he had weathered the storms for as long as he wanted to, and wished (on an entirely voluntary basis) for a career change, also in light of an unhappy situation where cuts were made to his department at Royal Holloway, which was also a key arena for very pitched battles between factions. For my part, I am simply very sad to see the departure of both a friend and a scholar for whom I have the highest respect, even where we disagree. British musicology will be all the poorer without Paul.


Guest Post by Eva Moreda Rodriguez in response to my Spectator article – ‘How we read, how we write’

The following is a guest blog post by Dr Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Senior Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Glasgow, in response both to my recent Spectator article (‘Roll Over, Beethoven’ – online version entitled ‘How the culture wars are killing classical music’ , Spectator, 7 October 2021) – I should add that neither of these titles were my own) and a range of responses on social media, including this by John Aulich.

How we read, how we write
Eva Moreda Rodriguez

A frustrating aspect of the debate around Ian Pace’s The Spectator article on social media was feeling that not all participants seemed to have read the same text as I did. Some accused Pace of wanting everyone to study music in his way (i.e. highly formalistic, dots on pages, music per se and nothing else). I read the article about four times in search of proof that this was indeed what Pace was saying; at some point, I even started to suspect that my ability to understand written English (which, after fifteen years in British academia, I considered to be pretty close to that of a native) was much poorer than I had assumed. Ultimately, though, I remain unconvinced. Pace writes, for example: “It is time to reassert the value of the study of music in its own right”. Does “reassert” imply the exclusion of everything which is not “the music in its own right”? True, Pace could (and probably should) have phrased his claim more inclusively – but the fact that he failed to write, for example, “reassert the value of the study of music in its own right alongside other approaches” is not in itself an indication that he believes these other approaches should be abandoned.

The frustration, however, led me to consider my own ways of reading and of writing: like Pace and J.P.E. Harper-Scott (although perhaps not as acutely as them), I have also felt for a while now that the study of Western art music qua sounding music (as opposed to social practice) is increasingly marginalized in British music academia. Might have I been misreading utterances from colleagues and stranger, twisting meanings and filling gaps based on my prejudices and previous experiences? I would like to pause here on the word “experience”, as I think it is key to this debate. If we are intent on answering the question “is the study of Western art music being marginalized in academia?”, we could (and should) invoke statistics (which, however, don’t tend to be readily available: we’d need to compile them first): numbers of jobs available by specialization; how this might have changed over the years; how many British universities offer courses in X, Y or Z; whether projects in certain areas are disproportionately likely to get funding, and so on. However, the response to such question will also be inevitably shaped by human interaction (with colleagues from our departments, with others we encounter at conferences, funding panels, professional associations, editorial committee). There is a whole new layer of information there that will likely influence our response: for example, when our department is presented to the outer world (in an Open Day, in a TV or radio programme), are certain areas privileged while others are hidden as a sort of dirty secret? How are teaching loads distributed between different kinds of specialisms? Are certain kinds of scholarship or approaches systematically disparaged in informal interactions or “banter” among colleagues (“same old same old”, “going into the archives and digging up positivistic crap”, “gibberish”, etc.)?

Moreover, such personal interactions tend to happen in an environment which demands extreme levels of productivity and incentivises that we see ourselves as rivals rather than colleagues. In addition, during the last year and a half most our interactions with colleagues are likely to have taken place in the emotionally alienating environment of conference calls. There is a risk here, I think, for us to become entrenched in our prior positions and overreact to anything we see as an attack on them. William Cheng – cited by Pace in his article – talks in his book about “paranoid scholarship”, which he has little time for. I am myself a bit of an enthusiast of paranoid scholarship – I take great pleasure in anticipating which kinds of objections might be put forward to my arguments, and how I might best address them before they have even been articulated: I think this has made me a better scholar –, and I would like to suggest that perhaps we should all be more paranoid when doing our scholarship, but less paranoid in everything else, especially when it comes to interacting with colleagues.

