The departure from academia of a brilliant scholar unafraid to critique the relationship of culture to capitalPosted: October 17, 2021
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’Posted: October 16, 2021
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!
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 2021Posted: June 11, 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)
- A very untidy state
- Cannot go
- Cold, selfish, animal and inferior
- And pleasures banish pain
- 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.
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.
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.)
Those pianists who play a lot of new music will recognise certain things experienced during the course of their careers. Some also apply to other instrumentalists/vocalists and other types of musicians. Here are some of them……
(Caution: this list should not be read by composers as a statement of intent never to do such things! 🙂 )
- What it is like to sit on your stool, having played something marked ‘verklingen lassen’, for what seems like an eternity, while there are still some vibrations going, and wanting to tell the piano ‘get on with it’.
- Playing something very quiet at one end of the piano, then having to move to the other end to play something equally quiet, and trying in vain not to shift your weight on the seat such as will cause the stool to creak very obviously.
- Middle pedals which like to pick and choose from the notes you have depressed, in terms of which ones they will sustain, but then like to pick some more up as you proceed.
- The hardest passages of a piece have to be left to the very end of a recording session, when you are completely knackered, because they might put the piano out of tune.
- Pencils which continuously gravitate to the top of the raised keyboard lid, dying to fall down inside the instrument.
- That sinking feeling when you get a score which includes lots of stopped harmonics inside the instrument.
- Accidentals before grace notes, for which the difference between a natural and a sharp can only be distinguished with the aid of a microscope.
- That terrible feeling of guilt when playing an atonal/serial piece and one wrong note produces an unwanted consonance.
- A3 scores placed in a carrier bag (because they are too big for other cases), sticking out of the top a bit, then you have to walk somewhere with the bag, and it’s raining.
- The composers on account of whose handwriting you want to pay yourself for a copy of Sibelius for them.
- Trying to lower the pedal very slowly and carefully for a rounded damping of the strings, then the result sounds more like they are being touched by razor blades.
- If the performance goes down well, all praise will be upon the composer. If not, likely the performer will be held responsible.
- Annoying people saying to you, ‘what does it matter if you play the right notes or not? Just make it up as you go along, no-one will know the difference.’ Then free improvisers dismissing what you do because you are not making it up as you go along.
- Playing a long passage for both hands in the bass from the right hand page of an A3 landscape score. (contributed by Karl Lutchmayer)
- Explaining why it is pointless to put down the middle pedal when you already have the right one depressed.
- Seeing pp and thinking ‘am I allowed to use the una corda for that, or does it have to be ppp at least?’
- Conservative owners of venues who are convinced that if you play music with many dissonant harmonies, it will do more damage to their instrument.
- That slightly smug expression on the face of a friend you see before a concert, or during the interval, as they hold a drink in their hand.
- That terror at the prospect of not having brought one of the scores with you.
- Keeping a very large repertoire on the go, always changing and expanding, while knowing some non-new-music ‘great players’ get the chance to play the same programme 50 times before they have to work on more.
- When another non-new-music ‘great player’ plays a short work of Stockhausen, Berio or Ligeti every once in a while, and receive immense praise for their commitment to the music of our time.
- Pretending to look for the composer in the audience to bring to the stage, when all you can see is a sea of indistinguishable faces and a bright light above them dazzling you.
- Exchanging stories with other new music pianists about just how late before the first performance you got that score.
- The other extreme, the composers who expect you to be able to play their piece to them six weeks or more before the concert.
- Performing a work using electronics, for which hours are used up during the rehearsal because something doesn’t work. When it does work, it produces a few faint ambient sounds at occasional places in the work.
- Pieces with electronics in which you play something and it is repeated and looped back at you, and you feel violated as a result.
- In order to do some things on the strings, having to place the music stand some way back under the piano lid, so that an A3 score will never stay up (it catches the lid), the page turner cannot reach it, there is little light shining on it (and the lights cannot be adjusted), and the score was too small anyhow, even on an A3 page, let alone for distance viewing.
- Practising stuff involving stopping, damping, plucking strings, then having one hour to practise that music for a performance on a piano with beams in wholly different places, and where the places you need to stop strings lie underneath other cross strings.
- The absolute total impossibility of playing inside the instrument, on a new piano, and being able to look at any other musician or a conductor at the same time.
- Composers telling you ‘It’s all done, I just need to write it down.’
- How pianists’ first gift is not singing, acting, playing percussion instruments, kazoos, etc.
- Getting to a page like this, playing the ppp note fff, then hating yourself for the rest of the piece. (contributed by Ben Smith)
- Just as it is easy to push a door which says PULL on it in large letters, it is easy to play a note marked ppp as fff.
- That yearning for a dynamic which lies somewhere between ppp/pppp and fff/ffff.
- When you have to play a piece for prepared piano and mallets on the strings and you end up using the mallets upside down to pick up the preparation from under the strings (during the performance, of course!) (contributed by Lorenda Ramou)
- There is no document you would guard more from prying eyes than the edit list on one of your recordings.
A new cover article in The Weekend Australian Review, Rosemary Neill, ‘Notes on a Scandal: The raging debate over our next generation of composers and musicians: should they be able to read a score?’, Weekend Australian Review, 29-30 August 2020, brings to a further readership many of the key issues debated a few years ago as part of #notationgate and also of deskilling (see here and here). This is behind a paywall, but can currently be accessed here for those with a subscription.
Neill speaks at the outset to student composer Dante Clavijo, who surprises some people by saying that he still composes using pen and paper, rather than relying entirely upon digital audio workstations. Clavijo argues that songwriters and composers ‘absolutely benefit from knowing notation; it’s jut a logical way to organise musical thought.’ But this then leads to the question of whether even those studying music at tertiary level need to learn notation. On this, Neill quotes my collaborator Peter Tregear:
Yet Peter Tregear, a former head of the ANU’s school of music, points out that these days, students can graduate with music degrees without being able to read music, particularly if they are studying popular music and music technology subjects or degrees, and he is scathing about this trend.
“I find it concerning,” says Tregear, who obtained a PhD in musicology from Cambridge University and has worked at Cambridge, Melbourne and Monash universities. “It’s a misunderstanding of what universities are there to do. We’re meant to be expanding minds and opening horizons. … If you no longer teach musical notation, you effectively wipe out not just a good deal of recent Australian music history, but a large swathe of music history full-stop.”
Tregear presided over the ANU’s music school from 2012 to 2015 and waged a battle to keep several notation-centred subjects in the music degree. He lost.
He attributes the decoupling of music education and traditional notation to the march of new technologies and – more controversially – to a push to “decolonise” the music curriculum, because the classical canon was largely created by “dead white men”.
The outspoken academic, who has also won a Green Room Award for conducting, tells Review: “There has been, I think, a false or at least a very dubious conflation of arguments around the fact that western music notation is western music notation, and the idea that we shouldn’t favour it for that reason.
“To borrow an Orwellian phrase, ignorance is now a strength – it is considered that we’re actually better off not to teach this, which I find an extraordinary view for any higher education institution to take.”
In contrast, most European countries still comprehensively studied their own music histories. Still, even in Europe, there was a push at some conservatoriums and universities to “decolonise” the curriculum.
“There is a move away from musical notation as being central to a music education as a kind of excuplation for western historical wrongs,” he says.
Tregear argues that if a music student is incapable of engaging with music that was “increasingly written down” over the course of 1000 years, “a whole wealth of the global musical past is effectively closed to you”.
Tregear is opposed by composer and University of Melbourne professor Barry Conyngham who claims that whether or not his institution’s students ‘can read sheet music or not’, they are ‘very musically capable of conveying musical performances and thoughts.’ But composer Matthew Hindson, of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, notes that all students there must study music theory and notation.
Other examples are cited such as Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but Clavijo, like others before him, points out the important contributions of others such as George Martin, who certainly did have a more traditional and formal musical training. Others make claims that any objections to the removal of traditional skills are little more than resistance to ‘decolonisation’.
This article obviously comes from an Australian context, from a country in which (as with the US and even to some extent the UK), art music traditions have a much less central cultural role than in much of continental Europe, and with fewer living musical traditions developed over centuries or millennia as in various Asian and African countries. But it points to a wider trend by which a mixture of over-elevated claims for certain technology, allied to populist and commercialist attitudes (invariably favouring Western popular musics – the study of non-Western musical traditions are faring no better in this environment, for all the rhetoric of decolonisation) are said to obviate any requirement for more rigorous training.
My online timelines fill up with videos and websites promising to teach people how to compose in a few weeks without requiring any learning of harmony, use of instruments, and so on. Furthermore, in an interview from two years ago, film composer Hans Zimmer, recently renowned for his slowed-down version of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to accompany the arrival of pleasure boats to rescue British soldiers in Dunkirk, the film which was accurately described as fuelling Brexit fantasies, boasts of having ‘no technique’ and ‘no formal education’, but instead ‘the only thing I know how to write about is something that’s inside of me.’ This sort of argument is not new, and was encountered in the nineteenth-century amongst a range of Russian composers opposed to the professionalisation of music-making and establishment of conservatoires for this purpose. Appealing to some sense of inner authenticity and the notion that somehow anyone can be a composer so long as they have something ‘inside of them’, has a long and dishonourable history, as was debated extensively in the responses to Stella Duffy posted on this blog in 2017. It speaks to a wider culture of anti-intellectualism and deskilling, in which the only measure of art is commercial and popular success.
I continue to believe that it would be a great loss if those who go on to teach music in primary and secondary cannot read music and thus will be unable to impart it to pupils, or if composition becomes merely about copying and pasting others’ work. This is not to deny the importance throughout musical history of musical borrowing, an issue about which there are a range of sophisticated theoretical models (of which I undertake a critical survey in order to arrive at models for analysing the work of Michael Finnissy, in my book chapter, ‘Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics’). A good deal of very superficial writing on postmodernism, intertextuality and so on, is founded essentially a dichotomy between two straw men – an insistence upon absolute originality or total plagiarism, when in reality almost all music of any quality inhabits differing positions on a spectrum. That Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky or any number of others drew upon existing musical forms, genres, styles, sometimes explicitly borrowed musical materials (for example Liszt’s huge range of ‘transcriptions’ for piano, or Brahms’s many pieces alluding to Renaissance or early Baroque choral music) has never seriously been in doubt to anyone familiar with their work. Such examples as Stravinsky’s transformation of baroque musical materials into an angular, askew, sometimes dissonant, and alienated musical experience, Finnissy’s transformations of small groups of pitches and rhythms from Sardinian folk song into wild, rampaging musical canvasses, Ives’s hallucinatory and terrifying visions incorporating the residues upon consciousness of mangled hymns, allusions to brass bands, Beethoven and more, Berio’s carefully-judged fragmentations and superimpositions of a wide range of music from nineteenth- and twentieth-century orchestral and other repertoire on top of parallel threads provided by the scherzo from Mahler’s Second Symphony and a text from Beckett’s The Unnamable, to create an unsettling tapestry of commentary and critique, or for that matter Chopin’s use of known dance and other genres (waltz, polonaise, mazurka, etc.) allied to a Bellinian sense of vocal line and an ultra-refined contrapuntal sensibility, are all a world away from music which simply lifts others’ work or hackneyed clichés for ready-made, tried and tested, effects and moods. What distinguishes the above (and many others, including many in non-‘classical’ fields of composition) is a highly developed and refined level of musicianship, including detailed musical understanding of the properties of the sources upon which they draw. These are not achieved easily, and empty claims that anyone can be a composer comparable with the above, without having to go through the training, are no more convincing than equivalent claims about becoming a surgeon.
My contribution to the debate on ‘Classical Music Performance: Meaning and Relevance in Modern Society’Posted: August 23, 2020
I posted earlier my contribution to one component of the City School of Arts and Social Sciences debate on the legacy of Stuart Hall, which I co-convened. Another event within the same online conference was an excellent debate on ‘Classical Music Performance: Meaning and Relevance in Modern Society’, convened by Natalie Tsaldarakis and chaired by Professor Alexander Lingas (City, University of London), which took place on Monday 22 June 2020. The panellists were Natalie Tsaldarakis (City, University of London), myself (City, University of London, Dr Izabela Wagner (University of Warsaw), Professor Ratko Delorko (pianist), Ben Johnson (tenor). The event was stimulated by a lively debate following a tweet from Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor at King’s College, University of London.
The abstract for the debate said the following:
In this year of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary I propose to organise a public debate following the assertion by Dr. Leech-Wilkinson through social media that ‘classical music performance has nothing to say about current concerns’ taken together with his referenced work on the matter (Challenging Performance). Purportedly, the classical performing world as a whole offers approximations of a single idealised performance and rejects deviations, in the process becoming inaccessible to the audience, and finally culturally divorcing itself from current concerns. Thus, this public debate would welcome a balanced discussion about the role, meaning, and relevance of classical music.
It is important that practising professional musicians not working in academia were able to participate in this debate. As I indicate at the beginning of my contribution, academics frequently disparage musicians and the classical music world, but are rarely open to listening to criticism coming from the opposite direction. Leech-Wilkinson was invited to participate in this debate, but declined. One hopes that in the future he will be prepared to subject his views to more scrutiny from beyond circles of like-minded academics.
I am hoping that the video of the full debate will go online soon, and if so, I will post a link to it. Here is my contribution, of which I delivered a slightly abridged version in June.
It is common to hear musicologists passing judgement upon the work and other activities of classical musicians, sometimes in a deprecatory fashion, much less common to hear the reverse. There are various possible explanations for this; amongst the most plausible, I believe, would be that a good deal of contemporary musicology makes relatively little impact upon classical musicians in general, and so some find it insufficiently important or prominent to warrant comment. This is not a happy state of affairs, and there are many ways it can be demonstrated not always to have been the case. Certainly in the field of historical performance there has long been fruitful exchange between scholars and performers. More widely, those who simply draw upon relatively general literature on music to inform their music-making – I am thinking here of general histories or basic analytical work such as are aimed at those who are not academic musicologists, but have a sound general musical training – frequently imbibe the fruits of more detailed scholarly micro-studies which have informed the best of these more general texts. The writings on music of Charles Rosen, whose academic training was as a literary scholar rather than a musicologist, and who only ever held a few short-term fellowships in music departments, would nonetheless have been impossible without his wider knowledge of musicological scholarship, about which he sometimes wrote in more detail.
But while there is in my opinion still plenty of vital scholarship being produced which has at least the potential to be of value to practising musicians, there has been a counter-current for around three decades, a brand of scholarship which frequently seeks to indict numerous varieties of classical music in particular, charging it with colonialism, misogyny, elitism, or at best irrelevance. It is a bizarre spectacle to see such a number of musicologists – a disproportionate number of whom, as the musicologist Paul Harper-Scott has demonstrated, come from very privileged backgrounds in which a sound training in classical music can be taken for granted – spend a large part of their careers trying to do down this realm.
Now, I would never argue that classical music is wholly autonomous of issues of imperialism, gender, race, social division, by any means, but nor do I accept those arguments that would reduce that music primarily or solely to such factors, with a concomitant disdain for any suggestion of musical ‘autonomy’. This direction, far more prevalent in Anglophone musicology than that from elsewhere, has been steered by self-styled ‘new’ musicologists, some ethnomusicologists, sociologists of music, and others who would view the study of classical music as just one relatively small component of cultural studies, its ‘relevance’ to be gauged primarily on the basis of the size of its audiences, by which measure it would become a minor concern compared to commercial pop.
It is in this context that we should consider this now somewhat notorious remark of Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, even though he is not really a figure commonly associated with the ‘new musicology’, nor with other of the factions I mentioned, and was for a long period primarily known as a scholar of medieval music. As I said, a key axiom of ‘new musicology’ (or its British near-counterpart, ‘critical musicology’) is a denial of the possibility that music can, let alone should, exhibit any autonomous features, those which cannot simply be explained by social, ideological or other determinants. Yet even if one believes this to be the case, demonstrating such a degree of determination is a difficult process, because of the nature of the medium, and attempts to do so often fall back upon hugely speculative associations. It is not difficult to see how some choral ode to a monarch is linked to aspects of feudalism and associated ceremony, but much harder to explain every note of it can be deduced from such an ideological viewpoint, even less why some such such works, but not others, have proved to have a lasting appeal long after such monarchs are consigned to history. To argue that Josquin’s masses or Bach’s sacred cantatas or Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus could only ever be meaningful or valuable to those committed to the particular religious beliefs associated with such works would be myopic in the extreme, and I maintain the same is true of much other music written for a particular social function or in a specific cultural context.
But such a view persists in sub-sections of musicology, and frequently takes another modified form, an active disapproval of music considered more abstract or autonomous. This view is not new, for sure, and is rooted in the nineteenth-century opposition between a more autonomous musical ‘romanticism’ and species of ‘realist’ music given to external depiction, such as fuelled opposing factions in the so-called ‘War of the Romantics’. The American musicologist Richard Taruskin in particular has been quite unequivocal in his partisanship in this respect, drawing largely upon terminology largely developed in a musicological context by one of his nemeses, Carl Dahlhaus. Another American musicologist, Lawrence Kramer, concludes some extravagant hermeneutical readings on the basis of relatively slight evidence, but in particular is clear that the condition for music to be meaningful requires some external referent, a position which caused even Taruskin to balk somewhat.
In an article which was in part a critique of Kramer, Rosen said that ‘music has meaning but very little reference’, having previously argued that ‘It is not that music is more autonomous [than literature], but more ambiguous, slippery: it will not allow itself to be caught and pinned down like a novel or even like a poem.’ The same could be said of sculpture, or of dance, and for none of these art forms is this a weakness. But for Leech-Wilkinson, it would appear that it is, as revealed through his disparaging tweet copied above.
This attracted a fair amount of charged response from musicians such as Peter Donohoe, Paul McCreesh, Lars Vogt, as can be seen in the thread which followed it, and here:
It should be noted that Leech-Wilkinson’s comment was itself a response to another tweet by Donohoe bemoaning the lack of mention of classical music in a BBC news item on the grave financial implications of the virus upon the arts. Leech-Wilkinson’s response was widely regarded as a highly insensitive comment at a time when, due to COVID-19, classical musicians and classical music per se are fighting for their very economic survival. An established musicologist, Emeritus Professor at one of the most prestigious of British institutions, King’s College, University of London, occupies at the very least a position of relative power compared to those dependent for their livelihoods on the field he is berating. However, when this was pointed out, Leech-Wilkinson did issue a partial apology in response to McCreesh.
But what would it mean for classical performance to have ‘something to say about current concerns’, specifically the virus? I fear we will soon come across a whole host of lachrymose works with opportunistic titles or dedications, COVID-19 Requiem, ‘To the memory of those we lost to the virus’, Lockdown Lament, and so on, just as many composers rushed to produce works alluding to 9/11. In many cases the music employed might equally have been produced to order for any other traumatic event – and will be interpreted as communicating an emotion of sadness, and thereby ‘tell’ listeners that they should remember how sad this is. Any other critical or aesthetic judgement of the piece may then be viewed as demonstrating some lack of proper sensitivity. It is not difficult to imagine at some future date a theatrically-inclined composer instructing all musicians to wear face masks during their piece (independently of any medical need), while the composer will speak in earnest tones in a pre-concert talk in about the importance of preserving memory and the like.
This is not to say that there cannot be value in music which attempts some wider commentary upon traumatic events – a strong counter-example would be Shostakovich’s settings of Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his Thirteenth Symphony – which generally avoids the type of mawkish sentimentality that can be found in many previous essays in the type of composition I have just described. Shostakovich’s work of course involves a text with vivid subject matter, and so hermeneutical readings are somewhat less contentious than has been the case for some of his purely instrumental works.
Ultimately, however, I do not accept that the primary purpose of music is to do social good, and reject prescriptive talk insisting that it must do so in order to be considered significant, as Leech-Wilkinson’s comment appears to imply. This view is not really so different from that of Victorian moralists such as Leech-Wilkinson’s compatriots John Ruskin or Matthew Arnold, who insisted on a socially edifying role for art. What all appear to fear is the possibility that art may have value through such attributes as opening up new realms of consciousness, sensation, emotion, in ways which cannot be understood simply as an expression of moral philosophy or political dogma.
It is far too early to ascertain any conclusive scholarly data on how and to what extent classical music or other art might have been important to people during the time of COVID-19. All I can point to is that there have been a great many making the most of the small number of streamed videos of concerts, operas and other musical events, and by no means just those in which one might find particular references which can be linked to the current situation.
