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:
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org ), 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 email@example.com
I received a message last week from another survivor of abuse in UK musical education, which has since been posted on the blog of Norman Lebrecht here. With permission, I am also reproducing it here. The author has told me of his wish for others to come forward about this and other cases. Even where the perpetrator is now dead, it is still important for there to be acknowledgment of what really went on; I would add that there still needs to be much wider and difficult questions asked about the nature of institutions and the culture of musical education which appears to have facilitated widespread abuse (and not just in the UK). At a recent debate organised by the Institute of Ideas at the Barbican Centre, which I attended, the sociologist Frank Furedi (author of the much-criticised Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal) argued that recent talk of abuse in musical education stemmed from a fear of ‘intimacy’, and expressed his concern above all that musical teachers were able to ‘touch the soul’, whilst the educationalist Heather Piper made out that the issue was one of self-aggrandisement on the part of the NSPCC and other institutions on the basis of what was argued to be just a few isolated historic cases. I find these attitudes contemptuous, though in milder form they were echoed by all but one of the other panellists and quite a number of audience members. More and more information is emerging all the time, further arrests are being made (including recently of a former teacher in a London college on multiple charges – see here); certainly everyone so accused must be granted the presumption of innocence, but if even a fraction of the allegations were true, this would evidence of something epidemic. I echo my correspondent’s sentiments below, and once again would urge further all those who care about this issue to contact their MPs ( to ask them to give their support to a public inquiry (for details of how to do so, see my earlier blog posts here). There will be an important meeting of all sympathetic MPs in December; the more there are, the greater the pressure will be.
If you would like to contact the author of the below, please feel free to e-mail me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) with your details, and I will forward them to him.
The tragic story of Frances Andrade and the revelations over the past year of sexual abuse at some of our most prestigious schools of music have stirred up painful memories for me dating from forty years ago.
In the 1970s, I studied piano at the Watford School of Music and was sexually abused over a four-year period by one of the teachers there. The abuse ended when my parents received a letter in the middle of term, stating that the man was no longer able to teach at Watford School of Music and I was then taught by someone else.
However, my abuser continued to teach at the Royal College of Music until 1995 when, I have since learned, he was convicted of a sexual offence. He died in 2004 and his obituary appeared in several daily newspapers.
The experience affected me deeply and stunted my emotional and sexual development. I became withdrawn, anxious and angry. For many years I was unable to form healthy, intimate relationships and bouts of deep depression have been a regular feature of my life.
As a result of intensive psychotherapy, I have been able to appreciate for the first time the seriousness of the damage I suffered but also to realise that I was not, as I used to think, to blame for what happened to me all those years ago. I know I am not my abuser’s only victim and if one of you is reading this, or if any of what I have written resonates with your own experience or knowledge of sexual abuse at either the Watford School of Music or the Royal College of Music in the period before 1995 it would be good to hear from you.
I tell my story here so not merely as an attempt to reach some closure on this painful episode, but hopefully to encourage other victims to tell their stories too.
Addendum: Another victim has chosen to share their story of abuse at a music school, which can be read on Slipped Disc here.