So, when I feel that my area of study is becoming marginalized, where does this feeling come from? And might it be that I am subjected to confirmation bias, in that perhaps I tend to read perfectly innocent statements calling for increasing diversification of the music curriculum (a goal I share and have worked towards) as synonymous with “classical music must disappear from the curriculum”? A key point here is the fact that this feeling comes overwhelmingly from interactions on social media (mostly Twitter), rather than in-person. I am, however, dissatisfied with the explanation that Twitter is its own world, where we build bombastic personas or let off steam before going back to our real-life normal, in which we allegedly express who we truly are: at UK universities, we are increasingly expected to use Twitter for professional purposes; the personas we build there might help us obtain professional contacts, co-authors, PhD students – they are part of who we are.

In any case, my sense of how these interactions go is something like this:

A: Cancel classical music!

B: What?!

A: No one said we shouldn’t teach classical music anymore you silly cookie! We’re just saying, why don’t we teach more hip hop?

But I realize that such exchanges, even if they give this impression to me, do not always happen so neatly as laid out above. For example: “A” might be a composite of several people: it might be that there is indeed an “A” which says something to the effect of “Cancel classical music”, then C and D re-tweet it, then, to B’s protestations, C indeed says that we should teach less classical music, D instead is more conciliatory and says that statement A was made for rhetorical effect, but that no one in their right mind would dream of taking it literally. Sometimes the exchange might happen more or less as above, but more protracted in time – so that A says something eminently provocative at a certain point, perhaps for rhetorical effect in a specific context, but then, in a different exchange, they saw it fitter to articulate their argument for diversification in more rhetorically conventional ways.

However, statements to the effect of the “cancel classical music” above are indeed made (or also: generalizations to the effect that classical music is sexist and racist – and if sexism and racism is something no sane person would want at their universities, where does this leave classical music?). They are indeed made by people employed in academia or with some power within it; contrarily, I would struggle to remember instances of similar statements going in the opposite direction (e.g. “music outside the classical canon has no place in universities”).True, I am sure that if we dug up we would find plenty in the comment section of Slipped Disc and similar outlets; these proclamations, however, unlike the above, do not come from individuals who can make decisions about curriculum. To be clear, I believe in freedom of speech and in academia and elsewhere, and I believe in the right of everyone to make such statements as provocatively as they want (as long as they are free of insults and calls to violence, of course). I am also not contrary to the idea that hyperbole and rhetoric effect might have a place, sometimes, in academic debate.  I would just like to humbly suggest that colleagues making such statements consider the context (for example, what about PhD students in their departments working on classical music topics, who might be anxious about their job prospects?). I hope I am not asking more than I am trying to give myself as I try to disentangle my own knee-jerk reactions to such proclamations.

If we are to take such provocative statements merely as hyperbole, as an invitation to diversify Music studies (which I think most of us can agree with), it occurs to me that two questions we might want to tackle are: if X approach is to be introduced into Music studies, does it mean everyone has to engage with it? Does it mean every university will have to teach it? Because, I have to confess, what has often led me to feel as if classical music was increasingly marginalized (and, after conversations with colleagues, it seems I am not the only one) was the urging, peremptory tone in the calls for including one approach or another into music study, as if implying that everyone has to do it or else is suspect or, at best, charmingly out of date. But is it so? I myself have made in my own publications that “we” must engage with this or that (e.g., with exile and displaced musicians). And now I wonder: am I being equally peremptory? Might these claims have been read by anyone to imply that every music scholar should engage with exile, or else they are suspect of minimizing the plight of exiled individuals? I sincerely hope not, and I would be horrified if anyone had felt this was the case. I hope the context might have clarified that by “we” I meant, mostly, scholars of Spanish art music between, say, 1930 and 1980, and probably scholars of musical modernism too – but in the understanding that, while exile is a category that I certainly think both groups should have in their minds at some point, for some it is likely to be a footnote rather than a central preoccupation.