For the purposes of this debate, I also listened through to Episode 1 of Leech-Wilkinson’s Challenging Performance podcast. This features a mixture of frequent pleas as if from a beleaguered position, evoking some apparently sternly ‘policed’ environment of performance, which a range of comments suggesting an equal wish to ‘police’ this himself. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Leech-Wilkinson, while professing to wish for a more pluralistic culture of performance, is really arguing for one dominated by the aesthetics of the early twentieth-century. There are some quite bizarre claims, for example that only some historically ‘correct’ performances being allowed in conservatoires, which would be belied by conversations with those responsible for teaching historical performance at many conservatoires, frequently marginalised and dismissed by ‘star’ teachers.
Leech-Wilkinson’s examples of the Moonlight Sonata, claiming that both are acceptable in classical music circles, appear to contradict some of his earlier claims. No examples are given of these audience members who apparently hate something because it is ‘incorrect’. Also, when noting that Paderewski plays with the two hands desynchronised, Leech-Wilkinson argues as if this practice were not still employed by a fair range of pianists today, including Tom Beghin in the example he gives! My own observation of a large range of recordings through the course of the century shows that this practice never wholly disappeared, just that some came to use it rather more discreetly than was once more common. But even in Paderewski’s time, there were marked differences of degree as well. I myself regularly employ such a technique, not only between hands but also between parts in the same hand, but so do plenty of others, if not necessarily in such a stark fashion as Paderewski. Whether Paderewski’s style mirrors that of a century earlier, during Beethoven’s lifetime, we can never know for sure, but on the basis of other information which does exist about performance in the early nineteenth-century, it is safe to assume that there were a variety of different practices, as there are today. There is nothing to stop a Presto rendition of the Moonlight Sonata, as we hear on the podcast, if someone thinks it worthwhile – Leech-Wilkinson acts as his own ‘police’ when he declares ‘it works musically’, though I find his criteria narrow, by their rendering tempo as a secondary, even trivial, concern. He is perfectly entitled to his view, but so are some of the other reviewers and commenters on YouTube – it seems as if Leech-Wilkinson wants to ‘police’ them.
Would Paderewski be denied a conservatoire place today? I am not sure that can be answered unequivocally. Were critics and teachers somehow less censorious during Leech-Wilkinson’s golden age? I do not think so, as any survey of critical reception or pedagogical writings from musicians active during that time will show (obvious examples include those of Josef Lhevinne or Heinrich Neuhaus). Furthermore, many would have found themselves pigeonholed on national grounds, explicitly attacked for being Jewish, for being women, with many attributes of their playing directly linked to such things. Very few non-white performers were ever heard in the West, and the opportunities for performers from non-monied backgrounds to achieve performing careers were very considerably fewer. The repertoire performed was very much smaller – works such as Schubert’s late sonatas or many of Liszt’s works or for that matter Bach’s cantatas, save for a small few, were practically unknown. Also – and this is no small point – the number of those prepared to explore earlier instruments, rather than assume that the most modern ones always entailed ‘progress’ in all respects, was very much smaller than today, and those who did occupied a very marginal position in performing culture. We need to remember these aspects of early twentieth-century performing culture, every bit as ‘policed’ as our own if not more so, rather than view it through a rose-tinted rear-view mirror.
If looking for more possibilities than appear to work musically at the moment, Leech-Wilkinson might consider more of the phenomenally creative work going on in early music, for example the medieval ensemble Graindelavoix, the manic virtuosity of some of the Italian baroque groups, or the vast amount of embellishment enacted by Robert Levin in performances of Mozart Concertos, so relentless as to be mannered. I am sure that he is aware of these; the choice to ignore them is one reason I believe his contribution is essentially polemical in nature.
Many of the other points made in the podcast concerning beliefs and aesthetics constitute more straw man arguments. I could add something about where the boundaries might lie in terms of in some sense playing a score, but there is not really time for that. Leech-Wilkinson may have been open to a whole variety of performances of Machaut’s Mass, but I wonder how he would have felt about one in which each part were played on swanee whistles, with most pitches extremely unstable. Everyone has their limits.
Ultimately, I think the majority of this says more about Leech-Wilkinson’s personal projections than about classical music. Furthermore, I do not believe many musicians need his permission to arrive at performances with which they feel pleased and creatively empowered.
 See J.P.E. Harper-Scott, ‘Musicology, the Middlebrow, and the Question of Elitism’, in Rethinking Contemporary Musicology: Perspectives on Interdisciplinarity, Skills and Deskilling, edited Ian Pace and Peter Tregear (London: Routledge, forthcoming).
 Richard Taruskin, ‘Speed Bumps’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 185-207.
 See in particular Carl Dahlhaus, Realism in Nineteenth-Century Music, translated Mary Whittall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Dahlhaus was not the first to theorise musical realism, for sure – one can find much earlier writings in English by Norman Cazden, ‘Towards a Theory of Realism in Music’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 10, no. 2 (1951), pp. 135-151, not to mention in the work on socialist realism of Boris Asafiev in the 1930s, specifically his Muzykal’naia Forma Kak Protsess (St Petersburg, 1930) and Intonazia (St Petersburg, 1947). A full translation into English of both of these (viewed as two volumes of a complete work) can be found in James Robert Tull, ‘B.V. Asaf’ev’s Musical Form as a Process: Translation and Commentary (Volumes I-III)’ (PhD thesis, Ohio State University, 1977); commentaries in English on both can be found in Malcolm H. Brown, ‘The Soviet Russian Concepts of “Intonazia” and “Musical Imagery”’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 60, no. 4 (1974), pp. 557-567; Gordon D. McQuere, ‘Boris Asafiev and Musical Form as a Process’, in Russian Theoertical Thought in Music, edited Gordon D. McQuere (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983), pp. 217-252; and Ildar Khannanov, ‘Boris Asafiev’s Intonatsia in the Context of Music Theory of the 21st Century’, Rasprave, vol. 44, no. 2 (2018), pp. 485-501. However, Dahlhaus went further than others before him in viewing nineteenth-century music in terms of a dichotomy of romanticism against realism, such as had long been applied to literature and the visual arts.
 See various of the essays in Lawrence Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice, 1800-1900 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London: University of California Press, 1990); Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London: University of California Press, 1995) and Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London: University of California Press, 2002).
 Taruskin writes ‘If the value of music lies in the words and the pictures that it prompts, then why not cut out the middleman and go straight for the words and the pictures?’; Richard Taruskin, ‘The Musical Mystique: Defending Classical Music against Its Devotees’, in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London: University of California Press, 2009), p. 349.
 Charles Rosen, ‘The New Musicology’, in Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 270. First published as ‘Music à la Mode’, New York Review of Books, vol. 41, no. 12 (23 June 1994), pp. 55-62, review of books by or edited by Lewis Lockwood, Elaine R. Sisman, James Webster, Susan McClary, Richard Leppert, Ruth A. Solie, Steven Paul Scher, Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood and Gary C. Thomas.
 Since giving this paper, I found out that the Last Night of the BBC Proms 2020 ‘will also feature the South African soprano Golda Schultz and a newly commissioned work by Swedish composer Andrea Torrodi which responds to the pandemic and will include sounds from the lockdown’. See Mark Brown, ‘BBC Proms: details announced of festival behind closed doors’, The Guardian, 3 July 2020, at https://amp.theguardian.com/music/2020/jul/03/details-of-behind-closed-doors-bbc-proms-announced?CMP=share_btn_tw&__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR2FbCFbQCKxRPOixGvqasByCu5doAqt-fSfMLpWl2orpJjA1YMYgMqakjc .
 For a good study of this, see Edward Alexander, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin, and the Modern Temper (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1973).
 Josef Lhevinne, Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing, with a new foreword by Rosina Lhevinne (New York: Dover, 1972); Heinrich Neuhaus, The Art of Piano Playing, translated K.A. Leibovitch (London: Kahn & Averill, 1993).
 This is a subject I pursue in my ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Unfolding Time, edited Darla Crispin (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151-192.
 About which he authored a book: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Machaut’s Mass: An Introduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
Rethinking Contemporary Musicology: Panel at the Royal Musical Association 2019 – Part 2. Papers of Darla Crispin and Peter Tregear.Posted: October 31, 2019
In my earlier post, I detailed the contents of first two papers at the important and well-attended session at the Royal Musical Association Annual Conference 2019 by Larson Powell and Darla Crispin. Here I will do the same with the third and fourth papers by Darla Crispin and Peter Tregear, and then append some wider thoughts of my own on the occasion.
Darla M. Crispin, ‘Artistic Research in Music: Brave New World – or Harbinger of Decline?’
Crispin’s paper focused on fundamental questions appertaining to the field of artistic research and the ways in which work in this field might be judged. She began by offering four fundamental questions:
- How do we measure value in artistic research?
- Have we really resolved how to do so in the separate cases of art and research?
- Can artistic research offer fresh insights into our value systems for the separate worlds of art and scholarship, as well as its own hybrid world, or will its influence contribute to a free-for-all situation where all value is subjective?
- Perhaps most fundamentally, how is artistic research in music to develop a more trenchant self-criticism, as the field moves toward maturity?
None of these are easy questions; Anglophone academics may be familiar with particular manifestations thereof in the debates about practice-as-research. Artistic research is a distinct concept, however, which has not yet gained the same currency in English-speaking academia as in parts of continental Europe. Fundamentally, this entails research into artistic practice, carried out by active practitioners, but generally presented in a written form (so the practice itself does not constitute the final output). Crispin argued that this paradigm ‘is more one of a fusion of artistic practice and research, leading to a third entity‘, in comparison to the UK model in which ‘the research retains its distinct identity as research‘ despite operating through the medium of practice, drawing upon concepts from Christopher Frayling’s influential essay 1993 essay ‘Research in art and design’.
Crispin, who has worked extensively at the centre of artistic research programmes in Ghent and Oslo, described how, when the field of artistic research was new, many sought a workable definition such as would facilitate the development of new work methods, courses and programmes and associated curricula, and could be used to validate new advanced degrees, in particular the PhD in artistic research. However, the co-existence of both the UK and continental models has created further complications and controversies, one response to which was the following 2015 statement from the Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen (AEC):
‘Artistic Research shares with other research focussing its study on the arts the aim of promoting the understanding, and thereby the development, of artistic practice; however, it is distinctive in the emphasis it places upon the integral role of the artist in its research processes. Artistic practice is the source from which it draws its questions and also the target towards which it addresses its answers.’
But, as Crispin observed, this statement, attempting to satisfy multiple factions, is ultimately rather bland, and stronger choices need to be made, not least with respect to the thorny question of value of such research. The complexities of the issues has resulted in a relative slow pace of development of a critical framework which, Crispin maintained, requires something ‘couched in terms of words’. Those who believe that the research element is located in the art itself (I am one of those who believe it can be) must look for a critical framework in non-verbal terms, and so existing scholarly concepts of critically need to be rethought.
Crispin alluded to the classic ‘holy trinity’ (my term rather than hers) of criteria for scholarship and research: originality – rigour – significance. The most problematic of these for many existing forms of artistic creation is rigour, and so Crispin asked how artistic self-reflexivity might be rethought as conducive to such rigour, rather than antithetical to it, not least through a reappraisal of traditional scholarly distrust of subjectivity. With this in mind, she produced the following chart:
Very loosely, Crispin asked whether the left hand column tended to represent ‘Art’, the right hand one ‘Research’? But she refined this so that items 1-3 and 5 in the left hand column, and 1-2 in the right hand one could be considered ‘Art & Research’, No. 4 in the left possibly ‘Art only’ and the remaining 3-5 in the right possibly ‘Research only’. I am less convinced that No. 3 of the latter is so far from a good deal of artistic creation, whether the contrast between the first items in either column really amount to more than a caricature of either field, or whether No. 2 in the left amounts to more than romantic mythologisation of the artistic process, and so on, but sometimes stark contrasts between polarised conceptions can be useful in order to dramatise fundamental issues. The chart certainly speaks to me in terms of (sometimes reified) conceptions I have encountered, as for example when I was once told by a senior academic that the real criterion for scholarship is that it is ‘objective’, as if this were such a clear-cut thing (this was from an individual working in a field which in general is characterised by a good deal of speculative hermeneutics, and relatively unsubstantiated assertions). Ultimately, the right hand column says more about what those who police scholarship use as criteria for dismissing it rather than revealing much about what actually constitutes the richest work.
Crispin argued that there was a requirement for ‘the further development of clear methodological frameworks within which subjective enquiry can be carried out’ (I could not agree more and would add that all types of research, not just ‘artistic’, need these). She presented an interesting and productive dichotomy between ‘untrained subjectivity’ and ‘expert subjectivity’, recognising that subjective reflection can nonetheless reflect wider expertise and training.
There are major implications, however, for the manifestations of such considerations in terms of the possibilities of healthy and robust academic debate. To embrace subjectivity means, according to Crispin, ‘to narrow the distance between what one says and who one is’. This brings with it major dangers, whereby the distinction between a legitimate scholarly critique and a personalised attack becomes unclear. I have noticed how many who insist on dramatising their subjective presence in their work – including those who preface every paper with some ‘statement of positionality’ or the like – are quick to use the fact of this blurring of boundaries to avoid actually engaging with the substance of a critique and simply cry foul.* Crispin noted the relative lack of ‘the internal cut-and-thrust of polemical debate’ within artistic research, and called for more informed criticism, which can only come from peers.
Is this likely to happen? Crispin did not answer this wholly unequivocally: she noted how artistic research has been as likely to absorb the worst as the best aspects of more long-established disciplines, but had the potential to shape itself as an arena for addressing fundamental questions of art, and could reach out to wider musical or music-making communities as a result. These are strong ideals, though there is a long way to go. A tendency on the part of some artistic researchers to pepper their writings with the maximum number of references to jargon taken from various vogueish intellectuals (at present, Alain Badiou and Bruno Latour are very much in fashion), not always in order either to clarify arguments, nor situate them meaningfully within a wider theoretical context, but simply to add a ‘scholarly’ aura often to writings in which the findings relating to artistic practice are relatively modest, hardly encourages engagement with such texts on the part of wider communities of musicians.
But artistic researchers depend primarily for their existence on winning favour and prestige within narrow academic communities, and convincing sceptics (sometimes including university bureaucrats with little investment in artistic disciplines at all) that they deserve recognition comparable to their colleagues in STEM and other fields. Crispin’s clear-sighted awareness of these continuing problems was made manifest in her final quote, from Elin Angelo; Øyvind Varkøy and Eva Georgii-Hemming, ‘Notions of Mandate, Knowledge and Research in Norwegian Classical Music Performance Studies’, Journal for Research in Arts and Sports Education Vol. 3, No. 1 (2019), pp. 78–100:
‘Overall, attitudes, hierarchies, positions, disciplines and profiles in performing programmes seem to be challenged by academisation processes. This could be met by maintaining silence, or also by the will and interest to communicate and actively participate in dialogues. ‘Publish or perish’ is a bad ideal for higher music education, unless one redefines what is meant by ‘publish’. Unless classical performers engage in (verbal) discussions about who their peers should be and what norms classical music educators should follow, and why, then these judgments will be left to non-musicians.
A final conclusion in this article is, therefore, speak! Who is better qualified to say something about mandate, knowledge and research in and for higher music education than higher music educators themselves (teachers/leaders/researchers/students)? Only by verbalising the challenges, inviting dialogue and questioning of the qualifications (or the lack thereof), might one facilitate the academisation processes to work for and not against higher music education.’
However, there is still a fair way to go in terms of combating anti-intellectualism on the part of many practical musicians (and indeed, some of the academics who idolise them) and the converse tendency of musicologists to pass judgement on musicians and others involved in the music business, but assume that no-one other than other academics are entitled to any judgement on them and their own work.
* A particularly egregious example of this was a comment from Georgina Born in a 2016 debate on music technology at my own institution, in which she insisted the critique by Björn Heile, in his 2004 essay ‘Darmstadt as Other: British and American Responses to Musical Modernism’ of her deeply problematic neo-liberal polemic Rationalising Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Insitutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, could only be motivated by sexism. This article contained what was actually a relatively moderate critique on Heile’s part, focusing primarily on the fact that Born arrives at over-arching judgements on a whole body of musical work on the basis of reading associated statements rather than independent engagement with the sounding work.
Peter Tregear, ‘Telling Tales in (and out of) Music Schools’.
Perhaps the most hard-hitting and cogent paper in the session was the final one, by Peter Tregear, looking at fundamental questions of the role of empirical truth in musicology in the light of recent polemics. Tregear kindly provided me with an earlier, longer draft of his paper (which is currently under review for a special issue of Twentieth- Century Music edited by Wolfgang Marx, entitled ‘Music and Musicology in the Age of Post-Truth’, for publication in 2020) with important material I would like to reproduce here.
In this, Tregear recognised that the types of fact-finding and testing of propositions undertaken by musicologists are of a different nature to those of empirical scientists, while the traditionally important role of the untestable factor of aesthetic judgement takes the discipline away from empirical truth. However, he noted the now-familiar fact that ‘fake news’ and disinformation have come to undermine scientific findings when they better suit particular individual values or political agendas, and that a similar phenomenon is occurring in musicology:
‘It used to be considered a given of scholarly practice that when a musicologist proposed an idea it would be assessed primarily on the basis of the cogency, originality and rigour of the arguments that support it. The broader community of scholars would then assess the underlying validity of an argument by scrutinising both its inherent reasoning and by comparing it against a body of pre-existing knowledge. To this end, musicological discourse has traditionally held itself to account in ways comparable to scientific practice despite the fact that the musicologist does not only deal with empirical facts. However, with theoretical buttressing from ideas such as postmodernism and deconstructionism, it is possible at the same time to profess a profound scepticism of the very idea of truth in scholarship.’
Examples of this given by Tregear include the way in which even to make reference to immanent musical qualities is frequently interpreted as an expression of social biases on the part of the musicologist (Tregear alluded to Pierre Bourdieu, but this position reminds me more of the various Soviet strictures on ‘formalism’ in music, culminating in the 1948 Zhdanov decree), or that all choices of areas of research and teaching are portrayed merely as a means for particular social forces to exercise and protect their power. Tregear recognised positive dimensions to this, in terms of the potential to engender proper debates about musical value, but also pointed out that this requires levels of intellectual rigour and breadth of perspective such as would enable ‘specifically musicological interests and concerts’ to rise above ‘the general din of today’s opinion-saturated, post-truth culture’. He noted the difficulties of this in a culture which distrusts ‘experts’, as diagnosed in such books as Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon, 2008), Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) and others. With this comes a situation in which sustained thought is overshadowed by comment, opinion, and ironic refusals to commit to anything, and culture becomes, in the words of political scientist Patrick Deenen, ‘synonymous with hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distraction, all oriented toward promotion consumption, appetite, and detachment’.
Such a situation both threatens and conditions musicology in particular ways, according to Tregear. His diagnosis of particular outcomes included ‘The elevation of feeling over thinking‘, especially in autoethnographic writing (the subject of a further round-table in which I participated later the same day). Quoting Brydie-Leigh Bartleet and Carolyn Ellis (from the introduction to their Making Autoethnography Sing/Making Music Personal (Bowen Hills: Australian Academic Press, 2009)) on how autoethnography supposedly encourages the conveying of ‘the meanings of vibrant musical experiences evocatively’ rather than ‘dry descriptions’, Treager echoed some of Crispin’s comments about the dangers of over-elevation of subjective experience per se, in his observation that ‘It quickly becomes more important to declare how one feels, than to show why one thinsk something, about a musical proposition or musical work.’ All that really matters is the ‘authenticity’ of one’s personal experiences, and there is less incentive for musicologists to look beyond the limits of these (one might add that this sort of academic narcissism is the very converse of the type of multi-perspectival approach which is surely a necessary condition for any meaningful commitment to diversity). All that remains is personal taste, and any conflicts in this respect can be about to little more than the manifestation of institutional power structures. Any possibility of generating some larger communal identity for the purposes of solidarity is lost behind ‘a cloud of authorial subjectivities’.
