Sexual Abuse At UK’s Specialist Music Schools

May 23, 2013
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Sexual abuse in UK’s specialist music schools hit the headlines earlier this year. Police investigations are on going and more victims may yet emerge from the woodwork to speak out about their experience.

Chetham’s School of Music. Photo credit: Rachel D at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fussyonion/5375858065/

In February, violinist Frances Andrade killed herself halfway through the trial that convicted Michael Brewer, former director of music at the Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, and his ex-wife Kay of six counts of indecent assault.

Andrade had been distraught and upset as a reluctant witness in the trial of an ex-teacher who had sexually abused her during her time at the specialist music school. In addition to having had to re-live the horrific memories, she was branded a liar and a fantasist by the defending lawyer.

A positive thing that came from her suicide was that it blew the lid off the sexual and emotional abuse that had been going on in all five of the UK’s specialist music schools. Since Andrade’s death, more than 30 women have come forward to make their own police reports with the Greater Manchester Police, which is now investigating a “pool of about 10 offenders” who taught at either Chetham’s or the Royal Northern College of Music.

The lawyer representing several of these alleged victims said that many of them told her that abuse was “rife” at Chetham’s and those teachers allegedly involved were particularly manipulative in befriending the parents of their victims before the abuse took place.

Chetham’s current head Claire Moreland issued a statement recently to say that the school has addressed many of the weaknesses identified by the authorities in their safeguarding processes and procedures.

It wasn’t just the girls who were at the receiving end and it wasn’t just confined to Chetham’s. Cellist in the Maggini Quartet Michal Kaznowski told of how young boy cellists at the Yehudi Menuhin School, of which he was one, suffered cruelty and sexual abuse at the hands of the now-deceased French cellist and teacher Maurice Gendron.

“We were on our own in his cello class.  Nobody came in to see the crying,” Kaznowski said, adding that Frances Andrade’s story was common in the history of specialist music schools with nearly all cases dealt with by the teacher quietly disappearing mid or end of term.

Another teacher at the Surrey-based school, its founding music director, pianist Marcel Gazelle, who passed away in 1969, allegedly sexually abused young girls in the school in the 1960s. Irita Kutchmy, who studied with him from the age of nine till 12, went on record to say that she remembered feeling as if she was “sort of like his property”.

The Yehudi Menuhin School. Photo credit: David Howard at http://www.flickr.com/photos/satguru/6710300097/

“I used to hold my breath to try to stop breathing. If I stopped breathing then I’d die, then I won’t have to face this anymore,” Kutchmy said in a Channel 4 News interview.

In the same interview, her schoolmate, British violinist Nigel Kennedy, said he knew that Gazelle was a repeat offender and that it wasn’t just a one-off thing. Gazelle’s family, however, has said he was a good man and they were surprised by the allegations, which they contest.

“I have to say that even though it was a great privilege to be at a school like that, I don’t have particularly happy memories, because…the staff were ill equipped to deal with children’s problems. Emotional problems or psychological problems. They were completely ill-equipped,” Kennedy said.

He had already spoken out about abuse in specialist music schools as early as 2003.

Another former YMS student Sacha Barlow, now assistant principal violist at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra added her voice to the dialogue saying that there was a lot of inappropriate behaviour that a number of teachers engaged in.

These specialist music schools can cost about £30,000 or more a year and many Asian parents of musically-gifted children look to send their children there.

While these are all historical cases of abuse, the Channel 4 News investigation brought up fears that children today may still be unsafe owing to the one-to-one nature of music instruction. But all five schools have responded by saying that the welfare of their pupils was their overriding priority and that where necessary they’ve contacted the police and the relevant authorities.

British pianist and musicologist Ian Pace said that these events have been traumatic for many of his colleagues and that music students were in particular danger of sexual and other abuse. He said that he heard from lots of people who have made allegations that when they went to complain they were either ignored or sometimes pressure was put upon them.

Pace is calling for people to sign a Petition for an Inquiry into Abuse in Specialist Music Education. The petition will stay open until 31 May.

Closer to home, a friend was sexually abused by her music teacher when she was barely a teenager. She, too, has been encouraged to share her story in the hope that awareness and an open discussion may help new generations of music students.

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2 Responses to Sexual Abuse At UK’s Specialist Music Schools

  1. Christine Botes RNCM on May 31, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Please add my name

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