Why, therefore, do calls to engage with other categories sound more peremptory to me? Upon reflection, I think the main difference is that engagement with these other categories is often framed as a sort of querelle des anciens et des modernes in ways that I find scholarly unsolid and inaccurate. For example: it is not uncommon in social media debates to find the assumption that, if you don’t regard X as crucial to your scholarship, it’s because you haven’t read the right theorists, or you haven’t understood them: “Read XYZ, who has demonstrated this” (in which “this” is not something verifiable and falsifiable, such as, say, the date of composition of a work). Interestingly, a couple of the most charitable responses to Harper-Scott’s and Pace’s articles intended to portray them as out-of-date, yet ultimately, harmless scholars: their preferred methods of enquiry are now as obsolete as is Lamarckian; let’s pity them and hope they can find solace somewhere else. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but, whereas paradigms in musicology of course change, the situation is a bit more complex than that: the study of, say, medieval musical palaeography (one of the pillars of musicology when it was first born) can happily coexist, and perhaps even be cross-pollinized, by approaches to the music of the Middle Ages that put more emphasis on the conditions that surrounded music-making. I am sure that many of those who opposed Pace’s article know better than to regard history as a teleological, progress-driven, quasi-Darwinian narrative, and so it perplexes me that they do so with the history of their own discipline.

But, even if we accept that some boring, lineal progress will happen and some approaches will eventually become extinct, it seems to me that my own understanding of where we are in this timeline differs from the perception of those whom I can describe as being on the other side of the debate. I arrived in the UK fifteen years ago to study for a PhD after having completed my undergraduate degree in Spain. At the time, the social history of music was a well-established strand in British and even in Spanish academia; the academic study of popular music felt newer to me, but perhaps it would not feel so now: the pioneers (Frith, Middleton, Tagg) probably now have the right age to be our undergraduates’ grandparents. In short, I do not think it is accurate to portray (as more than a few do) frictions within the discipline as a bunch of old, decrepit formalists resisting the reformist enthusiasm of those who insist (rightly) that music is more than that. Not so long ago, I listened to a fascinating, thought-provoking conference paper which nevertheless disconcerted me somewhat because of its author’s insistence that for a musicologist to privilege society and culture instead of the formal elements of the music extremely uncommon. Is it, in 2021? I would venture that a cursory look at say, what the top five musicology journals have published in the last few years would say otherwise.

In the same way as many did not see themselves reflected in the claim that there’s a push to cancel Beethoven, I often do not recognize the picture that claims that present-day students are fed a strict diet of Bach, Beethoven and Schenker. Maybe this is true in US academia, where I understand the music history survey, harmony and counterpoint are still a staple of the curriculum, but I would say it is emphatically not so in the UK, and I sometimes wish those on the opposite side of the debate would be more forthcoming in recognizing this. I have to confess here that my own experience has perhaps made me quite embittered in this respect: as a new PhD student in the UK, I enthusiastically embraced the claim (sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit) that music does not simply mean classical music, but other musics too. Even though my expertise was nominally in classical music, I felt the need to engage with the broader world out there, and when I started to teach I made sure to introduce plenty of non-classical topics in my teaching (in courses such as “Analysis” “Historiography”, “Research skills”, which don’t call for a specific repertoire); I also try to engage with other areas of Music study via reading and attending music research seminars. However, over the years I have noticed that colleagues whose main specialization was in ethnomusicology or popular music didn’t feel they needed to diversify their own teaching and engagement to the same extent, and this I’ve found sometimes disheartening, particularly when some of these same colleagues felt the need to point out that my own teaching wasn’t diversified enough (and this often based on the fact that I was, nominally, a “classical” musicologist, and not on the actual content of my classes). Conversations with colleagues at other UK universities suggest that my experience is not uncommon: many scholars who publish predominantly on classical music teach outside those topics, whereas I would dare to say the opposite is less common: while we can surely celebrate the fact that some Music scholars have eclectic research and teaching profiles, we should perhaps also ask ourselves whether cultivating such an eclectic profile (which is surely rewarding, but takes time and work) has become de facto a requirement for some but not for others.