Especially perceptive was Tregear’s concomitant observation that when the self is everything, then this leads to a devaluing and deskilling of music teaching and scholarship, the disappearance of any type of critical consensus for the evaluation of work, and of knowledge systems such as those provided by music theory and historical narratives. Even peer review becomes relatively meaningless. The situation he describes is depressingly familiar, though many of the claims made about power structures seem to little bother some of their strongest advocates when it comes to their own positions within such structures, and claims to expertise (I was reminded of the furious reactions on social media to the semi-serious conclusion to my contribution to the 2016 debate ‘Are we all ethnomusicologists now?’)** Tregear was adamant of the vital role of universities in bolstering and defending ‘the possibility of objective truth’ (though it was clear this was conceived in a more contingent manner than that to which I alluded earlier), promoting and disseminating public knowledge rather than merely lived experience.
The second aspect of Tregear’s diagnosis, ‘An increasing aversion to the principles of scholarly writing‘, brought in the principal object of his critique, the book Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016) (available to read in full online for free here), essentially an attack on the bulk of musicological writing. Cheng is a one-time pianist who now primarily writes ludomusicology (the study of music for video games). I will return to Tregear’s critique of Just Vibrations presently. Tregear cited as one sign of the breakdown of the scholarly values in musicology was the growth in APA (‘Harvard style’) referencing , enabling academics to present ideas as if they were established facts, in the manner of scientific discoveries (I have noticed how often Edward Said’s highly contentious and widely contested arguments, especially in Orientalism, are regularly used by new musicologists and ethnomusicologists in this respect – ‘We know (Said 1978) that Western writers portray the ‘Orient’ in order to exercise their power and domination over colonial subjects’, etc.). Tregear noted an acerbic critique of this from Russell Smith (‘Let’s stop pretending academic artspeak reflects actual research’, The Globe and Mail, 31 October 2017).
The third point of Tregear’s critique was ‘An over concern for utility‘, whereby musicologists are instructed by Cheng to direct their work towards specific social goals or goods (a simple rehash of very old utilitarian arguments which have traditionally been used to undermine academic autonomy, or those in music from the advocates of Gebrauchsmusik, and then the similar doctrines as enforced in fascist and communist regimes). Tregear asked who should determine what the appropriate types of goals or good should be, and continued (in a somewhat Adornian fashion) to note how this approach could not but help but shut out any sort of reasoned dissent. Cheng’s prognosis would lead to the situation in which institutions commission academics to write supposedly authoritative scholarly histories of themselves, but with the clear understanding that these must not highlight some of such institutions’ more unsavoury elements (this has been a major consideration in ‘official’ histories of institutions in post-1945 Germany which were also active prior to 1945, or in musical institutions with dark histories of abuse and bullying, all of who require Persilschein).
Following this, Tregear alluded briefly to the ‘grievance studies hoax’ carried out Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, in which seven fabricated papers (one of them a rewriting of a chapter from Mein Kampf) were accepted by major academic journals. Tregear suggested that this happened primarily because such papers appealed to a sense of righteousness, and particular identity groups, and this type of authority took priority over any other form of reasoning or observation. Personal biases, once viewed as something to guard against and if necessary correct, have become a reigning scholarly principle. With the eschewal of any attempt at disinterest, what remains, according to Tregear, is what literary scholar David Palumbo-Lui calls (in the context of modern languages) ‘a morbid constellation of egotism, arrogance, self-enclosure, and normalized self-interest’, and also, as identified by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, limited skills encountered in students in terms of analytical thought, reasoning and written expression. This situation will surely be familiar to many, and is sometimes replicated and perpetuated by other academics who were themselves schooled in institutions which devalued these types of qualities.
In the version of the paper presented at the RMA, Tregear began by paying tribute to Tamara Levitz’s keynote lecture the previous day, ‘Free Speech and Academic Freedom’ and her worries about the ‘implications for musicology of the age of democracy’s demise’, feeling his own work dealt with similar themes. Then he moved straight to Cheng’s book, placing this in the context of ‘a renewed identity crisis in musicology’, and noting Cheng’s claim the discipline might ‘renegotiate the means and purposes of careful labor, intellectual inquiry, and living soundly’. Tregear noted the primarily favourable reception this book has received, even in a mildly critical review-article by Kate Guthrie (‘Why we Can’t All Just Get Along’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 143 (2018), pp. 473-482), and attributed its impact to a variety of factors: the authors association with influential US professional musicological networks, the decision of the publishers to make it available to read for free online, but also ‘its self-declared progressive and confessional style’, leading it to win the Philip Brett Award of the American Musicological Society in 2016.***
To Tregear, Cheng’s book, while rightly encouraging a broader consideration of what and who musicology is for, also ‘gives us a clear warning as to what is also now at stake’. Some of this was simply through over-reaching, as in the exaggerated claim that a ‘musicological ear’ could add depth to the analysis of the use of a siren sound to close a TV episode. But Tregear was also sceptical of Cheng’s definition of musicology as ‘all the activities, care, and caregiving of people who identify as members of the musicological community…’, believing that this makes the crisis of identity in musicology all the more acute.
Tregear did not deny the value of musicology which entailed advocacy, and noted how this was unavoidable in his own work on music history in Weimar Germany. At the same time, he recognised that his own training led him to attempt to identify particularly bias, and how this might distort research (and, by implication, one should try to correct this). He cited American Social Psychologist Lee Jussim and others’ pertinent observations on how when we are ‘motivated by high moral principles, such as combating global warming, or advancing egalitarianism, such motivations may lead to practices that threaten [research] integrity.’ (Lee Jussim, Jarret T. Crawford, Sean T. Stevens, Stephanie M. Anglin, and Jose L. Duarte, ‘Can High Moral Purposes Undermine Scientific Integrity?’, in The Social Psychology of Morality eds. Joseph P. Forgas, Lee Jussim, Paul A.M. Van Lange (London: Routledge, 2016), 190). Ultimately, Tregear believed that the scholarly nature of musicological research is the source of its ethical import, the detachment this requires making it possible to relate findings to the work of other scholars, wider bodies of knowledge, and society-at-large.
But in contrast to this, Cheng’s view is that most of the traditions of scholarly writing are simply designed to ‘impress people, win arguments, and elevate one’s status’, drawing upon the concept of ‘paranoid reading’ from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (in her Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), an arch-example of the sort of tendencies identified in the longer version of Tregear’s paper). Against Cheng’s dismissive evocation of how musicologists are ‘trained to write in a manner that preemptively repels potential knocks against their work’, Tregear asked whether this wasn’t the precise thing which enables good academic writing ‘to justify its claim to be taken seriously as a public utterance’, rather than ‘a mere assertion of the taste, desires, beliefs, or caprice of the researcher’. The musicologist generates trust from their reader by justifying their claims on the basis of reasoned propositions or facts.
Cheng writes disparagingly about ‘aesthetic autonomy’, ‘academic freedom’, recommendations of ‘Let music be music’ or ‘Let scholars be scholars’, which all allegedly displace attention ‘from the role musicologists ought to be playing as “care givers and social agents”‘. I see no place for scholarly values of any type here, only political judgement on the part of Cheng (one wonders why he is particularly concerned about owning a university position, rather than working as a political activist?) Tregear presented the danger of a priori political values overriding other scholarly ones through the 2000 libel case launched by writer and holocaust denier David Irving against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. In the words of chief expert witnesses, Professor Richard J. Evans (whose expert report can be read here, an essential read for all concerned about questions of historical truth; a shorter version is to be found in Evans’ book Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, Hitler and the David Irving Trial (London: Verso, 2002)), the trial was about the ‘very creation of historical knowledge from the remains the past has left behind’. Whereas earlier commentators had often sought to dismiss Irving’s work on the basis of his politics, and others of a mainstream conservative position but little specific expertise in his area had erred to believing it had some historical value despite the politics, Evans’ approach to the texts was relentlessly forensic, involving fact-checking and various other types of scrutiny, revealing how Irving distorted sources, ignored them when they did not suit his purposes, read them deliberately out of context, or applied wildly different standards to different types of sources, for example requiring the highest standards of corroboration for anything said by Churchill, while taking Hitler’s words at face value. As Tregear put it, Evans was able to defeat Irving’s misreadings of the past (and his investigation has probably done far more to discredit Irving’s propaganda than anyone else had managed) ‘by being – indeed – rigorously paranoid‘.
Tregear charged that Cheng’s demands can lead to scholarly outcomes which are neither progressive nor innovative, because the lack of the traditional disciplinary tools and types of discourse undermine the rhetorical and moral authority of musicology (I suspect one reason Cheng is unable to see this has much to do with a in-group, out-group attitude which precludes any real constructive debate with anyone who does not already agree with him on the matters he believes to be important). Furthermore, when ‘research’ becomes overtly about advocacy, the systems of disciplinary accountability and peer review become relatively meaningless, and the result truly would be ‘a jostling for power and patronage’.
With this in mind, Tregear argued that musicology also needs ‘to undertake a serious system examination of the impact on musicology itself of the changing institutional context in which scholars like Cheng are flourishing’. He noted the damning findings of a 2017 University and College Union (UK) report (‘Academic Freedom in the UK: Legal and Normative Protection in a Comparative Context’) that despite the purported norms of academic freedom, the commonplace reality is one of ‘bullying, psychological pressure and self-censorship’, with university managements employing administrative tools, metrics, research exercises, student evaluations, and so on. The claim that empowering students to make consumer choices would, according to the UK Department of Education, ‘shine a light on poor quality teaching and ensure standards are driven upwards’ leads to the situation, as diagnosed by Nichols, by which ‘the layperson becomes accustomed to judging the expert’. Managers and administrators now call the shots, and require loyalty to them (and, I would add, often the uncollegiate requirement of loyalty to a specific institution and its own staff over and above any working elsewhere) over any loyalty to values immanent to a particular discipline. The following quote from Nichols, cited by Tregear in the longer version of his paper, is especially pertinent:
‘Emotion is an unassailable defence against expertise, a moat of anger and resentment in which reason and knowledge quickly drown. And when students learn that emotion trumps everything else, it is a lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives.’
The important conclusion derived from this by Tregear in the longer paper is of an unholy alliance between ‘self-oriented’ scholarship, and the demands of managerial cultures in universities, citing the following chart from Marc A. Edwards and Siddharta Roy (in ‘Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition’, Environmental Engineering Science, vol. 34, no. 1 (2017), pp. 51-61), demonstrating the pervasiveness of corporate language and values:
Tregear recognises that academic and institutional autonomy have never been, and likely would never be, completely pure and unmediated concepts, and also that disciplinary standards change over time, sometimes radically, but the nature of the types of change he was describing, as spearheaded by Cheng and others, have little to do with the very nature or requirements of the discipline of musicology. He attributed this to the failure of music academics to hold their own administrative leaderships to any kind of account (in fairness, I would say that many such academics are struggling with precarity and fear of losing their positions, and so are forced to operate in a dog-eat-dog academic climate of fear, though Tregear does allude to this), and the removal of democratic structures such as used to allow academics to elect their own Vice-Chancellors. In this sense, I would argue that Cheng and others are essentially providing a new spin upon corporate academic ideals. It is no coincidence that such a view finds most currency in the USA, where the corporatisation of academia may me more advanced than anywhere else in the Western world.
In conclusion, Tregear maintained the view that universities and disciplines such as musicology can still teach a capacity to make ‘rigorous, sustained, reflective, truth claims’, while recognising that he belongs to a group that have traditionally been the chief subjects and beneficiaries of such a thing, and also that the traditional tools of scholarship do not guarantee that the findings will transcend limitations of class, ethnic origin, or other identity groups. Nonetheless, he still argued that one should attempt to think beyond particular allegiances and identities, and institutions should seek to bolster and defend rational enquiry and the possibility of objective truth rather than narrow forms of knowing which rely primarily upon lived experience. Musicology is unlikely to effect serious social change, but can at least, according to Tregear, ‘help us develop and refine the kinds of thinking and hearing that can make us more valiant for the pursuit of truth’ in the world.
**This was the following:
‘I will end with a reapplication of Marcel Mauss to this field of ethnomusicology itself. Its participants offer up endorsements for the right theorists, the right canonised and revered ethnomusicologists, the right political outlook, generally that sort of ‘consumerist multiculturalism’ which accords well with modern neo-liberalism, to those who are in a position of power above them, and are rewarded for this through promotion and research grants in a process of exchange. Collegiate relationships within hierarchical academic structures are made possible through this process of reciprocity. This may be an unfair caricature, but no more so than many of the analyses in this body of work.’
It was not clear whether those ethnomusicologists fulminating about those on social media, often in an ad hominem manner, realised the point being made in re-applying the type of unsubstantiated allegations routinely made by them to other bodies of individuals to ethnomusicologists themselves.
***Philip Brett was another writer who wrote dismissively of musicology as being anything other than ‘cultural politics’, and the very concept of ‘scholarship’ (in ‘Round Table VIII: Cultural Politics’, Acta Musicologica, vol. 69, fasc. 1 (Jan-June 1997), pp. 45-52). He called musicology ‘not a happy word’ which ‘attempts to give a sort of academic legitimacy to an activity which goes on in most cultures – thinking, talking, and gossiping about music and judging it.’ (‘Are You Musical?’, The Musical Times, vol. 135, no. 1816 (June 1994), pp. 370-376). This may be an apt description of Brett’s own work, but not that of plenty of others, and I would find it difficult to set much scholarly value in a prize named after someone who did not believe in scholarship.
The questions demonstrated a clearly positive and supportive attitude towards the papers, perhaps with a greater degree of general consensus than many of us on the panel had imagined would be likely to be the case. Just one suggested that while it may be easy to present this type of ‘conservationist’ view at a conference like that, things might be different at that of the American Musicological Society (though the implication that this latter should be afforded some primacy needs questioning, unless one takes a Trumpian view of the axiomatic superior importance of anything taking place in the United States of America).
The then outgoing President of the Society for Music Analysis (trustees from which, of whom I am one, were well-represented amongst the audience for the session), Julian Horton, opined that ‘our discipline has lost its object’. Rebecca Herrisone, from the University of Manchester, asked the fair question of whether a simple need to gain and maintain students, in the face of an increasingly ruthless marketplace, might be driving deskilling. How departments can survive in such an academic climate, without joining in a ‘race to the bottom’, is one of the major challenges today, though ome can cynically appropriate this situation to legitimise the sorts of dumbing-down they desire anyhow (not that Herrisone was remotely doing this). Roddy Hawkins, also from the University of Manchester, asked a question to Moreda Rodriguez relating to research-led teaching, the exact details of which I do not recall precisely. Another individual who I did not know wondered whether a renewed emphasis on notation would risk centering ‘the canon’ again at the expense of other composers, though did not necessarily give a reason why this would necessarily be a bad thing.
Nicholas Reyland (RNCM) asked us all what we believed to be the major threat to music education. Some responses to this were a little muted, though Moreda Rodriguez made clear that she believed the main danger was the loss of any common ground, vocabulary and set of references with which musicologists could talk to each other. I myself opined at this point that to me the primary danger was that it would simply become subsumed within other disciplines and cease to exist in its own right, and that this was a danger of an excessive focus upon interdisciplinarity, in which music and musicology are invariably the junior partners.
One of the 2019 RMA keynote speakers, Tamara Levitz, was especially positive about the session, and mentioned some of her own strong reservations about the work of Cheng, which has had a relatively unquestioning acceptance in much of the US (and in many reviews in academic journals other than that of Peter Tregear). There was also a productive exchange between Levitz and Powell on the role of theory in teaching.
Knowing of Levitz’s own pathbreaking work on the teaching of Busoni and the ideas of the Junge Klassizität in early Weimar Germany, and also of the related work by others on the panel (Tregear and I have worked extensively on this area, while Powell and Crispin have written on composers active during this time, and Moreda Rodriguez’s work deals with a similar historical period) I raised the question of whether attacks in recent decades on musical autonomy are really so new, considering how widespread similar positions were in Weimar Germany (from Ernst Krenek, Kurt Weill, Hans-Heinz Stuckenschmidt, Hanns Eisler, Heinrich Besseler and others, and fuelling the movements of Neue Sachlichkeit and Gebrauchsmusik). This generated further discussion which continued outside of the forum. There is always room for scepticism about any movements in academia, art or elsewhere which claim that their work constitutes a thoroughgoing break with practically all that has gone before, and makes claims for originality without necessarily sufficient historical knowledge to be in a position to make such claims, and the new musicology is no different in this respect.
Some Thoughts from the Session
As convenor and chair, I was extremely pleased with the session and the responses. Every speaker presented original, measured, but cogent arguments, unafraid to challenge some of the most malign tendencies in our discipline, even when propagated by individuals with significant institutional power. The seemingly less contentious thoughts of Crispin on subjectivity and the ways in which academics might engage with this while upholding scholarly values, took on a different flavour in contrast to the ideas of William Cheng as presented and critiqued by Tregear. Cheng’s position is not particularly new, just more explicit in its overt dismissal of scholarly truth than most of its postmodern predecessors. I take a somewhat more benevolent view towards the possibility of autoethnographic writing than Tregear, believing in the possibility of generating genuinely new knowledge through critical self-reflection on one’s own work and experiences, but nonetheless certainly recognise the self-obsessed type of writing which he identifies as laying claim to this concept.
Moreda Rodriguez’s paper was also sharp in many of its findings, not least the extent to which some of those laying claim to the rhetoric of the ‘global’ continue, say, to identify the whole of the ‘Americas’ with the United States, thus perpetuating an arch-imperialist view. But her paper and Powell’s may have contained some of the most positive messages for ways forward, in her case recognising the value of attempts to draw the boundaries of music history more broadly than hitherto. But at the same time, she does not underestimate the scale of this task, and notes the huge limitations of superficial work in this respect, especially that which appropriates such an important area of study in order simply to make petty virtue-signalling points about ‘West versus the rest’, and in the process practically ignore hugely influential (in a global sense) developments just because they happen to have occurred in the West.
Tregear’s paper entailed the most far-reaching critique of contemporary musicology or indeed wider academia. I would like to extend his points relating to the overlap between advocates of a self-focused approach to academic writing and the priorities of university managements. But I believe the neo-liberal meeting of minds goes further, in areas of musicology and cultural studies in particular. There is a long and distinguished tradition (coming from such distinct thinkers as Walter Lippmann, Theodor Adorno, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Richard Hofstadter, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Jim McGuigan, Greg Philo and Naomi Klein; but in diametric opposition to cultural populists such as Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, John Fiske or Andrew Ross) which maintains that the meanings of culture and media and their effects upon consciousness are not always determined wholly by the immediate cultural producers (in the sense of the artists) nor by the recipients (listeners, viewers, readers, etc.) but can also reflect and propagate other priorities and agendas determined by the powerful industries behind such culture. It would be surprising if this were not the case, considering the vast sums of money such industries spend on marketing, market research, advertising, focus groups, and so on, or if this did not have some impact upon a wider cultural sphere, including that which is less big business. But this view is hard to square with the uncritical adulation of popular culture (and often, by extension, the ultra-commercialised sphere in which much of it exists), and the belief that such culture empowers both musicians and listeners (in contrast to much maligned ‘high culture’, the alleged hierarchies and hegemonic values of which are dissolved in a culture operating first and foremost in the marketplace). In the work of Susan McClary or Georgina Born, and their countless acolytes in academia, a ‘romancing of the marketplace’ has become so commonplace that it can be viewed as highly contentious even to question it. The links between this world view and the agenda of the neo-liberal university, equally concerned to portray the market as an empowering force, could at best be described as naive, at worst as wholly cynical.
Powell’s identification of the important distinction between semiotics and communication theory was new to me, and explains a good deal. His advocacy of a combination of semiotics/topics with reflective hermeneutics is extremely promising, as is his insistence on a properly dialectical rather than narrowly hierarchical approach to the relationship between different parameters within a film. It is disappointing, even shocking, to hear some of the outright misrepresentations and uninformed claims he identifies, not to mention the simplistic and often didactic strictures, but I know these are far from atypical, especially in popular and film music studies. Why is there such a cavalier disregard for basic factual accuracy or fair representation of sources? I believe this has something to do with a beleaguered and automatically defensive reaction on the part of members of certain sub-disciplines, believing their field to be disrespected but then acting in such a way as to make this into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, one might argue that there is a simpler explanation of why various others are hostile to fact-checking, scrutiny of arguments or any of the other processes which are used to discern the distinction between scholarly and other forms of writing. As I argued in a paper over a decade ago, and will return to in a future article, the renditions of the work of Carl Dahlhaus in particular by McClary, who lends her endorsement to Cheng’s book, entail a shocking number of flagrant misrepresentations, disregarding of material which does not suit her prior arguments, quoting out of context, and so on. While the stakes are obviously less serious than in the case of Irving, the scholarly practice is not much better. Only a few have been prepared to pursue such aspects of McClary’s work (one good example is Tim Carter’s ‘An American in…?’, Music & Letters, vol. 83, no. 2 (May 2002), pp. 274-8). Others simply reiterate her work without checking it against the sources it claims to represent, and – whether unwittingly or otherwise – help to consolidate such misrepresentations and render them ideology. This is the essence of how post-truth propaganda works, and it is disappointing to see this process prevalent in academia, and the ways in which it does indeed facilitate ascendancy within power structures. Only a properly ‘paranoid’ approach can serve as a corrective.
