The case of Ian Lake, and reflections on the year

A new report in today’s Independent, by pioneering journalist Paul Gallagher, lifts the lid upon another sorry episode in the history of abuse in musical education – the story of pianist and composer Ian Lake (1935-2004), piano teacher at Watford School of Music, Associated Board examiner and professor at the Royal College of Music for almost 30 years. Lake wrote three books of Music for Young Pianists (New York: Chappel & Co, 1966); his piano piece The Milky Way ) was on the Associated Board syllabus at one point; this became well-known amongst young pianists. He toured the world as an examiner, and also created a concert series for contemporary music, Music in our Time, which ran in London from 1960 to 1970, through which many young composers (many of whom now have significant reputations) received their first major breaks.

Lake’s name is not entirely new in this context; he was convicted in 1995 on sexual offences, though neither the nature of the conviction nor the sentence (which remains unclear) were widely reported at the time or since, and he was able to continue his concert career soon afterwards. At the time of his death in 2004, one obituary by composer and pianist John White minimised this fact, writing:

Ian Lake’s later years were clouded by a conviction for sexual offences in 1995. But he continued his concert career. Strongly self-willed and stubborn, he had set himself several demanding tasks in the weeks following the diagnosis of his cancer a few months ago, including the recording, with his son Jeremy, of his own arrangements for cello and piano of pieces by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann. The recording sessions went well and represent a satisfactory completion of the last project he was able to undertake.

Another obituary by composer Christopher Hobbs in The Guardian (Christopher Hobbs, ‘Obituaries: Ian Lake: Pianist who championed contemporary composers’, The Guardian, 7/9/04, not available for general access online) did not even mention the conviction.

I and some others have known for a while of various further serious allegations concerning Lake’s actions during the course of his career; now some of his victims, including one man who was abused by Lake from the age of 10, have chosen to speak out. According to his account, Lake was simply removed from his position at some point during his study in the 1970s, but was left free to teach elsewhere; others have spoken of the abuse they encountered at Lake’s hands at the RCM. One former principal of the RCM, Dame Janet Ritterman, under whose directorship Lake continued to teach (and was convicted) declined to answer as to what was known about Lake’s history of abuse. Responses of others in the musical world have been disappointing; too many musicians (including the writers of the obituaries mentioned above) were well-disposed towards Lake for how he had helped their own careers to want to think about how he might have also been responsible for terrible acts leading to a range of destroyed and tormented lives.

As more and more revelations about abusive teachers have emerged, some have branded these a ‘witch hunt’ (one commenter argued that ‘people such as Ian Pace are simply fuelling an environment of paranoia and mistrust which is looking more like a witchhunt every day’) and have often implied that the musicianly qualities of individuals like Lake somehow mitigate their other actions. It is hard to imagine many taking this attitude towards a caretaker, postal worker or comprehensive school teacher accused of similar offences; somehow a distorted morality applies different principles according to class and artistic prestige.

The full extent and scale of Lake’s activities may not be known properly, nor would victims stand a chance of being heard safely and gaining some degree of closure, without a public inquiry of the type for which I and others have been campaigning through the course of this year. Various MPs, including Lucy Powell (Labour, Manchester Central, Shadow Minister for Childcare, and whose constituency contains Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music) and Tim Loughton (Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham, former Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families), have made clear their own support for this type of judicial inquiry, and I continue to hope that the government will recognise the pressing need for this. Since around 1990, there have been sporadic reports about abuse in music education, which have come to a head this year; I have compiled a summary of these in another blog post here.

Following a minor involvement with the Michael Brewer trial (about which trial I will post a thorough account with full references at a later date) and having been the hoster of the petition for a public inquiry into all types of abuse in musical education, I have become deeply involved in this issue during the course of this year, and the effect has been sobering and often distressing. Whilst collating signatures for the petition, a great many people wrote to me with a plethora of awful allegations concerning abuse at all five specialist music schools (Chetham’s, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Purcell School, Wells Cathedral School and St Mary’s Music School) and all the major conservatoires as well (not to mention at choir schools, summer courses, from private teachers, and more – and also in various other countries as well as the UK). To be in possession of such a range of allegations, but unable to pass them on without permission in each individual case, creates a sense of grave responsibility. As well as the direct allegations of abusive teachers, I was made aware of much more information concerning how other people working at these institutions systematically sought to cover up for and protect such teachers, often delivering short shrift to those who complained, or even attempting to bully or blackmail them into silence, more concerned about the reputation of the institutions than the welfare of their pupils. Furthermore, some have tried to excuse such actions on grounds of some type of artistic temperament, alleging that disdain for abuse represented nothing more than a fear of ‘passion’ or ‘intimacy’ (see my post here – the debate in question in full, with question, can be viewed here).