I also wish there was more recognition that the canon is not hegemonic anymore at British universities.  I have long resigned myself to the fact that, when teaching Pauline Oliveros’s Bye bye Butterfly, only a handful of students will have heard of Puccini; when teaching Tchaikovsky in relation to queer theory, only a handful will know sonata form and its ideologies to any level of detail, and so on. In his response to Pace’s article, John Aulich used Notre Dame organum as an example, implying that it is a staple of undergraduate teaching. At my university, I can conclusively say that the number of students who encountered Notre Dame organum in the classroom can be counted on the fingers of one hand – i.e. those who took my non-compulsory course in medieval music last year.

I am not saying that civilization is at risk of falling apart if we don’t remedy this; I am saying that this is the reality at the university where I teach, and I would say at many universities in the UK, and that this reality is at odds with the pretence that the content of UK HE music education is still predominantly white, male and formalist. These days, I find myself pondering whether the brave new world that was being envisaged in British academy fifteen, twenty years ago, a world centered around “musics” and not just classical music, is finally here, but maybe we are all realizing it is not that great and we are reacting, in our own way, against that. And, in my own perception, the fact that it is not great it is not necessarily because of anything inherent to the repertoires studied, but because of marketization pressures, de-funding, internal department politics, sometimes even politics plain and simple, and so on.  One thing, however, seems clearer to me now more than ever: the problems with music education in HE were and are not due to the hegemony, or even the mere presence of, the classical canon.


New Piece, Matière: Le Palais de la mort, inspired by the life and work of Emily Brontë – first performance Monday 14 June 2021

On 14 June 2021, at 19:00, the City Pierrot Ensemble, which I founded in 2017, will give their second concert in the City Summer Sounds Festival, conducted by Joshua Ballance. The programme will consist of Girl (2017) for six players by British-Iranian composer (and recent City PhD graduate) Soosan Lolavar, the Four Primo Levi Settings (1996) by Simon Bainbridge, who sadly died in April of this year, Peter Maxwell Davies’ notorious Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969), with libretto by Randall Stowe, based upon words of King George III, and my own new piece Matière: Le Palais de la mort (2021), for singer/speaker and six players.

The singers will be Georgia Mae Bishop (Pace, Bainbridge) and Benedict Nelson (Maxwell Davies). The other players are Nancy Ruffer, flute; David Campbell, clarinet; Emma Arden, percussion; Ian Pace, piano; Ben Smith, electric organ; Madeleine Mitchell, violin; Bridget Carey, viola; Joseph Spooner, cello. The event will be given to a small select live audience but also live-streamed, details of how to view can be found here – City Pierrot Ensemble: Eight Songs for a Mad King (Monday, 14th June 2021) • City, University of London.

The following is an extended note about my new piece.

IAN PACE     Matière: Le Palais de la mort(2021)

  1. A very untidy state
  2. Cannot go
  3. Cold, selfish, animal and inferior
  4. And pleasures banish pain
  5. Le Palais de la mort

This piece began to form in my mind at the time of a visit to Haworth Parsonage in summer 2019, looking round the house and in particular the square piano in one of the front rooms, and collections of music owned by Emily and Anne Brontë in particular. After reading further about the musical dimensions to the Brontë family, I began to form fantasies in my mind of a certain bombastic playing on the part of Emily (the most talented pianist of the siblings), incorporating some of the (then) popular pieces which she and Anne had in her collection, and developed an interest in creating a work of music which would be unquestionably from the present day, but incorporated aspects of the music which would have been heard in the Brontë household.