Without any conception of scholarly truth or value other than nebulous demands that work should do ‘social justice’, how is it ever possible that work can be marked, peer-reviewed or otherwise evaluated fairly by those adhering to the type of post-truth view expounded by Cheng and others (as found in some of Just Vibrations‘ more hagiographic reviews, such as that by Kyle Devine, writing in Music and Letters – a large section of which was reproduced in one of the targets of Devine’s ire, the blog Slipped Disc, which ran a series of earlier blogs on Cheng’s book). Such processes may need be subject to vigorous scrutiny and if necessary appeal, because of the very real risk of censorship of all who do not adhere to a narrow political outlook. The grievance studies hoax is just the tip of the iceberg of a wider corrosion of academia, which is certainly not total (or else academics such as me, or the others in the panel, would not really be at liberty to critique it), but still a major force. It is also time to look at the working of academic power structures, as begun by Tregear, it to examine on what basis Cheng and others have been able to acquire institutional power, just as they malign others in this respect.
The reception of the book Rethinking Contemporary Musicology will be interesting to view, and is sure to include various significantly more negative responses than encountered in this forum. But, despite hearing privately a couple of rather petty responses which nitpicked a few small details rather than engage with the wider arguments, I was encouraged to find the number of people (as witnessed in subsequent discussions after the forum) who felt the importance of much of what was discussed, and indeed felt more at ease discussing such issues themselves as a result of this forum.
+ These and other issues are addressed in my three forthcoming essays ‘Ethnographic Approaches to the Study of Western Art Music: Questions of Context, Realism, Evidence, Description and Analysis’, and ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography: Uncritical Musical Perspectives’, both in Research and Writing about Contemporary Art and Artists, edited Christopher Wiley and Ian Pace (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2020), and ‘The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music: Territorial and Methodological Concerts’, in Rethinking Contemporary Musicology.
It has been clear through many private forums and discussions that the hearings at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on 1-2 October 2019 into Chetham’s School of Music (see this page for links to the videos and transcripts) have generated many powerful reactions and also wider thoughts on reflections on the school and individuals’ time there. I feel it is important that these be preserved, and so am posting here a series of sections of text sent to me, all presented anonymously (unless people request otherwise), to which I will keep adding more as I receive them. The only editing done will be for legal reasons or to preserve anonymity. I am not personally going to express a view publicly until after the end of the hearings, other than to point out that while John Vallins claimed in the hearings that I was at Chetham’s for 4 years, I was actually there for 8, from 1978 (in Junior A) to 1986 (upper sixth), and also a story related to me by my mother, which I am sharing with her permission.
There had been a time when one of the PE teachers (I think) had been taunting some boys including me by bending their fingers back (for obvious reasons, definitely not something you should do to instrumentalists, though I think this teacher disliked musicians, thinking all the boys to be gay and not ‘hard’ enough). I told my parents about this, and they mentioned it when they came to meet John Vallins next, who was very down on me at the time. He said in response ‘Mrs Pace, I didn’t hear you say that’ [Corrected from earlier wording], and suddenly his behaviour towards them and me changed quite considerably, much more positive (I went on to get the best A-Levels anyone had yet got at the school, with 6 Grade As, and a place at Oxford, also later studying at the Juilliard School as a Fulbright Scholar). Make of that story what you will.
I am numbering the testimonies AL1 (Alumnus 1), etc, and will continue to add to them. Anyone who has any thoughts they would like to be posted (which can be as short as a sentence, or much more extended) should e-mail them to me at ian AT ianpace DOT com. I can attest that I know who every individual is who has supplied testimony, and when they attended the school, but would not disclose any of this information without their express permission.
WARNING: some may find some of the material below distressing or triggering.
I found the collective amnesia and abdication of responsibility displayed by Vallins, Hullah and Moreland at the inquiry as utterly repulsive and cowardly as I found the testimonies of those who spoke of abuse to be both horrific and awe-inspiringly courageous. Vallins in particular made my blood boil as I was able, by dint of having been there at the time (1975 to 1981) although a child, to contrast his account with the reality of life as a boarder. It is a matter of deep regret that the history books cannot be rewritten to show that he and others never existed. May the Chet’s of today flourish and prosper under sound governance whilst at the same time being aware not only of its proud past, but also of its obligations to those who saw its darker side. May those who suffered find peace, and may those who wish to do so but have hitherto remained silent find the courage to speak out and expose these animals for what they were and possibly still are. May Vallins, Hullah, Moreland and any staff whose voices have not yet been heard devoid themselves of whatever misplaced sense of loyalty or plain arrogance has thus far held them back and – dare one say it? – tell the truth.
The lady who interjected 5 hours 47 minutes into the Inquiry, and who was asked to leave the room, said it all. Whilst giving evidence at the Inquiry, John Vallins displayed an arrogance that was deeply shocking. He showed scant remorse for failing to protect vulnerable children in his care. It was disingenuous of him to suggest that the music and academic departments were separate entities and that he had no knowledge of, or control over, what was happening in certain parts of the school. He was Headteacher, with responsibility for the whole school. If he did not know about the abuse, he was incompetent. If he did, then he turned a blind eye to it. Although there were humble, kind and compassionate members of staff, I hold John Vallins responsible for an abject failure to provide a safe and happy place in which to learn.
My dear friend A1 [anonymised name as used in the IICSA hearings] was giving live evidence , who I’ve been in contact with for a few years now and have had the pleasure of a few visits to my house… the subject of Chets was always at the forefront of our conversations – which after 30 years is alarming at how fast time has passed , along with regret that during these years, the torment of the school still lives with us.
[After a phone call from Operation Kiso] I froze – I remember it clearly, I burnt my wrist taking the croissant out the oven – I was alarmed to think that the past wasn’t in the past … and I refused to comment…. It’s disturbing to think that the Chetham’s mess has been carried with us for so long.
I was terribly disappointed to find that my friend A1 had several minutes missing , that were removed to protect her anonymity , which is of course understandable , but at the same time distressing to know that these comments were all about [houseparent]’s appalling behaviour.
When A1 returned from America , we were all called into the ‘common room’, as it was known then, by [houseparent], to be told that A1 is returning and no one must ask her any questions or ask her why, and that we had to pretend everything was normal. Everyone knew anyway ! We all knew they had to get naked … so I’ll never understand why Vallins said he had no idea at the time. . In my knowledge, we all know rumours spread fast in any industry … so to hear him admit this , was rather alarming. The head after him – what a disaster. Terribly dismissive on all matters regarding Brewer. I could have hit him. Retirement a typo for Resigning ??? – none of my iMacs could have done that ! !
The main thing at the time for me , is the tremendous strain [houseparent] and Vallins put my parents through – the impact of their behaviour leaves deep scars. I went to [houseparent], and asked her if she was aware that [redacted] was shagging most of his students. She accused me of being a Liar, and explained that this is Libel and I should be worried and will suffer for the consequence of my actions.
My parents were called up the school immediately, which was a 6 hour round trip for them, where they met with Vallins, [redacted] and [redacted]. The torment this caused my family is unforgiving. They were told that this could be a Libel case, and therefore my parents were worried sick – they could lose everything, including the house , if this were to be a sue-able case which [houseparent] threatened it would be.
How can you do that to someone?
I cannot tell you how much impact this has had on our lives. Nor can I understand why [houseparent] can’t be called into this investigation. I feel so terribly angry at her and ended up subsequently with major depression, a lot of medication, and an alcohol dependency.
They were only ever concerned about the school’s status – and never once considered the vulnerability of, and long term damage to the child.
In Loco Parentis ? ? ? LIARS.
Overall, I thought the questioning at the inquiry was well done, though I would have liked it to have been made clearer that the abuse referred to by different perpetrators was only a fraction of the abuse experienced by students at Chetham’s. Vallins came across initially as a genteel old man, who was shocked at findings. This impression quickly departed. The head of a school is ultimately the one responsible for the safety and welfare of all within the school. It is their duty to be aware of what is going on throughout their school. What became evident is that there was simply little, if any, main staff responsibility for what went on in Palatine House. Children and teachers alike were completely unsupervised, creating an easy environment for perpetrators to commit their crimes. Even in the Junior School (7-11) there was little if any supervision at break times, leaving young vulnerable children free to roam the corridors and rooms of Palatine House unchecked. No child, of any age, should walk in fear as to when the next assault might take place.
That there was little if any formal training in safeguarding available at that time is totally irrelevant. This is about common sense caring. Making sure children and young people are safe.
Chetham’s was anything but safe in the 1970s (and beyond) and far too many of us carry scars from our time there.
School for me when I entered in 1981 for my sixth form appeared a wonderfully free arena. I enjoyed my music making tremendously and the freedom I had to meet boyfriends, go to pubs, get drunk and sneak out for whole nights at times whilst at school. Luckily I was a very sensible person who didn’t get into any trouble but looking back as an adult, I am horrified that I had these chances. The pastoral care was lax – I survived.I heard all about Fran Shorney and Brewer even though I arrived in the September of the July she left. I learnt all about Malcolm Layfield and his behaviour with girls in my year and above. It was so open I cannot believe that teachers and Vallins did not know. I went on the Venezuelan Chamber Choir Trip In 1983 where alcohol was available on several occasions – to excess. Mrs Brewer engaged in kissing one of the sixth formers in front of many of us and a party was held in the Hilton Hotel where a sixth form boy was pulled up from hanging over the 17th floor balcony under the influence of booze by other boys while Brewer and other staff were inside and unaware. Pastoral care???
I also have close knowledge of abuse (which started in school) on a summer tour where [name redacted] was in cahoots with Brewer on a Chet’s Summer tour to take a girl away from the rest of the group. This tour was organised by Chet’s and not on a Free Weekend when Vallins could wash his hands of responsibility. ‘Not knowing’ about this is not an excuse. Those involved have been affected for the rest of their lives.
I think the very least the new regime can do is write a full letter of apology on behalf of the school and the way it’s predecessors acted. It should for the current pupils outline any proposals and why they are so important, much in the same way Germany and Japan did with its youth following the war. They should all be aware. A guidance counsellor should also be set up should the same problems ever occur again. The pupils must know there is someone they can go to almost independent from the school, who will take any accusation seriously. A final one may be for the school to have a former pupil to go and speak to the pupils once a year about what went on and what they should and shouldn’t do. Also pointing out how easy it is to be groomed or worse. The overall message to all at the school is even if you just hear about something which is not right, regardless who you think is right or wrong, report it. I just think that a lot of those things would have helped those who needed it and also been of use to people like me. Had the attitude at school that it was girls trying to further their careers by sleeping their way to the top. Only on leaving did I realise how wrong I had it. This was further reinforced at [music college] where I met others messed up by the same things at different institutions. There were also those from Chet’s who quit music after finding out the same teacher from Chet’s would be teaching them at [music college] too.
With Chethams in the news again I thought again about my conflicting feelings about the place. It has taken 2 decades to build up self esteem after being there for ten years, and I know that if I had not gone there I would have had no career in music and I would not have met all the wonderful friends, who are still supportive and lovely after many years, friends for life.
I was one of the lucky ones, though, I was not exposed to the worst crimes there.
I have always remembered this though..
‘there are kids out on the streets of Manchester who have more talent in their little finger than you have in the whole of your body’
Did I make this up? Was it said? It is of course true.
I entered Chet’s at 11 as a happy child who was considered to be bright at primary school. By the time I was 12, I was so depressed that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like a complete failure, especially academically. This has stayed with me my whole life.
I came out of my 2nd study piano lessons crying every week for 4 years. The teacher used words that I did not understand and then used to yell and call me hopeless and useless.
In my end of year assessment when I was 14, the assessor told me I had no musicality. I’ve found it very difficult to perform to anybody since.
I feel like Chet’s failed to prepare me for an ordinary life outside music. It took me a long time to adjust after leaving music college.
I started at Chets around 1960 as a six or seven year old. I left in 1969 at the end of the first year of the school becoming a music school and becoming co-ed. I had recently been orphaned but prior to that had lived in a very loving environment. The shock of being at Chets and my abject unhappiness there affects me to this day. I know that the hard environment there added hugely to my state of mind and deep unhappiness.
When I arrived and for all but the final year, corporal punishment was meted out not by the staff, but by prefects. Effectively by seventeen year olds.
Many of these prefects were inarguably sadists ( I could name them even now ) who prided themselves on how much pain they could inflict on young children. Those children could be guilty of nothing more than wanting to go to the toilet after lights out in the dormitory. This would involve knowing that you were going to be ‘slippered’ in the morning and having to therefore spend the night in fear and dread, followed by attending the study block for punishment in the morning.
The ‘slippering’ involved not a slipper but a size twelve plimsoll. The child being assaulted would then have to bend down with an audience of a number of six form sadists whilst the hero administering the ‘ slippering’ would often take a run up in order to inflict as much pain as possible three or six times. The pain was dreadful, causing you to even feel sick.
The audience of sadists thought that this was hilarious.
I often wonder how they, as adults, would react to their own children being assaulted in this way
This punishment was carried out on a trial without jury basis. In other words, sixth formers could decide who would be slippered without any redress or need of explanation or real justification.
Some kids even wore their ability to take slipperings with some sort of warped pride. That in itself paints a picture of a very strange place indeed.
All the staff, and the governor (Harry Vickers ) knew all about this brutality. Some, I know were sickened by it, but I only ever remember a decent PE teacher named Eric Stevens ever trying to do anything about it but being ignored. He was prompted by seeing horrific bruising on young children during swimming lessons.
To me, it is little wonder that an environment where physical assault was actually encouraged, would lead to a culture where sexual assault would also be tolerated by those in positions of trust and authority.
Many of the staff who were in charge during the era that I describe above were still at the school when the sexual assault began to take place. I actually know that they swept it under the carpet for the sake of the school and there own private world.
Also, on reflection, the lack of pastoral or emotional care during my time there now looks astounding. To run a school on a military basis plus condoned violence reflects on the type of people ( or person ) whose influence was overpowering in the extreme.
Is it really any wonder that the previous regime morphed into the disgusting and damaging one that followed?
Finally, I should say that during all my years at the school, I saw no evidence or heard anything about any sexual assault taking place. Of course, this does not mean that it was not happening.
One male teacher did take an unhealthy interest in me and orchestrated an uncomfortable extra- curricular outing with me which to my alarm was allowed by my family ( innocent souls ). But, although I knew his likely motivation, nothing actually happened despite his offer of cider. Back then, I would have been quite capable of flattening him anyway !
I met privately over coffee a few years ago with a retired formerly very senior member of Chets staff. That person had been in post throughout what seems to have been the worst of the abuse issues.
Whilst I cannot remember the precise wording of our conversation, I do remember gaining the strong impression that he and those others at the very top were aware of what was happening and had brushed the issue under the carpet.
There seemed to be an environment where the managers of the school had put the reputation of the school and their positions within the school ahead of justice and the well-being of its pupils.
Perhaps an environment of collective self-importance ?
The scale of the abuse has been way beyond anything I realised. What I HAVE realised is that so many of us little people were at the mercy of big egos whose main agenda was the glorification of themselves with no real awareness of the consequences… I teach in SUCH a different way to how I was “drilled” – hopefully in a climate of care and positivity as opposed to fear and negativity… But I consider myself as a survivor!! I’m well, happy and have an extraordinarily rich musical life…
My male personal tutor told me when I was 15 and feeling upset about a disagreement with my dad. ‘you don’t need your family now, you have us… When you go home you don’t need to talk to them, don’t you have a pet you can hang out with? just stay in your room.’
I know these were the words, I can’t forget them… So horribly controlling and potentially worse. Luckily I realised this was not normal behaviour. But I remember years later doing compulsory child protection training and being in tears after reading the grooming section…. I still wish, in some ways, I could approach him and challenge him about it.
I’ve suffered from asthma since I was two. I can remember [gym teacher] scaring the life out of me when she would tell us nearly every lesson how we were all suffering from sheer ignorance and would end up in wheelchairs by the time we are 30 because we were so all unfit. I remember [another gym teacher] as well yelling at me to carry on running in the PE hall even when I begged to stop. That resulted in me having an asthma attack and staying in hospital. Sooo many teachers back then were cruel. House staff telling us we’re not academics, even though we did well in academic exams. I remember being told by a member of the boarding staff at the sixth form leavers party I probably won’t have passed my German A level as I’m not academic. I got a grade A in that subject for the A level exam. I remember house staff telling other students they weren’t academics yet they went to Oxford and Cambridge. What was it at that place with all the confidence bashing?! There are so many horror stories, way worse than I’ve mentioned just now that happened in the 8 years I was there. I was very glad to leave that school and I’ve not wanted to ever consider sending my child to a boarding school because of it. That and the fact there has never been any need for my children to be boarders anyway.
I still remember the science teachers making kids stand on desks in lessons as punishment. Then wiping the chalk board markers over kids faces and telling them if they see them walking around school without the chalk they will be in trouble. These kids would then walk into lunch with it on their faces; nothing was said! Totally illegal to do that as teachers were not allowed to physically abuse kids at that time. I was hit over the head countless times by [teacher] in Junior A for things like forgetting my glasses. Again, she wasn’t allowed to do that but she got away with it plus her abuse of other kids in her class; emptying boys bags in front of the whole class and mocking them. [Instrumental teacher] (I think [another instrumental teacher] before that) who would tell me I was a useless bassoonist. Then when I won the BBC TV Young musician of the year woodwind section, she came up to me in the bathroom and said ‘Well I’m shocked! You must have improved!’ I remember amazing teachers like Mr and Mrs Hatfield, Mrs Peak, Mr Little and some others. But there were far too many bullies. I too was taught violin by Mr Ling. He scared the crap out of me so I gave up the violin because of him. Just as well. Maybe I would have ended up one of his victims. [House parent] who made little juniors hold pillows at arms length for ages as punishment for talking after lights out. Often we were talking as we were just little kids or felt homesick. Yes we had great opportunities there, but they came at a huge emotional cost to many of us. I gave up the bassoon and never played it again the day I left the RAM. I felt burnt out and didn’t want a life that Chet’s had made me feel I would lead. A life of constant pressure. I have good and bad memories of Chet’s. But it is true. What happens when you’re a kid has a big impact as to the person you become as an adult.
As a day student, much of this passed me by, but as a young 14 year old I knew my good friend was emotionally destroyed by a ‘relationship’ with Layfield. If you weren’t there, I imagine its hard to believe that, to many of us, this behaviour was ‘normal’. At least it was all normalized. I remember envying those girls in the ‘in’ groups, wishing I could be as good as them. I do also have another memory which never really made sense, or at least I used to find rather funny, until the Brewer trial. My teacher was away for a week and during that time, Brewer had me in his office, asking me to try a viola on for size. Weird experience, he was too close, etc. etc.. (every woman reading this knows what I mean). It was too big for me and I was a violin snob so I just didn’t want to continue and left his office. I told my teacher when he got back. My lesson was at the foot of the stairs. He stormed out (this was not a guy who stormed. Instead he was exceedingly zen and calm at all times), went through two fire doors and into Brewers office and I heard him yell ‘Keep your hands off my student’. At the time, I thought it was about the viola. They all knew.