As I have argued elsewhere, all of this is symptomatic of a twisted set of values in the music world, dominated by a culture of prestige which translates musical hierarchies into wider hierarchies between human beings; some individuals’ well-being and livelihoods are deemed more worthy than others, who are easily dehumanised and viewed as little more than thorns in the sides of hallowed musicians. This is a pattern I have observed in various manifestations for many years in the musical world (and have also noticed the extent to which such hierarchies relate not simply to individuals’ prowess and achievements as musicians, but also to their social class), and it legitimises many wider forms of bullying, psychological abuse, blatant discrimination and exclusion, and a generally macho and brutal musical culture, at least where starry musicians are involved. All of this is masked by a veneer of culture and civilised values which is supposed to result from the elevating power of classical music; the reality is very far from this.

Nonetheless, many musicians (and especially former students at specialist music schools) have lent their support for a full inquiry into abuse in musical education. With only a few exceptions, this has not been matched from those in senior positions at institutions, or for that matter from musicologists. Scholars and academics should be amongst those best placed to undertake critical investigation into the wider cultures and ideologies of music-making (and there are certainly some researching musical education who have gone some way towards doing so). However, with increasing numbers of academic positions being held by practitioners rather than scholars, and the wider effect of the new ‘impact’ requirement upon scholarly production (placing great value, and concomitant implications for research funding for academic departments, upon work which in one or other sense can be shown to have an impact outside of academia) leads to more and more academics producing deferential and sometimes hagiographic writings about musicians and musical institutions from whom they might potentially receive external favour and advancement.

A major police investigation, Operation Kiso, was mounted by Greater Manchester Police, leading to four arrests to date. A former long-term teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has also been arrested on multiple occasions. Some other investigations continue. Revelations have been made public about various individuals who are now dead, including Lake, leading piano teacher at Chetham’s and the RNCM, Ryzsard Bakst, co-founder and director of music at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Marcel Gazelle (see my blog post with links to other reports on Gazelle), former Dean of Manchester Cathedral (in daily contact with choristers from Chetham’s), Robert Waddington (this blog post includes for links to articles), and Menuhin school cello teacher Maurice Gendron. There are quite a number of other late individuals about whom I have been made privy to allegations, but it is not possible for the police to undertake prosecutions for obvious reasons. Also, cases of abuse where the victim was aged 16 or above, before 2003, or cases of psychological and emotional abuse, or physical abuse (for which there are statutory limitations for reporting), and of course institutional complicity, cannot be addressed simply by criminal prosecutions.

There are various considerations here. The presumption of innocence is vital, as is the principle by which individuals cannot be prosecuted for acts which were not criminal offences at the time they were committed. But this does not make the effects of the latter acts any less serious. When faced by cases of sexual offences (or domestic violence, or racial crimes), some on the left can resort to a black-and-white Old Testament style moralising that might even make the Daily Mail blush. Simply demonising such offenders, calling them scum and so on, may provide a focus for some abstracted hatred in need of an outlet (such as is directed by others towards immigrants, benefit claimants, and so on), but this trivialises the issue by reducing it simply to one of human wickedness, which minimises the issues of institutional responsibility and the culture which allows, arguably even sometimes encourages, abuse to occur. Many abusers are deeply disturbed individuals, sometimes the victims of abuse themselves, or having been nurtured in a culture where it is normalised (one recent allegations suggests that some students of abusive teachers at music schools may have gone on to repeat such behaviour themselves); they need not only to be kept away from vulnerable children, but also to be helped. It is also simplistic to present abuse as a one-dimensional issue of gender; some sexual abusers have been female (including Kay Brewer, former wife of Michael Brewer, who was convicted alongside her ex-husband), there are many allegations of non-sexual abuse on the part of female teachers and musicians, some of the staunchest and most unyielding defenders and apologists for abusive teachers have also been female, whilst some of their most fervent antagonists have been male.