The original idea was for a piano piece, which became Pitter-Pottering (2021), and consists essentially of the piano part to the first movement. This consists of a continuous thread of material, derived obliquely from the Pastoral Rondo by Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823), which was in the Brontë music collection, and which in other guises also underpins the third and fifth movements. This is combined with derivations from a range of marches, waltzes, quadrilles, operatic overtures, and sonatas. I also started to imagine that this piece might be part of a wider work for ensemble attempting to capture something of the wider world of the Brontë sisters, and Emily in particular. I was not interested in writing some sort of musical evocation of the moors, nor really in setting Emily’s remarkable mature poems (as various others have done, but these do not seem to me literary works requiring of any musical elaboration). Rather, the world of the Brontë sisters was the starting point for a free creative fantasia informed by aspects of their biographies, musical interests, and wider aspects of their writings. A wish to emphasise the contemporary perspective suggested to me use of some sounds, for example percussion instruments such as the flexatone and vibraslap, or a whistle, to emphasise the sense of artifice, together with the use of a synthetic electric organ (never to be played on any type of real organ), to counteract any wider assumptions of aspirations to verisimilitude. Gradually, from reading more of the work, biographies, letters, diaries and occasional writings of the Brontës, and scholarship thereupon, the piece began to take shape in my mind, and was composed relatively quickly during an otherwise troubled period between late April and June 2021.

Music played a prominent place in the Brontë household. Branwell studied the flute and organ, while Emily and Anne studied the piano, while Anne also sang. Emily was probably the most talented pianist, while Charlotte was the least musically inclined, in part because of having to give up piano study because of acute short-sightedness. Another important musical presence in the Brontë milieu was the organ installed at Haworth in 1834. Branwell in particular was deeply excited by the installation of this new instrument, parodied by Charlotte in her juvenile writing ‘My Angria and the Angrians’)

Anne Brontë collected a song book in 1843, consisting of a range of hymns, folk-songs and a few classical numbers. Branwell Brontë, kept a flute book, from as early as 1831 (aged 14), consisting of similar music for flute and piano accompaniment. These have been published in rare but invaluable scholarly annotated editions by Akiko Higuchi – Anne Brontë’s Song Book/Branwell Brontë’s Flute Book: An Annotated Edition (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 2002) – as a companion volume to the same author’s The Brontës and Music: Music in the seven novels by the three Brontë sisters (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 2005), tracing the many allusions to music throughout the sisters’ works. These, together with John Hennessy’s Emily Jane Brontë and her Music (York: York Publishing Services, 2018), are my most important sources. Other studies include Robert K. Wallace’s attempt to map Wuthering Heights onto three Beethoven Sonatas (Emily Brontë and Beethoven: Romantic Equilibrium in Fiction and Music (Athens, GA and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986)), and Gregory Pepetone’s similar comparison of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette with Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana (‘Kaleidoscopic imagination: a comparison of Robert Schumann and Charlotte Brontë’ (DMA Dissertation: University of Iowa, 1984)), but these are both highly speculative, and afford a central role for now-canonical works of Beethoven and Schumann which they had by no means yet securely achieved during the Brontë sisters’ lifetimes. There is no evidence that the family owned a single complete Beethoven sonata.

Anne and Branwell’s collections, together with a range of music collected by Anne and Emily as catalogued in Hennessy, served as source materials for this work, not so much to directly quote (except in the singing of ‘Ye banks and braes o’ bonny Doon’ and ‘As down in the sunless retreats’, both in Anne’s songbook, which appear in the final movement), as to plunder for musical attributes, though clearer allusions to the hymns in particular surface during some of the mezzo’s arias in the third and fourth movements, as well as in the organ part. The flute part is derived almost wholly from material in Branwell’s book (not least also his rendition of ‘Ye banks and braes o’bonny Doon’) but heavily modified – subject to quasi-serial techniques, cut up, with pitches and rhythms displaced, and developed in various other ways.

The first movement, ‘A very untidy state’ is a somewhat cacophonous portrait of the world of the Brontë household, with the Pitter-Pottering piano part as the fundamental thread, combined in places with the flute material, distant sounds of the organ vaguely heard, free elaboration or ‘commentary’ from the percussion, and occasionally sonic ‘background’ from the strings.