I was at Chet’s 1987-91. Looking back, I feel sad for the vulnerable girl I was, that loved ( and still do) music. I held my teacher in such high esteem..if he said jump, I jumped. At 15 I was given an opportunity to study piano with Bakst and I remember feeling so excited. That was soon to change. A naive, country girl – I couldn’t understand why I felt so uncomfortable during my lessons. Surely, he couldn’t be touching my private parts whilst I was trying to play..it must be my imagination I thought. However, I soon stopped the lessons through feeling scared. My house parent questioned me why I stopped lessons with Bakst and after he asked the question, ‘has he done something’ I reluctantly told him about the way he touched me. I remember my house parent shaking his head and saying, ‘not again’. I was told by a member of staff that it would ruin the career of the very talented male students who were taught by Bakst if it was reported. Naturally, I could not have lived with myself if I was deemed responsible for this. I wondered why Bakst didn’t have any female students back then except one Chinese girl I think. Some piano teachers at Chets were old pupils of Bakst and they referred their talented students to Bakst. If my house parent knew what was going on, surely the other staff knew?! This ‘blind eye’ was endemic in the piano department. We were children and no one cared enough.. shame on all of them. By 17, I had been groomed by my first piano teacher, prior to Bakst, and had regular trips to his house where intimacy occurred. Still 17, I had a nervous breakdown..2 suicide attempts and was unable to complete my last yr at school. I taught myself my A levels and locked myself away in my tiny bedroom for months. I loathed myself. I couldn’t be the ultra slim student that my teacher wanted me to be ..he continuously made remarks about my weight. I developed a serious eating disorder and this subsequently destroyed years of my life and any career prospects. BUT, I survived! Whenever I think back to those darkest days, I break down. I was a kind, loving, trusting girl. It broke me.
Although my experience is one of deep sadness, I feel it is now time for Chetham’s to grow into the best school it can be. I have witnessed changes and I have seen how happy the children are. With the right, strong leadership, Chetham’s can be an amazing experience for so many children. Friends who have recently worked at Chets and current pupils I know there, feel it is now a happy and safe environment and this is all I could wish for the future. Knowing this, has helped me deal with my past.
I was 14 when I was groomed and sexually abused by Ling during my time studying at at Chethams. Ling gave us letters to take home about the courses at his house, they were like the typical school trip letter with a slip to fill in at the bottom and information on how much the course cost and date. They were printed out. There were often other letters from school about tours and trips. This was just like one of those.
From my parents point of view, this was a letter from Chethams because it came from the school and from one of the teachers who worked there.
Chetham’s responded to my civil case by disputing whether I’d even attended the school during that year and asking me to provide proof. This is the only communication I’ve had from them, no apologies or letters or emails or in fact ANY acknowledgement of what happened.
Since op Kiso started seven years ago I’ve been looking towards being able to formally address the abuses of trust that I suffered whilst a student at Chethams in a legal manner.
This still hasn’t hasn’t been possible and I couldn’t be more disappointed that victims voices have been silenced and that there has been no apology or acknowledgement from the school.
I hope that the inquiry has taken into account the devastating and destabilising effect childhood sexual abuse has at such a critical point in life. I’d also point out that a boarding school setting makes it even more isolating when all the power resides with the teachers who were also the abusers and family support is a very long way away
Unfortunately I have few positive feelings about my time there. I, also was not exposed to the worst crimes but the emotional abuse that was inflicted on us has left us with demons and scars that last a lifetime. We were commoditised as children and love and praise was determined/ conditional on our a ability to perform on cue. I did not take up a career in music but that toxic environment shaped the early years of my adult life.
I have made it public that I was abused from 1971-1977. I was shocked to the core, when I turned on the News last Tuesday teatime and heard the names Brewer and Ling being mentioned. I knew nothing about this inquiry and would very much have liked to have been present. Why were we not informed?
I was the first girl to report sexual abuse in 1971 and would have appreciated that being recognised. I felt that my existence hadn’t mattered and this has really affected me very badly this last week.
It was only after my mother telling me the day after my father died, that I had been the biggest disappointment in their lives, was I then able to tell her about the abuse and the reason for me returning to [place of abode]. My father died, never knowing.
If only Chet’s had thrown Professor Bakst out of the school in 1971 and not 1991/2, how many other poor girls could have been saved.
The RNCM also knew that Bakst was abusing. Clifton Helliwell (Head of Keyboard) invited Bakst’s students to his office and offered us a different teacher, if we so wished.
My life path changed for good, thanks to Professor Bakst… why isn’t he getting the same mentioning as Brewer and Ling? I am seething about this.
Bakst abused not only sexually and mentally (when I tried to stop him, he would sulk and sit and read his Polish newspaper during my ‘lesson’) but also physically. On one occasion he insisted I repeat a certain part of Rachmaninoff’s G minor Prelude over and over and over. I told him several times that my right hand was paining… he wouldn’t allow me to stop. It resulted in me seeing 2 specialists and not being able to use my right hand for a year! I still have problems with it, to this day.
Reading this has made me realise FOR THE FIRST TIME that many of the repeating anxieties in my life (no talent, wrong appearance, not thin enough, etc.) stem from the way that various staff members at Chet’s got into my head and have never left. [String teacher] told me I wasn’t pretty enough to be a cellist. [Houseparent] often criticised my weight. I was told by Mike Brewer that I would have to requisition to keep my place had I not been in Fast Set Music…. Somehow all these years I have believed all these things, and believed that they only applied to me and that everyone else was entitled to be at Chet’s, just not me. To read of such wonderful musicians that I look up to and respect receiving similar comments has surprised me to my core and made be reassess just how much insidious damage was done to me and to many other pupils. And that is before you even come to the sexual abuse and the generally toxic culture that made us believe that this was the reality of life in the music business.
I was at Chets from 1986-1991. I was one of the “lucky” ones; I was a woodwind first study and the wind tutors seemed to have mainly been able to behave appropriately and professionally.
However, I wanted to write and say how let down and angry I feel towards all the staff at the school at the time, but especially the houseparents and headteacher. We all knew that something wrong was going on – most of us didn’t know the whole story, but rumours abounded about playing naked and “dares” (or punishments) at the house gatherings at Ling’s house. Yet in our young impressionable minds, somehow, despite the fact that we were aware our friends and peers were being abused, the reactions around us and the fact that the people who were in loco parentis – who we also knew were aware and did NOTHING to stop it or to prevent it happening again, meant that we accepted it as normal, and worse, something to be envied. Ling’s Strings, were – in our minds – a group of special chosen ones. They had the cool teacher that drove around in the sports car and leather trousers, they got to go offsite to gatherings that were secret and grown up. We envied them. How utterly messed up and wrong is that?
I feel a massive sense of guilt towards my friends. That we didn’t speak up on their behalf more, that we left them feeling isolated and vulnerable to more abuse because there was no guidance from the adults looking after us that these vile men were doing anything wrong.
I am aware of at least one close friend approaching [houseparent] detailing an unthinkable situation of abuse and her response was to minimise and dismiss. That left this vulnerable teenager in unbelievable turmoil.
There was no morality amongst the staff – the reputation of the school was the only thing that mattered. Threats about libel, threats about ruining people’s careers, dismissals of horrendous situations with phrases like “silly girls, making everything so dramatic” abounded. There was no-one to go to for advice and guidance.
So I want to say to all the staff there in that very long period where Brewer, Ling, Bakst, Layfield et al abused at will and without remorse, if you were there and you knew and you didn’t speak up, SHAME ON YOU. SHAME ON YOU ALL. You all knew, we know you knew. How do you live with yourselves?
My mum was very concerned about one of my incredibly vulnerable friends, and tried to intercede with Vallins on her behalf. She was dismissed and her offers of help were rejected – she was made to feel like an interfering busybody. She, along with another parent, petitioned the school to try and set up some kind of parent consultation group to enable the parents to have more input to what was going on in the school – this was not allowed.
She was told by a wind tutor that there were bad things going on and that they would never send their own kids there. My parents agonised over whether to withdraw, but as none of us were encouraged to talk to our parents, they presumed that if something was wrong we would tell them. Yet we perpetrated the veil of secrecy and silence, because we knew that’s what we had to do to protect the school.
My own story is minimal compared to most – I was lucky. [Houseparent] was a monster behind her smiley exterior. She encouraged so many of us to be worried about our weight and appearance – often telling me I was too chubby and needed to lose weight. She made many hurtful comments in public and private about it. At the time I weighed 9.5 stone and was 5ft 4. She wasn’t approachable, everything was dismissed as we were being silly and needed to get over it. She once told me I was a monster and would never amount to anything in “decent society” because I borrowed an unsuitable video off one of the boys and showed it in the common room. Yet, we were left unsupervised long enough to show a whole film. We were rarely checked on until it was time for lights out. The assistant houseparent was having a relationship with the head of strings, and so wasn’t approachable either, although she was kinder.
My experience of Brewer was twisted. He didn’t like me and used to play mind games with me. He withheld coveted positions in the orchestra deliberately and taunted me about it. My very worst time was when I was in Upper Sixth and he summoned me for a private chat in his office at night. When I went in he was wearing those tiny shorts he often wore that left nothing to the imagination. He sat behind his desk and regarded me with amusement; I was clearly nervous as I didn’t know what he wanted. He wrote something on a piece of paper and then put it in the top drawer of his desk, locked it and laid the key on the desk. Then he stood up, put one foot on a chair, so his genitals were exposed, and said to me “I know what you’re going to be”. I had no idea what was going on or what he meant. He gestured to the drawer “that piece of paper says what will happen after you leave school. Do you want to know what it says?” I didn’t know what to do, and stood there frozen. He regarded me with contempt, put his leg down, and shooed me away, saying “you can go”. I escaped. I didn’t tell anyone; what was the point and who should I tell?
When I left I went to one of the most prestigious universities in the UK to read music. Despite this, I was seen as a failure by the music department and the fact I’d rejected a place at the RAM to go down a more academic route was seen as a disappointment.
I want the staff of the time, those that are alive, to know about our stories, and for them to acknowledge how wrong their decisions were and to apologise without reservation. [Comments about veracity of testimony of former head teachers in the inquiry] Claire Moreland claimed that a letter was sent to the alumni informing them of the police investigation – but nearly 200 people have responded to say that they’ve never received any such letter.
If the present head is serious about helping the alumni affected, he should be seeking out those members of staff and asking them to write public letters of acknowledgement and apology. I think it’s outrageous that none of them have been called to account for themselves during these proceedings, especially the [houseparents mentioned in evidence to inquiry]. It’s even more appalling that members of their family have held prominent positions of authority at Chets until very recently.
After two years at Chetham’s my parents had seen enough and took me out.This was in ’76. My dad (a teacher himself) told me later that he had been to see Vallins and told him-based solely on their experience of my treatment there- that in his opinion there were serious problems with how the school was being run, both in the music AND in boarding and academic. He said that he may as well have been talking to himself. Not interested.
I attended Chet’s as a boarder `70-`73.
I remember the physical abuse meted out to younger boys by the 6th form boys.
There was `slipper` treatment, where the 6th form boys stood in rows down either side of their narrow corridor of the 6th form rooms and the child had to run down the corridor between them as they hit the child with slippers. This wasn’t too bad. The worst was the `pillow` treatment. The child was held by arms and feet and dropped on their back onto a pillow on the floor.
Generally, they were not supposed to punish girls, but my friend and I were once locked in a cupboard in the 6th form block and incense sticks were lit through the key-hole until we were coughing so much, and screaming, that the head boy at the time [name redacted] let us out. I have always been a severe asthmatic but they thought it hilarious. [Head boy] refused to take part in any abuse.
I also remember being so hungry that one night, myself and 2 other girls crept into the kitchens and stole all the stale bread. (Naughty but desperate!) We developed quite a taste for it!
My personal sadness was that I had a boyfriend in the school. There was no sex education so we were both very naive. I fell pregnant at 15 yrs old, had a termination and we were both promptly expelled. I suppose back in those days they didn’t know how to handle the situation. At the time, Mrs Littler (house mother) supported me in every way she possibly could. My hopes of becoming a concert pianist died. My teachers, Anthony Goldstone, Pat Shackleton and Fanny Waterman all encouraged me not to give up, but my heart and soul died too. I became a nurse and taught in my spare time.
I hold no animosity whatsoever towards Chet’s. In fact, I have a pupil there now, and another on the way next year.
I only learned of other horrors at an alumni meet a few years ago. [X] told me her story and scorned the hypocrisy relating to my being expelled. [Y] was a few years younger than me. I used to put her to bed and read bedtime stories. She told me that my departure led her to depression, and another friend told me she subsequently developed an eating disorder as she couldn’t believe how badly my predicament was handled. [Y] had other awful tales to tell but it is not my place to relate them.
I was not sexually abused at Chet’s. However, my 1st instrumental teacher told me I was ‘rubbish’ and would not allow me to play in the senior orchestra. After hearing me play about a year later, Brewer told me I was ‘nowhere near as bad as my teacher had told him’. He allowed me in the orch. After that I played in everything (not a common instrument). I had a very difficult time in the 6th form and left with an eating disorder and a habit of self harm. I did not go on to music college, due to my illness, but always felt a total failure.
Addendum: Reading the other testimonies I just recollected an occasion where we were all dressed up in the summer. It was some kind of open day I think. I was wearing a ‘gypsy’ style dress, tight around the bust and lacy. I can vividly remember Brewer leering at my chest and saying what a lovely dress it was. The other member of staff did likewise and said ‘ it’s what’s underneath that counts’ I was 14 at most. Bastards!!! After I left Chets (ill with an eating disorder), I was groomed and raped. No connection I know but just one more fucked up ex Chets pupil…
It has been difficult to watch Mr Vallins, Mr Hullah and Mrs Moreland all apparently not knowing anything about anything. No authentic compassion was visible from any of them either.
Memories of Chetham’s:
String section rehearsals on a Saturday: being asked to play passages by myself because the conductor thought I couldn’t play it. He was right. Incredible shame in front of peers.
Science classes: I was so frightened of one teacher’s sarcastic cruelty. He could tell when you didn’t know something, and would choose you on purpose to explain it, so that you were shamed in front of the whole class. Because I was so nervous I couldn’t concentrate, and had to rely on copying another student’s answers whenever I could.
In another science class, the teacher became angry because people kept saying “What? when we were learning about watts. He called a boy up to the front of the class and punched him in the face.
Maths: a teacher saw me writing in my text book in pencil, he crept up behind my desk and put his arm across my shoulders and pushed me down onto the desk until I was crushed. My chest was very painful and had bruising afterwards.
Another teacher threw a very fat text book at me because I was talking in class. It missed.
Boarding house life: Being patted on the bottom by the housemaster as I was speaking on the public phone in our girls house.
Being put off alcohol forever when I was 13 and new at the school, when I went into the communal toilets and several drunk students were throwing up in there!!
Nurses: only advice available: take 2 paracetamols.
Mr Brewer: he stared at my breasts whenever he spoke to me, and licked his lips. His lips were always cracked and dry, with horrible white deposits at each side.
The friends I made.
Being in the orchestra when Christopher Adey came to be a guest conductor.
During my School years at Chets I felt abandoned to a place where the staff took very little notice of me. The House Parents barely seemed to register who I was, and I felt uninspired by my violin teacher, so I coasted, doing the minimum I could get away with academically and musically. Having started the school lauded by Brewer as a ‘star talent’, my violin playing was falling behind and so consequently I was called into his office. He proceeded to belittle and humiliate me instead of offering solutions.
After several meetings he concluded I should either leave the school in perceived disgrace, or be transferred to a new teacher who would turn me around. So without any choice I started lessons with Ling.
This was, of course, a disaster.
In my final year I tried to fight back and I threatened to report him. (It had suddenly become clear it wasn’t just me he was ‘picking on’). In response he vowed he would make sure I never played the violin professionally, would ruin my reputation, and would absolutely bar me from getting a place at any music college. We came to a hideous truce where he agreed he would leave me alone if I stayed silent, and I was to pretend to still be continuing my weekly lessons.
I spent that last year facing my music college auditions with no violin teacher (they couldn’t understand why I hadn’t prepared the set scales etc having come from Chets), whilst he still got paid, and continuously bullied and undermined me, in order to keep me toeing his line.
I was by this time withdrawn, painfully thin, often tearful and deeply stressed. My friends tried their hardest to shield me but none of the staff seemed to even notice. In fact my house parent described me to my room-mate as a misery who needed to pull herself together. I wondered why she never once thought to ask me what was wrong, but on reflection I suspect she either knew outright or had, at the very least, heard the rumours, that were rife, of what was going on on the string corridor.
After leaving Chets I buried everything that had happened.
I had barely heard of child abuse and certainly didn’t realise the term might apply in my case. To be clear, Ling manipulated, threatened and isolated me. It was never once consenting – he made my skin crawl. But the atmosphere that pervaded the string department; cello teachers ‘dating’ pupils, violin pupils being ‘girlfriends’, teachers generally sleazing over us girls, making crude comments and unwanted advances, had normalised what I had suffered. Horrifyingly I thought I had just been more unlucky than most, and that it was our lot to be treated as sexual game.
In light of reading the reports from the inquiry, and especially Vallins’ testimony I would like to add some final thoughts.
It was absolutely common knowledge at Chets during my time there, and subsequently, that there were ‘relationships’ happening between staff members and the children. This included the Head of Music and many of the string staff. Ling was known for being the most blatant; taking girls out for drinks, keeping them late in practice rooms, taking them off site in his car etc.
If we all knew, and Vallins had his ‘ear to the ground’ as he claimed, and yes he lived on site, how, at the very least, did he not suspect there was inappropriate behaviour going on? Why did he not question and investigate the rumours, as ultimately it was his job to know the goings-on of the school?
The answer is – because he absolutely did know. A close friend reported the abuse to him shortly after I left. She was squashed by him and [houseparent], and a cover-up ensued.
Appallingly it was during these miserable years that Vallins received his OBE.
I was at Chets from 1973 to ‘81. I entered as a fat 10 year old in Junior A and I well remember the bullying and fear liberally meted out by Boss. He even removed the bedroom doors in Palatine as a punishment for some girls talking after lights out- completely unacceptable on every level! I also remember being called fat in front of the class by Brian Gee and the humiliation of being put on a diet and having to eat crispbread and tinned tomatoes whist everyone else around me ate the normal food. I remember being horribly homesick and having no pastoral care from any member of staff to help me to deal with that.
Academic teaching varied hugely in standard and whilst there were some really inspirational teachers there, having a board duster chucked at one’s head in maths or being called an imbecile was seen as a joke, which it clearly was not. I even set fire to the sleeve of my blouse in chemistry once but there was very little reaction from the teacher and I believe that the Geography teacher either left or was sacked weeks before our Geography O level, meaning that the majority of my class failed the exam.
As I got older, my status as a fat, average pianist protected me from some of the worst abuses from the teaching staff, as I was largely just ignored, although I do remember feeling very hurt that I was deemed almost irrelevant in terms of the hierarchy so prevalent in Chets society. The sexual liberties allowed during weekend tv times in the 6th form centre were legendary and yet I look back now in horror as to how little parental supervision and care we received then. I was in Millgate House looking after the juniors and one of my room mates frequently had sex in our room during the day with her boyfriend with no awareness from the house staff. As I entered the 6th form, I lost a lot of weight and eventually ended up becoming anorexic, which no one on the staff could cope with. I had my first sexual relationship with another 6th form boy and we had a key to an abandoned classroom which we used for sex, which had been given to us by a leaver and which we subsequently passed to another 6th former when we left. I was put on the Pill by the school doc, with no questions about my medical history, despite the fact that my mother had died young of a heart attack due to being on the Pill. My dramatic weight loss was questioned by him, but it was easy to lie my way out of it and I had no follow up or any ongoing care or monitoring of my weight. My piano teacher changed too during this time and my new one was emotionally abusive and demanding and acted inappropriately in her lessons. I’m pretty sure that she was an ex pupil of Bakst. I was terrified of her and although I became a much better pianist, it came at a huge price. Around this time, I also found out from a 6th form friend about the sexual relationship she was in with a member of staff, which, as far as I know, she still hasn’t disclosed publicly and may never do so. By this time, it was public knowledge that there were a group of girls, mainly string players, who were involved in sexual relationships with Brewer et al. This was almost seen as a joke and the girls perceived as flaky slappers, which is more a comment on how groomed we all were in accepting such behaviour than the girls themselves. Alcohol featured regularly and the 6th form boys brewed their own beer and cider. It was commonplace to leave school to drink illicitly at several city centre pubs, the Mitre being the most popular one. I can remember drinking there before I reached the age of 18, with staff members present and ignoring us. I also remember the pop up brothels on Long Millgate, the prostitutes’ clients fighting in the street and the Yorkshire Ripper… all of which made leaving school in the evenings a profoundly unsafe experience. Competition amongst pupils in terms of lunchtime concert appearances and orchestral seating was seen as ordinary and yet now, can be viewed as being undermining and abusive. When I was awarded a place at all of the four music colleges I applied to, I can’t remember a single Well Done coming from anyone! As an adult, I married another ex-Chets pupil who eventually became emotionally very unwell and my marriage to him broke down. This was partly a result of him having had a short lived affair on tour with another ex-Chets pupil who was herself a victim of Layfield and who had, in my belief, grown up with the consequential emotional vulnerabilities which allowed her to engage in such a way towards a married man. So her experience affected my husband and myself so many years later.