The press coverage over the course of this year has on the whole been well-researched and measured rather than hysterical, and some articles have chosen to dwell on deeper issues than just the identity of abusers (see in particular articles in the Telegraph here, here, and here, as well as the report following the Channel 4 News investigation which named Gazelle. But both police and media can only ever go a certain way in addressing the wider issues, for the reasons given above. The campaign for a full public inquiry must proceed, and once again I implore all those in agreement to write to their MPs to solicit their support (for details on doing this, see here).

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A further call to write to MPs to support an inquiry into abuse in musical education

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

It is nearly ten months since the conviction of Michael and Kay Brewer on charges of sexual assault whilst Michael Brewer was Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, during a tragic trial in the course of which the victim, Frances Andrade, took her own life. Since this conviction, there have been a flood of allegations relating to widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse at all of the five specialist music schools in the UK (as for example with the cases of Marcel Gazelle and Robert Waddington), and all the major music colleges as well, as well as further allegations pointing to a widespread culture of collusion, complicity and cover-up of these practices within these institutions. Police investigations have proceeded, and to date there have been a number of arrests of individuals connected to Chetham’s, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, some of which may result in criminal charges. However, police have made it clear that it is not possible for them to investigate cases where the perpetrator is now dead, where the victim was over 16 and the events in question took place before the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, or in other cases (especially concerning serious psychological and emotional abuse) where there is no direct criminality involved. Furthermore, it is beyond the scope of a police investigation to look deeper into questions of institutional responsibility for this phenomenon, or the wider culture and values of musical education which may have played a part in allowing these alleged events to happen. Beyond this, in the close-knit world of classical music, where it is practically impossible for victims to remain anonymous even if not named in the press, there has grown since February an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and ostracisation from some quarters (including other musicians and some alumni communities), by individuals disdaining anything which might blacken the names of various ‘great musicians’ or taint the name of institutions, such as can act as a deterrent towards those who might have thought of coming forward. Such a deterrent also has to be set alongside knowledge of the terrible plight of Andrade, which remains in many people’s minds. Some of the institutions are clearly treating this primarily as an issue of their own reputations, with Chetham’s having been revealed to be employing a crisis management firm; some correspondence from former pupils, parents or other interested parties has been brushed off in a breezy manner. Furthermore, resistance to genuinely addressing the problem is growing as part of a wider backlash, as can be found in some comments posted under the regular updates on the subject on the blog of Norman Lebrecht (Slipped Disc), and also in recent debates conducted in the Times Educational Supplement (see my separate post here and also some comments on the ensuing debate here)

Only a full public inquiry into sexual and other abuse in musical education is likely to get to the bottom of this alleged widespread corrosive abuse and ensure both that those who have suffered are heard in safety, and proper recommendations are made to ensure this could never happen again. In February such a petition was set up and garnered over 1000 signatories over just a week, including a huge number of former students at UK specialist music schools and colleges. This was re-opened in May and further signatures added. It has been sent to head teachers, directors of music and college principals, and also to government ministers responsible for education and their shadow counterparts. Whilst to date no indication of an inquiry has yet been received, together with another person I have been having meetings at Parliament, and know that there is a planned meeting of sympathetic MPs from all parties in mid-December, with a view towards lobbying further. Various people have already written to their MPs urging them to support this, and a small caucus of such MPs is being formed. I would strongly urge all people sympathetic to this cause (whether or not they are musicians or have personal experiences) to write to their own MP as soon as possible. A copy of the petition as a PDF is given at the top of this message, and below I reproduce in edited form some text from an earlier blog post indicating how to set about this task. All support is needed now as soon as possible. Please do let others know about this as well.

If you receive a sympathetic reply from your MP, I would be most grateful if you could let me know, then I can forward their name to other interested MPs.

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

Thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign, and above all to those victims who have been brave enough to come forward. The following links feature some important broadcast features from earlier in the year:

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

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

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

The following article from today, by the pioneering Guardian journalist Helen Pidd, is especially important – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/mar/26/chethams-music-school-sexual-abuse-inquiry

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

I am particularly relieved that he chose to draw attention to the ways in which so many prominent people were prepared to back Brewer, in full knowledge of his crimes, because of some misguided ideas that his artistry mitigated against this.

Dear (Member of Parliament),

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

The petition is attached as a PDF, and it can also be viewed online, with signatories and comments, at https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/re-opened-until-may-31st-2013-petition-for-an-inquiry-into-sexual-and-other-abuse-at-specialist-music-schools/ .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,