The second movement, ‘Cannot go’ is a free setting of part of a relatively juvenile 1837 poem (whose relative simplicity made it more apt to set to music), to represent the apprehensive young Emily, afraid of but fascinated by the external world, with its strange sounds and sensations.

Both Charlotte and Emily Brontë travelled to Brussels in February 1842, where they were taught languages by Constantin Heger, at the Pensionnat Heger. Charlotte remained in Belgium for two years, and the country featured in her novels Villette and The Professor, though she was extremely rude about the country and its people in a letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, probably from July 1842, part of which I quote in the introduction to movement 3 (met by an evocation of charivari, which Charlotte herself describes in Jane Eyre as ‘the “rough music” made with kettles, pans, tea-trays, etc., in public derision of an unpopular person’). Emily, who had less of a cosmopolitan inclination than her sister, was notoriously ill-at-home in Belgium and unlike her sister made little attempt to integrate into this new milieu. Some have speculated that she might have heard performances by Berlioz and Liszt during her time in Brussels, but there is no evidence available to substantiate this. Both sisters returned to England after the death of their aunt Elizabeth Branwell in October 1842; Charlotte would return the following January and stay another year, but Emily never did so.

The third movement, ‘Cold, selfish, animal and inferior’, named after Charlotte’s atrocious characterisation of Belgians, attempts however to imagine Emily playing in a piano trio with representatives of the then new Belgian schools of violin and cello playing. Taking a basic rhythmic and gestural structure from Daniel Auber’s duet ‘Amour sacré de la patrie’, from La Muette de Portici, a performance of which preceded the beginnings of the Belgian Revolution on 25 August 1830 (the revolutionary crowds sang this duet following the performance), I combine this with material and stylistic allusions to the violin playing of Charles de Bériot and cellist François Servais, while the piano clumsily attempts to provide a half-hearted accompaniment to them in the right hand, whilst continuing with the basic Steibelt-derived material in the left, mostly in a different metre.

The movement ends with a setting of the text from Mendelssohn’s Infelice, of which he made two versions, the first from 1834 featured a concertante part for de Bériot to play alongside the singing of his Spanish wife Maria Malibran, representing Emily’s yearnings to return home.

The fourth movement, ‘And pleasures banish pain’, is a counterpart to the second. I use the text of the Hymn ‘Prospect’, collected by Anne, but in a very different musical setting (with a nod in the direction of Charles Ives), to symbolise the more mature Emily, after her Brussels trip, rooted in the domestic environment but still drawn to the mysterious forces which she perceived in the immediate natural vicinity.

The gothic elements in Emily’s writing in particular are notorious, and can be dated back to her early juvenile writings, not least the poems about the fictional island of Gondal. These elements can be found in her siblings’ writings from the time as well, but it was Emily, much more than the others, who developed these into her mature work. Not to respond to these seemed to me to miss a vital dimension, so I deliberately chose some of the most manneristic musical representations – xylophone, temple blocks (or ‘skulls’) and thunder sheet, all of which are extremely prominent in the last movement, ‘Le Palais de la mort’. This movement, and the work as a whole, takes its title from one of the devoirs, essays which served as French writing exercises, which both Charlotte and Emily wrote under the tutelage of Monsieur Heger, and which have been published complete in an authoritative edition (Charlotte Brontë and Emily Brontë, The Belgian Essays: A Critical Edition, edited and translated Sue Lonoff (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1996)).

The Haworth parsonage was a scene of death, a ‘Palais de la mort’ of its own, during 1848-49; Branwell died on 24 September 1848 (aged 31), Emily on 19 December 1848 (aged 30), then Anne on 28 May 1849 (aged 29), all probably from a variety of tuberculosis. Charlotte a further six years, and died on 31 March 1855 (aged 38) probably for different reasons related to complications with pregnancy. Their father, Irish Anglican priest Patrick Brontë, outlived all of them and died on 7 June 1861 (aged 84); his oldest daughter Maria and Elizabeth had both died in 1825 (aged 12 and 11 respectively); their mother, his wife, Maria Branwell, had died in 1821 (aged 38). In the final movement, the flute, piano and voice could be said to ‘represent’ the characters of Branwell, Emily and Anne respectively, all of whose material comes to an end, with two of them leaving the stage in the manner of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony. But this is superseded by the world of Emily’s gothic fantasies, with two pieces of text from her ‘Le Palais de la mort’. The organ remains a persistent background presence (as in the whole work, except for the ‘Belgian’ third movement), representing the world of Patrick which continues after all the siblings are gone.