I left my dad on his own to go to Chets for 8 years and although it undoubtedly gave me social and musical opportunities I would not have had otherwise, it was not a good place to be. After the RCM, I got a post grad place at the RAM but I never went. I was seriously ill with an eating disorder at College and despite being a prize winner there , I could never slough off the legacy of Chets and the way it made me feel like a complete and utter failure. Instead, I gave up playing for almost a decade and only really returned to it by training to be a music therapist. I’m now a piano teacher but as a single mother, have never been able to have the time to give to a performing career; lack of confidence and the shadows of the reasons my marriage broke down in terms of my ex-husband’s mental health issues have prevented it. I have had a string of failed relationships, all fuelled by the profound lack of parental guidance I received at Chets where none of us were raised with an adequate sense of Self. Egos were either inflated or decimated and most of us were emotionally chaotic and unsafe and have grown up to carry unhappy legacies of our time there.
Chet’s alumnus 1982-1990.
Chet’s was a fiercely competitive environment where prizes defined you: being chosen to play in a masterclass, winning the concerto competition, where you sat in orchestra, scholarships to music colleges etc. Ling’s pupils were outstanding, winning internal and external competitions, leading the school orchestras etc. What we now realise is that they were coerced into accepting their abuse by him because they believed that that is what it took to promote their status.
It makes me feel sick that my friends suffered this abuse behind closed doors; my closest friend never spoke to me about what she endured, it was a secret. This secrecy has wrecked lives and it is now time for a redressing.
I also suffered abuse from Bakst. Most lessons he would put his hand at the top of my thigh when I played. At the time I didn’t consider this abuse, although I knew that it shouldn’t be happening.
When the Head of Keyboard asked me about Bakst’s behaviour during my lessons, I denied that anything untoward had ever happened as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
This is the first time that I’m talking about this incident. I suspect that I’m not the only one with untold Chet’s memories.
From the school: I would like counselling available for all Chet’s alumni from that period – no questions asked, just foot the bill. Also, Vallins to be stripped of his OBE and the Vallins building renamed.
In one of the boy’s dormitories, there was a cupboard/wardrobe, on which was written ‘X’s house’ (‘X’ was the name, extremely demeaning, give to one boy by many bullies and many others). What some of the bullies would do was force him into this, so he would be forced into a half-bent-over position, the width practically no greater than his one, so he wouldn’t be able to move, and leave him there for hours, calling and crying. They took great pleasure from this, and other boys found it terribly amusing. Other boys (this boy was a target for many) used to literally ride this boy like a horse around the pool table area in the Millgate building, laughing and cheering while he was crying.
There was the boy who wanted to prove his status over another (both would have been about 16-17 at the time) by delivering him the most pathologically awful hit in the face, so that he lost several teeth, swallowing one of them. Talk of this spread through the house, and the appropriate status was gained.
There was the group of older boys who set on one younger boy who was placed in boy’s house. Amongst the things they did was put sellotape over his mouth and hold his nose so he thought he was going to asphyxiate, or fill his mouth with washing-up liquid, and make him near-choke on it so it come up out of his nose. This as well as kicking him and punching him all over – a whole group of older boys setting on one defenceless boy like this. It was seen as a type of rite of passage, and the test was that he wouldn’t tell the housemaster. There’s more – it is only through talking through these sorts of events in therapy that I have been able to understand that this was not normal behaviour in a school.
And then there was the fact that every single boy in Boy’s House called the house master ‘Prole’. An alternative name was ‘Harry’, also seen as a name which would mock his working-class origins.
All sorts can happen in a brutalised environment. I’m not blaming the boys (they were children) so much as the environment which made this all possible.
I will tell just one story of my own. This concerns the teacher in junior school who made a point of singling out everyone else in the class for praise for what they had done, then holding me up alone in front of them all with that poisonous hatred behind her eyes just to ridicule me in comparison with everyone else. Now I also know that this same teacher, at school camp, actually slept with a sixth-form boy.
This school was a cesspit. It is a disgrace that John Vallins was ever let anywhere near a school, and he should feel nothing but shame and guilt for the rest of his days.
I was one of the lucky ones. I always felt that Chet’s was my home and the staff and pupils my family. I had never had a close relationship with my family and Chet’s became a sort of foster family for me. I was never aware of the terrible things that were going on but there were a lot of rumours about Brewer and Ling. I am devastated by everything that has come to light and my heart goes out to every child who was affected and those adults who continue to be. For anyone who was in a similar position to me, we are feeling a huge sense of loss at the moment. All those happy memories, what was lying beneath? What was true? Who was genuine? All those close relationships we developed with the teachers ([list of some names]), were they a lie? It is so terribly sad and I am absolutely devastated. To all those children who I grew up with – you were the most special, wonderful family to grow up with and none of you are to blame.
Just to add: I would like the school to find all past teachers and find out what they knew. They owe it to us.
It’s only after reading some of the impact statements from my fellow Chetham’s students in and around the 1980’s that the rather dysfunctional pattern of my life has become clearer.
I went to Chetham’s excited about the opportunities to be in a musical environment and develop my full potential. I left with shattered self-confidence and disillusioned not just with music, but with life.
In a nutshell,, I was taught by Bakst. Although I didn’t suffer sexual abuse as badly as some of the girls I knew who were taught by him, he bullied and intimidated me. This culminated in me walking out of a lesson – from which there was no way back as ‘nobody walked out of Bakst’s lessons’. I then took a step back and was taught by my first teacher at Chetham’s, losing all sense of direction.
In the sixth form after this had happened, I was close to leaving Chethams for the local grammar school back home. But I stayed. I seem to remember my parents talking to John Vallins, who encouraged me to stay
I’d never really understood why I dropped out of my first year of university straight after leaving Chets – and I tried to run away to France (but didn’t quite succeed due to a ferry strike at the time!!). I was desperately unhappy but thought it was just ‘me’.
I then went on to another university to do a languages degree and became obsessed with sport because the particular sport I pursued made me feel ‘strong’ and ‘respected’ for what I could do and achieve. I barely studied as I was constantly training, but somehow managed to get a decent degree despite failing a year and having to repeat it.
I couldn’t face the university careers service when I graduated – the sheer thought of any ‘structure’ being imposed on me in the form of a proper job and authority from above scared me rigid. Hence, I ended up working for 6 years in a cycle shop. A waste of my various talents, in my opinion.
I haven’t really played the piano since leaving Chetham’s. In fact, the piano my parents bought me when I started Chetham’s is in my garage.
Fast-forward to 2010 and I finally found the opportunity to become self-employed thanks to the rise of the Internet and entrepreneurial activities.
I am starting to look at my past, especially my teens, twenties and thirties, in a totally different light….
I remember also being bullied by the female junior school teacher with hatred in her eyes. At least I can’t imagine it being anyone else. Is there any reason we shouldn’t name her? She was called [X]. Perhaps her name can be redacted if needed. She is long dead I believe. She was in my experience a very opinionated, forceful, bitter person, very wrapped up in herself and without the maturity required of a teacher. She openly declared frequently that she hated girls and wished they had never been allowed in to the school. Her tenure dated back to before they were.
As with other teachers, ex pupils had mixed experience of her and some thought and still think she was marvellous. It is important to realise that abusers don’t abuse everyone and can present as quite charming to others. Nor do bullies bully everyone. They pick on people who seem vulnerable or who annoy or discomfort them for whatever reason. Teachers ought to be able and willing to rise above these feelings, be the adult and treat their pupils reasonably equally and decently, even in the face of provocation. She didn’t and in an environment where bullying was quite normal, she was a law unto herself. Perhaps, being conditioned into this environment, those who weren’t the targets also overlooked that others were. We all accepted our lot and that of others as normal. Playing favourites and targets is also of course a great way to gain the collusion of the class and make the bullying more painful for the target.
She had those she hated and those who were her favourites. She also had her figure of fun boy in my time who she liked to ridicule and dismiss in a seemingly affectionate but demeaning way. She made him the class joke. I believe, having heard since, that he was also badly bullied by other boys. No doubt her behaviour towards him fed into this if not causing it. She took a dislike to me, and I think a couple of my friends. She launched an ongoing bullying campaign against me that lasted the entirety of my time within her reach, which I think was two years due to lack of teachers. It was usually verbal although she hit me across the head once. She would ridicule my appearance daily as a matter of course in front of the class and would take any other opportunity going to try to undermine or humiliate me. I tried to ignore, resist or fight back in minor ways, but at age nine and ten being subject to a concerted daily hate campaign by an adult in front of my peers was hard to deal with. It made my life at school a misery and profoundly affected my self-esteem. I know I wasn’t the only one.
I didn’t know about her allegedly sleeping with a sixth former at camp, though I do remember her openly singing the praises of and fawning over a man who used to go to camp. He was no longer involved with the school. He might have been an ex pupil or ex teacher I’m not sure. She would often talk about herself and her opinions at length in class, so telling us how marvellous this man was and how much she was looking forward to seeing him at camp was par for the course. As I attended camp, I saw her flirting with him and we all assumed there was an affair or would be if it was up to her.
One disgusting practice that hasn’t yet been discussed was the ‘staking out’ ritual at school camp, where a group of adults or older large pupils would grab someone, overpower them and tie them spread-eagled to the ground with tent pegs. People would then gather around them to taunt them, laugh at them, poke them, throw things over them (I remember cold water and pig-swill being favourites). This was all treated as a marvellous joke and was expected to be laughed off by the victim. This was pretty much the approach to all public assaults and bullying, like the beatings with a huge plimsoll meted out by a games teacher ([Y], still alive) amongst others and perhaps his ‘red hand gang’, which boys from the late seventies/early eighties might throw more light on. I also know of at least one occasion when several junior school girls were assaulted by a female games teacher with a plimsoll. Like with corporal punishment it was usually the boys who were victims of staking out but not always.
One day at school camp a group of men, including the one that [X] had a thing for, grabbed me, dragged me somewhere and started trying to tie me down. I was told this was under instruction from [X]. They actually looked a bit sheepish like they knew they were doing something wrong and that even in a world where ‘staking pupils out’ for japes was normalised, they realised that this was crossing a line (big adult men, small girl, obvious, open animosity from the person instructing them to do it, obviously not a joke on either side). [X] came to survey what was happening and to openly gloat. I fought the men and didn’t give up until I managed to get away. I ran away and was gone for the rest of the day. I don’t remember any search parties being sent for me. I remember sitting on top of a hill with another friend who had run away to the same place, looking down at a view of several people being staked out. It looked like a crucifixion scene. We didn’t want to go back. I also remember a very large boy/man being staked out and quietly going along with it saying that he had health problems (asthma being one) and had to be careful. He was clearly struggling physically and afraid while they carried on regardless.
Another junior school teacher in the late seventies was Brian Gee, again remembered fondly by many, but not all. He once made a lengthy public speech to the whole junior school about what a despicable person the child was who had been stealing money from coat pickets in the cloakroom. He finished off by revealing the identity of the child. She was there. Was this an appropriate way to deal with the situation?
Funnily enough, in informal chat amongst alumni, the person who most viciously defended these teachers and attacked anyone who said anything against them, is someone who I remember as the chief bully in the junior school. He was the biggest boy and used to beat up the others at break times. He is now apparently in a senior position in education. I am not blaming him, certainly not the child that he was. It was the culture of the place from the teachers down. There was a lot of ‘fighting’ amongst the boys, certainly at junior school. That seemed to be what boys did at the time, and maybe it is, but from what ex pupils have said subsequently I think many boys were being physically bullied and assaulted and it wasn’t all in good fun. It wasn’t stopped by the teachers and in some cases it was modelled.
Some of us knew or subsequently worked out that the violence, bullying and abuse was wrong and some didn’t and haven’t. Some don’t want to think about it at all. Whilst there was a lot of useful discussion and support in alumni discussions and chat after Fran’s death there were also those who were very protective of the school and hostile to critics or abuse victims. Discussion could degenerate to a very low and abusive level as if we were going back in time and some shocking defence of predators and undermining of victims took place. Some of the defenders of the schools and abusers were still involved with the school as parents or teachers or were still friends and colleagues of sexual abuse perpetrators. So the toxic legacy and pain for unacknowledged victims goes on.
From the music side, some of my school friends were routinely bullied by instrumental teachers. Some of these people were seemingly quite disturbed and volatile, if not out and out sadistic or physically and sexually abusive, and were not suited to teaching. I didn’t know about the sexual abuse until recent years, but there was much undermining, criticism and whittling away at the children’s self esteem. I had plenty of this from my first piano teacher, [Z], who may have been mentioned earlier and was a pupil of Bakst. She would shout and verbally abuse and write heavy scrawled notes in my practice book with underlined capitals and lots of exclamation marks. The general drift was that I was not good enough and must try harder. She might storm out. She also advised her pupils to skip meals so they could practice more. She entered me into a competition once, which I hated and which terrified me. The result of going through it all was to be in the doghouse because I had played a wrong note. Apparently, according to [X], it was a matter of common courtesy to manage not to do that. So I was the lowest of the low. I was an eight-year-old child.
Another piano teacher of a friend ripped up her music threw it on the floor and jumped up and down on it when she was unhappy with her progress. In each case our parents eventually got our teachers changed, but there was no question of the teachers being challenged on their behaviour or stopped from doing it to the next poor kid.
I wasn’t the most conscientious, endlessly practising pupil, mainly because I was really unwillingly conscripted into this rarefied environment and this classical music ‘career’. I know some did have a real vocation and others probably bought wholesale into the ambitions of those around them. Even then, I’m not sure that a school like that is the appropriate vehicle for such an interest. It certainly seems inappropriate for children of such a tender age, even if all the abuse could be eradicated, which I doubt. Many who did have passion and dedication had it sucked out of them by their experience there, or had so many negative issues tacked on to it.
Whatever interest I had in music was certainly eclipsed by the verbal abuse, pressure, oppressive atmosphere, unwanted responsibilities and stress. I was told I had a gift that I had a duty to serve, and in a very specific, prescribed way. I didn’t want to dedicate my young life from age eight to a classical music ‘career’. I wanted to lead the normal life of a kid. I didn’t want to spend my free time sitting in a room on my own in front of a piano practising pieces I didn’t like for hours. I wanted to be out playing with my friends.
If I hadn’t practised as much as my first teacher wanted I would sometimes stand outside the door of the room where my lesson was to take place. Although I knew it would only incur her wrath further, I could stand there for ten minutes or more getting later and later for my lesson feeling unable to face going in.
Even when I got nicer teachers, the fact remained that I was being forced, as a child, to devote my whole life and being to something I didn’t want to do. All the pressure to unwillingly practice, perform, take exams, enter competitions, etc, just made me into a very stressed kid. Nobody ever seemed to pick this up, though it must have been clear to anyone with any emotional intelligence, something that was and I believe still is, sadly lacking in these places.
A subsequent relatively nicer piano teacher I had turned out to marry a choir master and music teacher who could be entertaining and was liked by some, but could also be quite a bully. That was [AA]. He once found himself accidentally giving me a compliment by bemoaning my recent absence and saying I was useful in the choir. Realising what he had done he quickly qualified this by insisting ‘not good, but useful’. This was a shame because the choir, and even performing with the choir in public, was the one musical thing I enjoyed there, and I might even have pursued and enjoyed singing as a second instrument if I had not been convinced of my inadequacy. Singing is something that I did do many years later and I know now that I do have a good voice. Of course [AA] delivered this put down in front of the rest of the choir and, whether he really thought it or not, it is hard to know what positive outcome he could have wanted to achieve by saying it and doing it in that way.
Once [AA] had married my teacher he took to telling me off, again in front of the rest of the class, if I was deemed not to have been practising enough. This destroyed any feeling of trust and safety I had with her. For reasons I can’t remember I changed to a third and final teacher who was nice, and even tried to find music I liked, but I think the damage had been done by then and there were so many other reasons to be stressed and unhappy at the school, so this didn’t salvage things for me there and I continued to lobby to leave.
It never seemed to be an issue what the kids did or didn’t want to do or what our interests in music were. We were there to get with the programme and be sacrificed at the alter of the almighty music, as selected by those in charge, the plaudits and reputation of the teachers and school and presumably keeping the revenue coming in the gravy train running.
I remember finding Michael Brewer creepy and immediately guessing his name when my husband told me a Chet’s teacher had been convicted of child abuse. I had some contact with him and he led my audition, but I didn’t have a lot of contact with him. I managed to leave in the early stages of puberty so I was probably not on his radar. I don’t remember Fran but she was there when I was, a couple of years above me. What happened to her was so tragic and now that Brewer and his wife are long out of prison, her husband and kids still live with her loss and it’s legacy. One thing is for sure, her death brought hundreds of ex pupils together, largely online, to share and better understand experiences and in some cases prosecute those who abused them. The chain reaction has been immense and affected far more people than those who have publicly testified.
I’m so glad I managed to persuade my parents to let me leave, a process that took 5 years, with every summer holiday an oasis that may or may not end with me having to go back there again. Come that day, like many others, I turned my back on the piano and any involvement in music for ten years. Later I did manage to enjoy getting involved in music I liked for fun, but the instruments I had played at Chet’s always had negative connotations, as did classical music which I was turned off for life. I also had to overcome as best I could a lot of associated insecurity and anxiety, including severe and crippling self-criticism, all of which dated back to Chet’s.
I thought I was the only one who carried the burden of not feeling good enough and feeling I was letting the side down, which was regularly reinforced by the adults around me at Chet’s. Little did I know that this was almost a standard part of the conditioning of pupils at Chet’s. I think the pupil who was confident in their abilities, felt nurtured and supported and enjoyed their music must have been rare. It is only by sharing stories that many of us have probably realised this.
Whilst my time at the school was unhappy, I fully realise that my stories pale in comparison to the horrendous accounts of abuse we now know. My heart goes out to all those who were sexually abused. It also goes out to those who were physically assaulted, bullied and otherwise abused and who were negatively affected by the toxic atmosphere and regime of Chet’s, as you would be. That would include me I suppose and I realise now would bring it to a very large number, perhaps even the majority of ex pupils. What is worse there seems to have been a similar culture in many other schools and colleges.
Although my memories are quite trivial in comparison to the worst excesses, I think they all form part of the context and culture within which the worst things happened. Even the things I remember and went through there were unacceptable and not something a child should have to deal with. I would certainly never send any child of mine to a place like that or accept them being treated in any of those ways.
I think that the accounts and memories from the past are still very relevant today, because there is no real evidence to show that all the welfare concerns are behind us and that the culture of Chet’s and elsewhere carries none of these negative issues. Even the concept of these schools and sending kids there has to be in question. Is it healthy to convince children they should embark upon a ‘career’ and adult responsibilities to which they should devote most of their time? Even if it is, is it actually being done in a healthy way?
Whilst it is a positive step that the latest head has apologised for past abuses and will communicate with ex pupils, this does not allay all concerns. The apology was after all given under extreme duress and this head has still stuck to the mantra that all these bad things were bad but are firmly in the past and everything is different now. There still isn’t enough humility or self-reflection. I also doubt that all the old guard and old attitudes have been completely shed.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that one music theory teacher, [AB], used to call kids up to the front who had displeased him and hit them over the head with an enormous book. Again, laughed off by him and most of the kids (usually boys), but a really silly, dangerous and violent thing to do in retrospect, not to mention the bullying aspect.
It should also be noted that for the boarders, the bullying and assaults from adults in charge continued into the evening and night by a fair few accounts, including more corporal punishment. I remember visiting a dorm with my boarding friend when we were eight and her telling me about being given ‘apple pie beds’ and how she hated boarding and really missed home. That sounded miserable enough, but I realise it wasn’t the half of it. Needless to say, led by the example of the adults or left unchecked, fellow pupils could also be brutal to boarders within their accommodation.
That has to be another scenario of dubious benefit in addition to the whole music hothouse / sweatshop idea: sending kids as young as seven away from their homes and families to live full time in an institution, for no good reason other than to apparently further their education and their musical ‘careers’ with little thought of their physical and emotional development and wellbeing. In this case this was frequently with bullying and uncaring ‘house parents’. How much more vulnerable those boarders were to sexual abuse as well, far away from their parents, under almost complete control of the school and unable to escape. It was the boarders who had it the worst. They were the most seriously let down.
Even the kind house parents wouldn’t love and care for the kids like their own parents would. How does this set kids up for happy, healthy young lives or indeed adult ones? A really silly, misguided practice in my view. I refuse to accept that this is a healthy way to bring up kids at the best of times, and the best of times it surely wasn’t for Chet’s boarders in the past. Research has been done on the emotional damage done to displaced kids in boarding schools, so I’m not the only one with misgivings and accounts from Chet’s ex-boarders are not the only evidence available on the folly of this.
I started Chet’s in lower sixth and having come from a normal comprehensive school in Greater London I felt very privileged to be a student there. Around the time of my audition I attended one of Chris Ling’s pupils concerts in London. I can remember being blown away by the standard of playing. Chris Ling was sitting in the front row being very flamboyant. In my final violin lesson before I left to go onto Chet’s my violin teacher had a long chat with me. She explained that Chet’s would be a fantastic place for me to blossom, but that I should be wary of some of the male members of staff. No plunging necklines or short skirts she said. Of course being 16 I didn’t pay much attention!
Within a few weeks of starting it became apparent that there had been many inappropriate things going on. Chris Ling had just left, everyone was talking about him and there were many rumours of relationships between pupils and teachers particularly in the string department.
During my first year I got taken out for drinks with another student by one of the violin teachers on many occasion. To be honest I’m not really sure why I went, maybe it was the free booze! He wasn’t even my violin teacher. I guess I felt lucky to be asked in some weird way. I can also remember returning from a night out very scantily dressed with another girl. It must have been late maybe 10.30pm. I walked through the string corridor to fetch my violin to take it up to my dorm and I saw Mike Brewer. I panicked, he looked really sweaty and had this big grin on his face and was looking up and down at us. We started to run off, we were giggling but feeling a bit freaked out to see Brewer at that time of night. He started chasing after us, he was laughing. We ran up the stairs and managed to get back into Palatine through the main door. We had a laugh about it afterwards, Mike Brewer being a pervert as usual! Looking back it seems so wrong!
But I was truly one of the lucky ones and remained unharmed at Chet’s. My playing did blossom, I made some lovely friends, some of which I am still in touch with. I went on to music college and now enjoy a successful career in music. My heart goes out to those who have been so badly affected and had a truly dreadful time at Chet’s.
I’m so sickened reading and hearing all of these reports. I was there from 1990-1996 (from memory).
I don’t remember much of my time there, just snippets? Not sure why this is.
However, I know what I’ve not heard anything about is the other house parents & other staff.. particularly [houseparent] from the [one of the houses in the school] who was in relationships with students. He wasn’t the only one, this was common knowledge across school that relationships between staff and students were happening! Brewer was one of them too in my time. He was in a relationship with the head girl who was in sixth form! I was 2 years below at the time!
Now that I’ve listened and read all of these reports I can remember some awful experiences of staff, for example, throwing a heavy text book at me Cos I had hiccups [name redacted] English teacher telling me I’ll never pass my gcse because I’m too stupid then accusing me of slamming a door in face (I hadn’t seen her behind me?!) – I got an A btw, the same comment from the science teacher – I got a B!
I went on chamber choir tours with Brewer! Did the staff know about the allegations of abuse against him before we went? Therefore putting us at risk! I’d really like to know? All of the staff there should be held accountable not just the few we are hearing about! All the house parents! All teachers…. everyone.
I’m actually a senior safeguarding officer with Manchester City council based in a large primary now!
I was not sexually abused while at Chet’s in the 1970s but my story is just another example of the neglect which was prevalent at the time.
From 1973/4 I had several symptoms, all relating to primary hypothyroidism, which were never picked up on. I had bald patches in my hair, I became increasingly tired (some of my reports said that I was lethargic), I became very depressed and just shut myself off from things so that I have very patchy memories of that time. I suffered such severe constipation that my bowel closed up. This involved me having to go to hospital and have really horrible procedures (completely on my own). My broken hip (a slipped epiphysis which was also related to an undiagnosed underactive thyroid) was not picked up on for 2-3 years; I was treated for a pulled muscle and given some cream to rub on until eventually I was sent for an x-ray. While in hospital I had various other symptoms which indicated that I had had an underactive thyroid for several years. Over this time I had become convinced that I was probably a bit of a hypochondriac and not so good at coping with aches and pains: the opposite turned out to be the case.
There was an utter lack of any pastoral care or creation of a safe and secure environment at Chet’s in the 70s. I could not share with my family how miserable I felt at school as they had enough problems of their own.
When I returned to the sixth form I was inexplicably boarded out to live with the PE teacher and his wife, an experience which further isolated me and for which I have been unable to get any explanation.
After all that has happened, and especially as I am now a mother, I feel so sorry for the girl I was back then. Totally alone and thinking that there was no place for her in the world because she was simply not good enough to exist.
I was at Chets 1970-72 then again 75-77 – I have very fond memories of a lot of that time and some of the freedom we were afforded as teenagers growing up together as a family. I still maintain some of those friendships now.
I just want to share an incident that happened at the end of the Easter term 1976 which took on greater significance when the trial of Michael Brewer became public.
It was the end of the Easter term and for some reason a few girls stayed behind an extra night before going home – there was a party in Miss Woodruff’s flat (Housemistress) which we went to – teachers were also there. A group went off to get pizza and I went to bed. Later that night I woke up to see a figure standing in the doorway of my room – and with dread realised I was the only girl on the corridor. We were in the centre of Manchester and I was the most terrified I’d ever been in my life up to that point – I pretended to be asleep and out of the corner of my eye I recognised it was one of the teachers, not music staff but an academic teacher who was in boys boarding at that time. He stood there for a long time and then came to sit on my bed – I don’t know if he knew I was awake and I can remember very confused feelings, mainly wondering why on earth he was there.. I could smell alcohol on his breath – as long as I feigned sleep we could maintain the status quo. As far as I remember he sat there for a long time – eventually I did pretend to wake up and at that point he got up and left. I can remember the courage it took for me to get out of bed, run down the corridor, through the glass doors, up the stairs to my friends’ room on the top floor. In the morning we went to see Miss Woodruff – all she said was, oh yes- he was a bit drunk last night… Instead of getting the train home I went to tell my then boyfriend – as I was leaving school she came up to me and said, ‘are you absolutely sure it happened?…’
The next term the teacher had left boarding but continued to teach at the school for many years. Nothing was ever said to me about it, although I remember JV coming to talk to me at supper in the Baronial Hall, which was unusual.
I’ve managed to piece all this together with the aid of my teenage diary – we’re talking 40 years ago! Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile were up there as role models..
Around 2011 the teacher in question sent me a message on Facebook which must have been when Brewers trial started – it was quite breezy and I just thought it was a Facebook weirdo! Of course, later I realised he was watching his own back – I didn’t reply. He seems to have removed his profile now.
It has a significance as this was prior to some of the dreadful abuse that took place in subsequent years and surely JV must have known there was a culture at the school.. Bakst was reported as far back as 1971.
I listened to the live streaming of the Inquiry and cried at the evidence of women in their 40s describing their ordeals –
I actually hated the salacious way the trial and Fran’s suicide were reported and the sensationalism surrounding the ‘story’. However, it had a profound effect on me personally – not only did it make me question the situation I was in at the time relationship-wise, (probably a good thing), it certainly impacted on my teaching job at a private school – somehow, I felt I was tainted by being associated with Chets even though I had been a pupil there, not a member of staff.
Chet’s student 1989-1998.
On watching the inquiry and reading it. I am appalled at Vallins, Hullah and Moreland. Still using cloak and dagger methods (relaying blame elsewhere) to sweep things under the carpet and cover things up. I do not understand why Mrs Rhind or people from the board of governors at the time have also not been called up and made to answer questions. It is quite plain to see they all failed in their duty and the rest of staff there that knew or heard rumours (they were probably scared not to speak up as would lose their own reputation in the music world or job if academic staff).
It is the truth that there was another cover up around the time Brewer left and that was of another housemaster/[academic subject] teacher who had relationships with students.
The school failed massively in its pastoral care and welfare of its students. The whole culture was a toxic environment to grow up in. I myself suffered greatly with anorexia and in adult life have depression/anxiety with the root cause of life at Chet’s that my psychologist/psychiatrist can confirm.
The friends I made and the few staff who really did care about our welfare are the positives and I received an education and piano teaching and musicianship I wouldn’t have received back home. That is no compensation for the awful culture the school thrived on.
I want to see Vallins stripped of his OBE and the Vallins building renamed.
As a wind player, I feel that I was lucky during my time at Chet’s. However, even writing that feels so wrong. Why should there have been pupils who were ‘lucky’ enough to avoid the direct and immediate effects of the culture of abuse that existed there? As with many of my mid-80s contemporaries, there was always gossip about who in the Sixth Form Mike Brewer was involved with, Ling’s Strings and Bakst (to mention just a few) but this was normalised amongst pupils – and in some ways was seen as something to be emulated. From the distance we are now, and as a teacher myself in a boarding school, I’m staggered to consider that this could in any way have seemed to be acceptable.
Pastoral care was essentially lacking – why was it possible for us to spend nights in the boys’ boarding house, spend evenings at the pubs (often with member of staff turning a blind eye) and even be able to spend whole nights out in Manchester? We were essentially left to our own devices in the boarding house with little care or consideration being shown to us.
The testimony of John Vallins in which he simply abdicated all knowledge and responsibility sickened me. I fail to believe that there was no way he knew of this – and if that holds even a grain of truth, then at the very least, he proves himself to have been incompetent as a Headmaster. The complete lack of compassion from him even now is something that I just can’t forgive. I have questions also about how many other members of staff knew what was happening and chose to ignore it – I fail to believe that other senior members of staff were unaware, yet did nothing to address the many concerns.
As with many other ex-pupils, I feel an enormous sense of guilt that I didn’t act upon any of this at the time when friends spoke about such things, but the normalisation of the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse allied with the poor pastoral care meant that there was little understanding and the reputation of the school mattered above all else. That strikes me as such a poor excuse now and I wish I’d been braver at the time – but then, reading others’ comments, would anyone have taken any notice even then?
I arrived at Chetham’s when I was 14, in time to study for my GCSEs and A-levels. I spent my last 4 years of school there, from 1988-92. For my first two years I shared a dormitory first with 4, then with 3 other Chris Ling pupils. I could tell I was different but I didn’t know why. I had arrived at the same time as one of the girls and was really good friends to start with but then she drifted and got closer to the others. As time progressed, I noticed they were much more ‘advanced’ than me (this is what my 14 year old mind called it). They were experimenting with make-up, really extravagant sexy underwear. I always felt a bit of a frump but of course, that’s because I didn’t know what was happening to them. Once the news came out a few years ago, everything immediately made sense to me. I re-connected and found they had been affected, personally and directly, by this horrendous man. Suddenly their premature sexualisation made complete sense. As an adult I was horrified to look back and realise that was why they were so attractive, making such an effort, wearing these underwear garments. It was utterly devastating to learn what happened to them. And to learn that many pupils tried to tell staff and they were ignored or told to be quiet. I am shocked to learn that the very people who were meant to protect us were aiding and abetting abuse on a very large scale. I am fortunate to not have got caught up in anything directly but the school was known to be a chronically unhappy place. For years people teased me, saying everyone who came out of Chet’s was messed up. I thought it was because they practised too much. The other point to make here is I know the boys were very violent towards each other. I can’t help wondering if it was all part of the same terrible dereliction of duty. My friend said the others regularly beat him up. No staff stood in. I would like finally to underline that we were NEVER written to, invited to make statements, offered counselling or any other support. The school has NEVER contacted me about this matter. I am shocked that the school has behaved as it has and then claimed to have involved us. I am lucky to have a great career as a musician but many of my friends have been destroyed by the school. When will it face up to the lives lost to mental and physical ill-health (very serious in the 3 cases I know of)? When will it offer proper compensation to these people?
I was at Chet’s at the time of the Michael Brewer trial and through the subsequent press revelations about the school. Possibly the biggest issue is that my memory is still accompanied by the feelings of a 16-18 year old… a young person in a potentially vulnerable position. It is only when I look back that I realise that I was still very vulnerable at that age and that my understanding of the world was still generally very naive. Naturally the main concern for students at the time was protecting the reputation of the school. This was seen in the online conflicts on Slipped Disc every time a new article was published about Chet’s.
After many years those feelings still exist (though diluted), and I now realise that Chet’s didn’t do anything to support students who were at the school when all this was happening. There was no guidance on how to tackle news reports; no formal discussion about who had been affected or when; no acknowledgement of wrongdoing to the students, or reassurance that we were all safe. The only pieces of guidance we ever received were in the form of Ms Moreland standing up in assembly to tell us the school was being investigated but not to worry and carry on as normal. Ms Moreland was largely out of the picture the rest of the time.
Small class sizes, rigorous curriculum and homework from age seven.
Daily spelling tests, punctuation lessons. We were always encouraged to take books from the extensive library, take care of small rodents. Science with Mr Gee, art with [X], charity awareness from Mrs. Mainprize.
Someone who really stands out from this time was the exceptional music teacher Cecilia Vadja, a Hungarian émigré and pupil of Zoltan Kodaly. She hated and struggled with the ethos of the school which is saying something, coming as she did from behind the iron curtain. I learned so much from her.
There were only six girls in juniors in 1969. Until age eleven I was called only by my surname by my classmates. I developed an aggressive, tomboyish personality as a defence mechanism.
In the early days the only option was to play football in PE. The PE teacher Mr Pessel (before [Y] joined) solved this by allowing myself and two other girls to go to the swimming pool totally unsupervised during double games. Usually a boy would appear to tell us it was time for us to change and return to lessons after morning break. On one occasion this did not happen and we appeared with wet hair much later. For this we were severely punished and made an example of in assembly when it was simply not our fault.
Mr Gee was prone to episodes of mania. I remember the whole Junior A class being forced to write lines for a whole day for some minor misdemeanour by a few pupils.
Mr Vickers acted likewise. You could be bawled at crossing the yard and summoned to his office for a uniform inspection. Offences included not having all your cardigan buttons done up or unpolished shoes.
The Matron (Mrs. Vickers) had designed the girls’ uniform. Picture ‘Call the Midwife’ circa 1955. Originally only available from Henry Barrie, it was all wool and very expensive. You could easily spot a boarding girl because this uniform was ruined, washed out in the school laundry. There was also a school cape which made it impossible to carry anything while wearing it. Imagine on public transport hauling a satchel, violin case and duffel bag with hands protruding through the two small holes in front. All topped off by a blue beret. Losing or not wearing the beret had consequences.
From the time I started in Junior B, every breaktime we played cards in the class room. The game was Beggar my Neighbour. The loser of each round had to remove an item of clothing or show their genitals for an increasing amount of time. A ‘sentry’ on the door alerted us when the teachers were returning from the staff room.
Around age ten, swimming lessons consisted of us playing underwater kiss chase in full view of the staff supervisor.
School Camp – Around 1972
The school bus driven by Mr Tyler!
Cocoa in the marquee.
Complete freedom of movement.
It was run on strict military lines by Brian Raby, with accommodation which consisted of canvas army tents.
Communal cricket and rounders.
One night I organised a group of girls to sing in a seaside talent competition in Llandudno. What the trippers made of four part Kodaly folk songs is anybody’s guess!
A bizarre holiday that quickly progressed from ‘St. Trinian’s’ to ‘Lord of the Flies’.
All previous testimony about camp is true. ‘Staking Out’ could be done in the field or worse case, ‘suspended over the bog pit’. The game ‘Split the Kipper’ was played where your legs were progressively extended to the splits position. It was played with penknives or even larger lethal knives. There was no supervision.
There were a couple of boys, who had probably just left Upper Sixth, with whom [X] spent a lot of time. Every day one of them would rub suntan cream all over her on Deganwy beach. There was a lot of tinkering with her sports car as well. In retrospect I think there was a lot more to it than this…
At night the tents became orgies as the sexes mingled. I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time as I was very young. My father paid a visit and interrupted a daytime tryst on arrival. That was the last time I was allowed to attend.
In the day we fished for crabs. At night we walked them over the top of the nearby quarry and cheered.
I wore the same clothes including underwear for ten days. Nobody noticed or cared.
I encountered some exceptional and inspiring teachers, including Mr Richie, Mr McFarlane (a true eccentric), Mr Leach (15th century polyphony anyone? & Peter Sellers comedy records), Penry Williams and Mrs James, both of whom taught history.
I would put many of the staff in this category, including my first teacher who sent me for a trial lesson with Bakst when I was thirteen. I commented ‘He looks frigid’ and she said ‘Don’t you believe it’.
[Z]. A horrible bully (and I think a former policeman) who called me arrogant and always addressed me as Mozzzzzzzart after a mispronunciation with my Lancashire accent. There was a kind of show and tell in his lesson, every week we were encouraged to bring in our favourite recordings. My Brandenburg Concerto was abruptly turned off with the comment ‘terrible recording’. This was the sort of thing that destroyed confidence in a moment. I was terribly humiliated.
[AA]. A PE teacher and Housemistress. Straight from the cast of Prisoner Cell Block H. She would drag us into the showers by our bra straps, insist we undress and watch. I remember her forcing anti-smoking medication down a girl I knew. She was a sadist.
Nobody took much notice of me musically until I was about 13. I hated practising and gradually my inbuilt talent was eroded by the daily grind. All that changed when I became a Bakst pupil. Once on this fast track my playing improved. At the same time the sex abuse started. The worst of it was lessons at his house in Prestwich, ostensibly extra work before a concert. He would put on a record, sit close on the chaise longue, grasp my hand and place it on his lap. He had a peculiar odour, a sweet sickly mixture of cologne and sweat. All the while with his (much younger, stunning) Polish wife and infant child downstairs.
At school, he did the same sort of thing but would leave the room and return ten minutes later! I won’t elaborate further, as you already know about this from other testimonies.
The point about it is that by the age of sixteen I was being encouraged by Bakst to devote myself completely to the piano. So I went to Vallins and asked if I could give up all academic work and concentrate only on performing. Amazingly he and other members of staff agreed to this despite me having done well at ‘O’ level. So for the whole of the sixth form that’s what I did, only walking into the ‘A’ level music exam on the day. What I didn’t realise was that without two ‘A’ levels I couldn’t get a grant to continue at music college. Finally my local authority relented on condition that I did another A’ level which I did at night school. This is an example of the lack of knowledge and care that occurred on Vallins’ watch.
LATER YEARS – OUT OF HOURS
Here is a description of boarding life at the time. We all smoked, every lunch and breaktime in the toilets in Girls’ Boarding House.
Sometimes there were Saturday night parties at day pupil’s houses. The school presumably imagined birthday cakes and candles but they always degenerated into a drunken sexual free for all. Liberal seventies parents often disappeared for the duration.
Some sixth form boy boarders slept in a block of classrooms with the traditional storeroom at the back of each room. This is where the home brew was made. By this time we had keys to every door in the school and at night (after a swim) we would raid the kitchen for coffee, butter, bread and many more things that would also be kept in suitcases in the storeroom. At night I often used to sleep with my boyfriend at the top of Millgate House under the eaves. Several years later Vallins found our sleeping bags up there and there was a big investigation – too late. We also used my BF’s tuba case to transport bedding and booze if we wanted to meet up in Palatine in the evening. Sometmes we would be disturbed by David Usher, Brewer’s deputy. He would rattle the door handle in frustration but could do nothing. But he was one of the good guys….
As were [House parents AA and AB], Junior House. They made a real effort to understand and help me in the sixth form but I was off the rails by then. When the school doctor put me on the pill [AB] commented “how convenient”.
At weekends I used to tell school I was visiting my father. In fact I was attending parties all over the country with my boyfriend.