Matière: Le Palais de la mort is dedicated to long-term collaborator, friend and confidante, composer and writer Christopher Fox.

Textual Sources

Introduction: Emily Brontë, diary entry for 24 November 1834

Cannot go (Movement 2): Emily Brontë, poem ‘The Night is Darkening Round Me’ (1837)

Transition: Charlotte Brontë, letter to Ellen Nussey, probably July 1842

Cold, selfish, animal and inferior (Movement 3): Italian text by Pietro Metastasio for Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, concert-aria Infelice (1834).

And pleasures banish pain (Movement 4): Isaac Watts, hymn, ‘There is a land of pure delight’ (1704)

Le Palais de la Mort (Movement 5): Reverend Patrick Brontë, letter to Ebenezer Rand, 26 February 1849; folksongs Ye banks and braes o’ bonny Doon’ and ‘As down in the sunless retreats’; French text from Emily Brontë, Matière: Le Palais de la Mort, devoir written in Brussels, 1842.

Translations

Infelice

Ah ritorna, età dell’oro, alla terra abbandonata, se non fosti immaginata nel sognar felicità. Fu il mondo allor felice che un tenero arboscello, un limpido ruscello le genti alimentò. Ah ritorna, bell’età.

Ah return, golden age, to your abandoned land, if you were more than the fancy of happy dreams. The world was merry then when a young sapling, a limpid stream, sustained the people. Ah, return, beautiful age.

Matière: Le Palais de la mort

inspirés par moi l’ami fidèle deviendra un ennemi mortel, la femme trahira son mari, le domestique son maître; nul sentiment ne peut me resister; je traverserai la terre sous les bannières du ciel et les couronnes seront comes des pierres sous mes pieds. Quant aux autres candidats ils ne sont pas dignes d’attention; la Colère est irrasionnable [‘barbarisme’]; la vengeance est partiale; la Famine peut être vaincue par l’industries; la Peste est capricieuse. Votre premier minister doit être quelqu’un qui est toujours près des hommes, qui les entoure et les possède; décidez donc entre l’Ambition et moi, nous sommes les seuls sur lesquels votre choix peut [‘or puisse’] hésiter.

inspired by me, the faithful friend will become a mortal enemy, the wife will betray her husband, the domestic his master. No sentiment can withstand me; I will traverse the earth between heaven’s banners and crowns will be as stones beneath my feet. As for the other candidates, they are unworthy of attention; Wraths is irreasonable [barbarism]; vengeance is partial; Famine can be conquered by industry; Plague is capricious. Your prime minister must be someone who is always close to men, who surrounds and possesses them. Decide then between Ambition and me; we are the only ones between whom your choice can [might] hesitate.

les voûtes, les chambres et les galleries résonnaient du bruit des pas qui allaient et venaient, comme si les ossements qui jonchaient leur pavé s’étaient subitement réanimés et la Mort, regardant du haut de son trône, sourit hidieusement de voir quelles multitudes accouraient à lui server.

the vaults, the chambers, and the galleries resounded with the noise of steps that came and went, as if the bones that lay strewn about the pavement had suddenly come back to life; and Death, looking down from the height of her throne, smiled hideously to see what multitudes hastened to serve her.

(From translations in Charlotte and Emily Brontë, The Belgian Essays: A Critical Edition, edited and translated by Sue Lonoff (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1996). Passages in square brackets indicate corrections made by Constantin Heger to Emily Brontë’s text.)