He knew the date of the sixteenth birthdays of all his female students. They were always invited to celebrate outside school on that day! He struck me as a weak and repulsive individual but there was no interaction with him as I was not a string player.
His camper van was always conveniently parked outside Palatine House. I was not in his ‘clique’ so never got to know anything of his crimes.
I agree with previous comments made about the ethos of music education. I could have been good at many things given the ten thousand hours theory. Instead I was narrowcast in a musical educational experiment. I believe music is an adult emotion and that the process of cauterisation, instilling Western sonata form in young brains is a destructive act. It is the opposite of creativity. The very best can survive and flourish as musicians. The rest are gradually deprived of the thing that originally gave them joy.
I have not played the piano since 1984.
As a former Chetham’s pupil (border for six years) in the era of both H. Vickers and the then moderniser JV , I feel in a position to say how I saw the writing on the wall for the situation that is now so evident. In my early days bullying was endemic at Chetham’s, in the way it probably was in the armed forces and any other closed institution.
The school had limited resources for control of children unseen, and it was left to a hierarchical system of older boys and the staff to be the ones in charge of the micromanagement on a day to day basis.
I was slippered in the sixth form study block surrounded by onlooking prefects. The flashman of the day was warming the sole on the side of a door to make it malleable and more effective, while the prefects ate sandwiches and laughed. They even threw one at me as I waited for my punishment.
A boy sitting in an armchair on the school yard outside in winter at very low temperatures with a dressing gown only. He had been talking after lights out and this was his punishment. I sent him back to bed and an argument ensued with the staff member because I had undermined his authority!
I was threatened with a knife by a member of staff who, incorrectly, said I had been spreading rumours about him having an affair with one of the sixth form. There was absolutely no possibility to share this threat because I knew, as we all did, that stories like that would undermine the schools public image. It would be denied !! I had to live with that threat 24/7.
I could write a complete book but you get the idea…….
As JV went about his business as a moderniser he took his eye off the ball. His suggestions that the music department had autonomy is consistent with his denial of the issues for which he is responsible.
As a prefect there myself I had many occasions on which to question the suitability of the house staff.
John Vallins walked up to me as we waited on the yard one day before I left and said out of earshot of anyone else “I told you to get your bloody haircut and if you weren’t leaving in three days I would throw you out”. The venom took me aback . I had put more of my life into that place than he could imagine and it almost destroyed my feelings for the the school. His only objective was to be totally in charge. I represented the old Chethams and he wanted to expunge that establishment and for it to become a new order under his stewardship.
To conclude! If Chethams had spent more of its energy looking after its children and less after its oh so inflated status in the world of music education people like Brewer and Ling would never had been allowed to flourish. It was a breeding ground for the swamp life below the surface. The school were so busy producing brochures and fundraising new buildings to they had lost their sense of priority!
I feel ashamed to be associated with the place now. When I was there I don’t believe the grooming had started . Brewer was there in my last year but had not achieved a position of power at that time. His presence seemed minimal it seemed.
My sincere sympathies to all those young people who were affected by what became an evil regime. There were some good people working there, and this diminishes their efforts and their memories.
I was at Chet’s in the early-mid 90s. I flourished musically and academically, and was given many performance opportunities, so I was one of the lucky ones.
However, I have memories of the overly sexualised environment, and also of the prevalence of eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide attempts, particularly amongst the girls.
I was a member of Chamber Choir, and also had aural classes with Brewer, so I spent quite a lot of time with him, and remember his pervy ways. He liked the chamber choir kids, we were his pet students i think. Lots of people thought he was having a relationship with a girl in the Chamber Choir, then when she left, he moved onto RS187, which led to his dismissal in 1994.
He used to get me to sort out piles of choir music in his office in the evening after dinner, and he used to come up behind me and massage my shoulders. He was usually in school until late, probably 10 pm.
He had a copy of Madonna’s book “Sex”, which was a sort of coffee table book of soft porn photos. He seemed to be delighted to have acquired this book, and invited me to have a look at it with him. I was really embarrassed. I think he also used to go on about what a good book it was in chamber choir rehearsals, or perhaps in our aural class.
He used to sprawl on a deckchair near the entrance to Palatine House, bare-chested with these green shorts, and leer at the girls as we walked into Palatine.
In choir, he took every opportunity to be smutty and crude, and used to make innuendos all the time. We used to sing a madrigal called “Hard by a crystal fountain” and he would make a big innuendo out of this. He was really excessive about it.
We were working on Kodaly Psalmus Hungaricus, and he wanted us to be expressive on the words “este könyörgök” so he said “Have you achieved “nyörgök” today?” Nearly everything he did was framed in terms of sex.
We were well aware that he was perverted, and we used to call him Screwer Brewer. I remember being in Palatine near the string corridor, telling a friend “Oh my God, Brewer was so perverted today” then he suddenly appeared from round the corner. He had heard me, and made a big deal of me having hurt his feelings. I don’t think he was really hurt though, he was smiling at me. I just felt really awkward.
There was also amazing music-making and some wonderful academic teaching. Mr. Little was a superb, inspiring English teacher. Academic music with John Leach, Robert MacFarlane, Stuart Beer and Sam King was excellent. Brewer, although deeply flawed and predatory, was an inspiring and charismatic choir conductor, and his aural classes were fun and challenging. I think that was partly why he got away with it all for so long, and why some girls fell for his advances.
I was the first and only junior boarding girl for some time in 1969. I was 8. I arrived a couple of weeks later than the other girls and was put in a room with 3 other girls older than me. I was violently sick the first day there and totally confused by everything. I wet my bed in the first few weeks and my mattress was paraded by the housemistress Mrs Stevens, in front of the other girls.
My first memory of complete isolation when I first went there, was standing in the middle of the yard and there seemed to be no one there in the whole school. I stood there crying not knowing what to do. Eventually a woman came up and asked me what was wrong. Apparently everyone was doing prep somewhere. She sent me to the refectory and there was all the bigger children there. I sat and did some work and only days later found that I was supposed to go to the junior school for it. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of being completely abandoned.
My Mother sent me some money at one stage, there wasn’t ever a lot in our family but the same person told my Mother not to send any more as I spent it in sweets. The two day girls in the two younger junior years had been going up to ‘Matron’ for tea and biscuits when I came along. They took me with them. After I had been there twice, Matron announced that I shouldn’t come anymore as I only came for the biscuits. ( Did I mention I was starving?) I’ve never forgotten the solidarity from the other two girls, they decided to stop going too.
My Mother told me that after my first half term, I came home with a suitcase full of diarrhoea covered clothes and everything fastened with safety pins. I fainted in church one Sunday morning because I was starving, I used to go to the 9 o’clock service as well as the other one we had to go to. I would go because we got tea and toast with butter afterwards. I had dry bread at school for 5 years as the ‘axle grease’ made me violently sick. Nobody looked after me at all that first year until Mrs. Littler came. She was strict but kind and tried to be a bit of a mother to me, when my beloved Grandfather died, she took me up to her flat and also another time when I had a suspected appendix, she let me sleep in her flat to keep an eye on me.
There was also an incident with the swimming pool that was mentioned in an earlier post. We were left down in the pool 7 and 8 year olds unsupervised, whilst the boys played football , a boy would come and get us and the end of games. One time we were left down there and admonished in front of the whole school, not the master who always left us there.
There was a doctor who came to inspect the girls, only the younger ones as I remember. We would be told to strip to our pants only and lined up waiting to go into the staff common room. Matron would be standing behind the doctor and we would file forward for our “ check up” and he would look down our pants and send us on our way.
Harry Vickers and Matron were vile to me the whole time and Boss would put me down constantly and ask me why I couldn’t hold up my viola like everyone else and other comments whenever he saw me. She was almost worse, so bitchy and uncaring. Musically it was great the first year, my violin teacher was Colin Callow and he treated me really well and used to make me play little things to some of the older pupils. He left after a year( I was very sad) and I went to David Usher and I told him I wanted to swap to Viola. He was a nice man but he sacked me after 3 years as I didn’t practice enough. He couldn’t even remember teaching me in later years and remembered me as a horn player in his wind ensembles. My horn teacher was wonderful, Andrew Jones, sadly no longer with us.
Later on there was an occasion when an older girl returned to say hello and came down our corridor to see us. Mrs Orchard came up and said “ Who are you” and it was said back to her by the girl. She was told to leave and I and two others saw her out.
Later that week we were called to the common room where Mrs Orchard and Harry Vickers were. They told us off for talking behind Mrs Orchard’s back. We hadn’t.
Boss pulled down my pants, over his knee and smacked me. After that incident Boss ordered all the doors to be taken of our dorms. He would come down our corridor unannounced quite often.
I also ran away with another girl , very unsuccessfully, we laugh about it now but I was told by boss if I did it again I’d be expelled. I was deeply depressed for the rest of my time there. My form teacher in my first year in the senior school , William Clarke, otherwise known as WC or bog face, gave a report that said ‘[Redacted]’s attitude to school and life is deplorable’. I have had a complete block to do with maths and French since then because of him.
There are more stories but too many to put here. The other children were pretty great and I have really close friends from there still. One older girl was lovely to me in my first couple of terms and tried to look after me though she was young herself. She knows who she is and I am forever grateful. There was one boy I won’t forgive for bullying me, he knows who he is.
Chetham’s made me fiercely independent to start with and gave me a huge contempt for authority. It also made me hate any sort of injustice.
I gave up playing finally a few years ago after a pretty successful orchestral career but complete burn out in the end. I had been playing professionally since the age of 15. When I gave up I heaved a huge sigh of relief, I realised that I’d always done it for someone else. I still teach amongst other things. I’ve found my voice since freeing myself. I left in 74.
In my first piano lesson as a homesick twelve-year-old the teacher asked me to play a piece. When I had finished he leaned his head back in a supercilious fashion and said ‘Oh dear, what a poor admission’. He then paced around the room repeating it several times. I’m not sure that my self-esteem/confidence as a musician ever completely recovered from that moment and occasionally, I still dream about it 45 years later. It was not, however, the only instance when I was made to feel like a second rate musician who really shouldn’t have been at Chet’s. It took some time after I left to realise that my worth as a person was not inextricably linked to my merit as a musician.
I was a boarder at the school between 1982-1987. I’ll cover three areas – how much I knew in the 80’s about the abuse and the culture in general, Mr. Vallins, and [houseparent from group A].
In my first term, I was warned by older girls never to accept a ‘babysitting’ invitation from Michael Brewer for extra pocket money. When students went to his house, ostensibly to watch his kids, he didn’t go out, instead made sexual advances once the children were asleep with promises of helping their careers.
He had a camper van permanently parked on the middle of the playground and no-one on the staff questioned it. It was an open secret that he had affairs with female students.
[Cello teacher X] repeatedly asked my room-mate (aged 13) to practice naked and masturbate and to tell him how she felt. She never did and as a result he lost interest in her as a student, she begged to be a first study singer. She reported him, Brewer did nothing. [X] was an alcoholic who drank vodka in lessons then sipped men’s cologne to hide it – you could smell where [X] had been, the Palatine corridors reeked of alcohol and cheap cologne.
Two of my other life-long friends were molested by Bakst from the age of 11. One unnecessary hand under an arm to ‘assist’ fingering so he could rub a breast, on the floor to ‘help’ pedalling, hand up skirt – shall I go on? Not isolated events, but continuous. They spoke openly of it at the time. They felt they couldn’t ask for another teacher – in a culture where ‘best’ was all, he was at the top of the pedagogic tree in the piano department and Brewer couldn’t care less about harm.
Even a relatively green teenager from [redacted] who didn’t study the violin realised Chris Ling was ‘wrong’, so the claim by Vallins that academic and music staff were separate, therefore didn’t know anything about him, is ridiculous. Ling announced his arrival at school with an almighty horn tune emanating from his naff white Mazda as he passed under the Gatehouse, in front of the staff room (door always open, staff watching). His chest hair and medallions were never out of view. If that spelled wrong to a teenager, how come it didn’t to adults who were supposed to be protecting minors?
Pip Clarke, his widow, was in my class. She was showing off her engagement ring (to Ling) when she was 16. She wasn’t exactly a retiring violet, very garrulous. No teacher spotted that, heard anything?
My piano teachers were [Y] (for 2 years) and [Z] (for 3 years). [Z] was immaculate in every respect as a teacher. [Y] – in thrall to Bakst – was a horror. I learned my place at Chethams from Brewer. [Y]’s tantrums were simply proof of her exceptional ability as a teacher, she was emotional and would bring out the emotion in me.
Having bruises on an arm where you’ve been hit repeatedly with a volume of Bach’s 48, screamed at for one wrong note, my music case (bought by my father, he didn’t have much money) thrown around the room, Beethoven sonatas thrown at you, then ‘I didn’t mean it, lets go to Chloe and you can help me choose my dress for my concert comeback’ was standard fare with [Y].
John Vallins tutored me on a one-to-one basis before my Oxford Entrance exams and was my teacher for A level English. He was a misogynist of the first order and never missed an opportunity to belittle women with a plethora of Shakespearean quotes to back his argument during lessons. A girl wearing eyeshadow was a ‘concubine’, and once our texts were Anthony and Cleopatra and Lear, he was in vituperative heaven – the women were to blame for everything, the men led astray. He would examine our fingernails for signs of paint/degeneracy as he wafted through the room with halitosis, then unleash his skewed interpretations, never at fault, never to be questioned.
Aged 17, I knew him to be morally stupid, but very aware. So fixated by sex would have made him doubly aware of anyone else enjoying it on his territory. By the Upper Sixth Form, [houseparents B] requested I be Head of House and Head Girl. When [houseparents A] arrived they behaved as if royalty from the first day, [redacted information]. They took one look at me, it was a case of mutual detestation. I think they knew I saw through them instantly.
Within a week, my having a period so bad I was bent double, according to them meant I was unfit to lead. I was stripped of head girl, prefect and head of house titles. My parents phoned – Vallins ‘it’s not up to me.’ The [houseparents A] never accepted phone calls from my parents and never responded. I had never broken a school rule.
Twice weekly, [houseparent A] would find me to humiliate me, always when no-one else was present, sitting on the end of my bed. That it was such a pity I had no class, that my clothes were so poor, and that was why I’d never understand that Oxford was beyond me.
When it came to my Oxford entrance exam, on a Monday, given permission by Vallins to go home early the previous Friday, I found my suitcase had disappeared from my room when I was about to go home. There was no note. I thought it had been stolen, all my notes in it, I ran up to the [houseparents A]’ flat to report it. I was asked to step inside with a smile.
The [houseparents A] had removed it. Because I’d been given permission to go home early by Vallins, they didn’t approve of. it They kept me there for two hours, instructed me in humility, Mr [houseparent A]’s low-brow effort was:
‘Do you know what an anarchist is?’
‘Yes – ‘
‘You’re a failed one as long as we are here.’
In the interim, my father, 66, waiting for 4 hours at the unmanned [redacted] Station, which not seeing me arrive from a train, began to panic. No mobile phones. Mother beginning to panic. My father had had two cardiac arrests. I arrived home, having left Manchester at 7pm instead of 3pm, around midnight. For no reason other than cruelty and schadenfreude.
Why didn’t my parents complain? For the same reason no-one else did – Vallins could be threatening by doing nothing.
[Houseparent A] continued to bully me on my academic achievement, music, my appearance, my parents’ class throughout my final year. Mainly by using her daughter as a comparison.
‘You know why [daughter] will always be a success?’
‘No. I’m not sure.’
‘[Daughter] is special. You have to be special to go to Oxford. You are not – the sooner you accept this, the sooner you will be happy. [Daughter] has a something you’ll never understand.’
This happened every week during my last year. On the edge of my bed with an insincere smile wishing me ill.
How I dealt with that was to leave Chethams every weekend. The [houseparents A] were thick, they refused to accept that the people they bullied were far brighter than they were.I spent every Saturday in London – an early train, The Tate, The British Museum, a Simon Gray matinee – or Yorkshire, in Top Withens, that walk from Emily Bronte’s Parsonnage. Anyone notice I was gone? No. So how did the [houseparents A] notice who was harmed?
My mother is a retired secondary school literature teacher, now 83, who had a mini stroke a few weeks ago and is still far from well. She sacrificed much to make up the difference in the fees not covered by my government grant. Listening to the evidence given about [houseparent A] made her BP shoot through the roof (I have to check it several times a day). She felt it was necessary to listen to it as she had entrusted me to her care and knew how cruelly I’d been treated by her.
Thirty-two years on, [houseparent A]’s odious neglect of student welfare is still causing harm and distress. She and her husband were utterly unfit to be house parents. I understand [daughter of houseparent A] is no longer Deputy Head. That is a source of some comfort; I cannot believe the apple fell so far from its poisoned branch given the culture of entitlement that existed in that family while at the school.
I am only one of hundreds of students seriously hurt by staff at Chethams.
I was in year 5 at Chetham’s in 1962, which is the year the bullying and abuse became unbearable, and I walked out. The bullying began on my first day, before registration, when I was singled out by Arthur George for negative comments, including being called Phyllis. The bullying became worse, escalating to sexual abuse, and Operation Kiso, (to whom many thanks) recorded two crimes as having been committed against me, by Arthur George and Donald Clarke. No further action could be taken, as both are deceased. One of my peers in year 5 has remained in continuous contact with the school, until recently being involved with the governance of the school. For the school to deny that abuse has happened, continuously, since the 1950’s is deceitful and hugely personally distressing.
I was a scholarship student at Chet’s between 1996 and 2000. I wasn’t sexually abused, but am still dealing with the effects of the emotional and physical abuse, mostly at the hands of the houseparents and my piano teacher (a female). When I complained that my piano teacher had slapped me hard across the face (when she caught me doing my maths homework in practise time), and would often dig her nails into my arms in lessons, the houseparent told me to stop bothering people with “my chavvy drama” otherwise my scholarship would be in danger.
This houseparent and her husband (a French teacher there at the time) regularly mocked, humiliated and belittled me, to the point where I became a pariah to the other girls who were scared of it happening to them too, and who started to join in the bullying to curry favour with them. When we had pizza or icecream treats, there were always reasons why I “didn’t deserve them” and was made to sit alone at the back of the room whilst the others enjoyed a treat; they would inform me that letters had arrived for me by post, then would withhold them for weeks. On my 16th birthday, my gifts, cards and flowers were kept from me for so long, the flowers were given to me dead and wilted. I was constantly told that I was worthless, and mocked for being stupid (my GCSE results said otherwise), untalented (my future career said otherwise), fat (have issues with eating to this day) and “ridiculous” (they mocked my high voice and accent and often imitated me even when just answering the register). The wife pushed me into walls, grabbed my hair and stopped my from using the phone to call home if I was crying or she thought I would tell and would sit by the phone to control what I said to my parents. Once on a Saturday outing, I had an icecream cone in my hand, and the husband hit my hand so that my icecream hit my in the face, to make the other students laugh. They constantly threatened me with my scholarship and place at the school and how much it would embarrass my family and end my career in music.
One time, I woke up to find my long hair cut partially in chunks while I was sleeping. It was Alton Towers day, so she gave me a cap, told me to tuck my hair up and sort it out myself the next day. No effort was ever made to find out who did it, or to comfort me and take me to sort my hair out. At one point, she had me sent to live in the sick bay for half a term under some excuse, completely excluding me from the other kids.
My piano teacher also told me how untalented I was, how a scholarship was wasted on me, hitting me on the hands with rulers, pushed me off a piano stool, and would often come into my practise room and slap me – quite often, I would spend practise time sobbing at the piano, and if she saw that I was in for it. It totally affected my love of playing and I soon lost interest and did anything I could to get out of performing, for fear of the repercussions behind closed doors, or the mockery.
Now that I’m an adult and a teacher myself, I can’t believe how they justified any of this, and how they got away with it. It still affects me to this day in terms of self-confidence, feelings of being undeserving, and I’m still working through the trauma. The school on my CV does wonders for me, but I would have preferred to stay in my little rural hometown with a piano teacher who didn’t hit me around and better adults for role models. The headteacher, head of piano, other house-staff and teachers all told me either that I was mistaken, exaggerating, or to not make trouble for myself by speaking out. That was the culture at Chet’s.
I only recently tried reading other people’s accounts of abuse, I’ve stayed away from it all because I couldn’t cope with the memories. I hope that anyone else abused there, sexually, physically, emotionally, or other, have found happiness in their lives now. Much love.