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It wasn’t just Chetham’s. Abuse was going on at Yehudi Menuhin School and elsewhere

The physical abuse of young teenaged children at residential music schools – spotlighted this week by the conviction of Mike Brewer and the suicide of Frances Andrade – was by no means confined to Chetham’s, the jewel of the north.

We hear accounts of misconduct by teachers at other residential schools in the 1970s and 1980s. We expect more living teachers to be named later this week. The following account of abuse at YMS has been submitted to Slipped Disc by Michal Kaznowski (below), cellist of the Maggini Quartet, and a lifelong campaigner against abuse in schools. He offers reasoned proposals for school reforms:

michal200

As a colleague of Frances Andrade’ s husband Levine, we were at the Yehudi Menuhin School together in the late 60′s, I deeply sympathise with Levine and his family’s loss, and hope that her legacy will be to prevent her story happening again.

We had to endure a very harsh teaching environment in those days, which in the case of the Yehudi Menuhin School exposed the young boy cellists at the school to cruelty and sexual abuse from the cellist Maurice Gendron, the visiting cello professor.

Gendron attempted to discuss my personal sex life at the age of fourteen in a cello lesson. I refused, and mentioned it to no one for many years. More public at the YMS was his cruelty. The expression ‘he preferred crying to playing in cello lessons’ is absolutely appropriate. I think I cried in every cello lesson, once a month over a three year period, except for three or four. This is, of course, also child abuse. This was a miserable time for me, but has fortunately been useful in my later teaching life in that it showed me how instrumental teaching is not to be done.

GendronM_HephzyehudiMenuhin1968

Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin with Maurice Genrdron. Photo (c) Gendron family/Festival Grez-sur-Loing

Why did Yehudi appoint Gendron?  In my mind there is no question that he knew that things were wrong.  Maurice eventually had to stop performing apparently because of substance abuse. Maurice’s behaviour at the YMS in hindsight was so erratic with huge mood swings between visits.  Yehudi’s travels down the road of playing chamber music with Maurice must have given Yehudi many occasions to see his behaviour.  People would have told Yehudi about his reputation with young boys.  I remain pretty cross with Yehudi.  He could have chosen from so many – all the big cellists of the day were better teachers than Gendron – Rostropovich, Fournier, Navarra, Tortelier, Pleeth, Aldulescu – the list is endless and none of them were unreliable with boys!  Menuhin knew them all. We were on our own in his cello class.  Nobody came in to see the crying.
I do hope the Specialist Music Schools will have a public step change in their pastoral care for their students. The way they deal with sexual abuse has always been to cover it up. Frances Andrade’s story is absolutely common in the specialist music school histories. Nearly all cases were dealt with by the teacher quietly disappearing mid, or at the end of the term.

In these schools the children have many hours of one to one contact. This is fabulous with the extraordinary range of superb teachers these schools have, and horrendous with the sex abusers who are effectively unmonitored and undiscovered. It is in the specialist music schools that children are most vulnerable in Education.  The instrumental teachers are treated by most of the schools as visiting hourly paid workers, who have the minimum training under the law for working with children.  This usually involves a one or two hour lecture in child awareness. That is all!  Proper training should be devised and offered by the schools.  After all, the instrumental lessons are the primary reason that the students are at these schools.  The schools normally treat the instrumental teachers as if they are just hire and fire bolt ons with no attempt to have any collegiate and coordinated teaching environment for the students.  Totally out of place in a state school and completely inappropriate and unacceptable in this era of thoughtful teaching.  This is teaching structure pre 1970′s.

This must stop. The public should demand that. So should the Department of Education which funds the places and then has no effective regime for checking on pastoral care in a boarding music school, as past history abundantly shows.

The Governors of these private schools should be trained and be active – just as in State Schools. Their protection in all the cases I know was as good as a chocolate fire guard. Governors are notable in the Specialist Music Schools for turning up to drinks and concerts. Otherwise they are invisible, and when informed, inactive.  Their roles need to be taken by properly trained professionals.

Publicly monitored pastoral change should happen in these schools, then there can be hopes for a better future.  The schools can’t self monitor as they are in huge competition with each other, which completely eradicates any public confessions and therefore public scrutiny.

Michal Kaznowski

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Comments

  1. Dan Filson says:

    Curious there is no mention of this in the Wikipedia article on Maurice Gendron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Gendron

  2. Michal Kaznowski’s suggestions are eminently sensible. Music teachers have been seen as a law unto themselves for much too long and there need to be real and enforceable checks and balances upon them, in both schools and conservatoires. Being ‘great musicians’ is no excuse whatsoever for exploitative and predatory behaviour, nor for lack of sensitivity towards those with whom one is entrusted. Having such teaching positions is a great responsibility, not just an ego appendage for big names.

  3. Norman, good that you are giving such attention to this, and did so in the past. It is too bad that these incidents could not have been more widely disseminated, and much earlier, by others as well. Shining a light on such abuses, where one is supported by a strong political coalition of forces to demand that they stop and force the issue, at least gives one a chance to have it fixed and obtain some measure of justice, but clearly for victims who are vulnerable and alone when confronting power and influence, it is an uphill battle against a stacked deck, especially where the media is also in bed with the victimizer.

    Gendron was always a favorite cellist of mine, and I had heard of his sexual orientation but never cared, yet I was clueless until now about reports of these incidents. That he was fine artist (though in my book Tortelier was always the best of the French cellists), and a chamber music colleague of Menuhin who made some memorable recordings, partially explains why he would have remained at the school even though he shouldn’t have- but like the incidents at Penn State, it doesn’t speak well for the coach who presumably knew but didn’t do enough to stop and report the abuse (and also get meaningful help for his friend).

    • Sorry, just to say that his sexual orientation is not the same as his sexual practice. What a painful story. How difficult to read but how important it is for it to be read. Thanks and commiserations.

  4. Daniel Farber says:

    Has there ever been any substance or rumor that any other teacher at the Yehudi Menuhin School (including Yehudi Menuhin himself) had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with young people? If, for example,Gendron was one of many (and, of course, one who knew about all of the others), this would help explain the reluctance of the school’s titular leader to take steps to remove him, since doing so would have resulted in the toppling of the entire edifice.

  5. I agree that verbal or psychological cruelty is just as bad as sexual abuse. although the former can be harder to judge by outsiders. I disagree about the value of training teachers so that they will not behave abusively. The roots of abusive behavior run deep. The head of the school, who has played music with the abuser, had first hand knowledge of the abuser’s musical ability but can not be expected to know that abuse is occurring. The tendency of abused children is to believe that they are to blame. I think that management should make the kids aware that certain types of behavior by teachers are not acceptable. Also, management should encourage the students to talk to them about any disturbing behavior by the teachers. The damage wrought by abusers must be horribly deep and severe to cause a victim to commit suicide many years later because of the abuse and the revelation of it. I sympathize deeply with the relatives and friends of the suicide victim, and I hope that this event will spur positive action by staffs of schools.

  6. Menuhin Student says:

    May I say, as a former student of the YMS who spent 5 years there, that this is utterly unnecessary.

    We do not need “publicly monitored pastoral change” in musical education establishments. We do not need instrumental teachers to be further vetted when the vast majority of them are guilt-free. And we do not need thess unfortunate yet isolated indicidents to be further perpetuated by your incendiary pseudo-journalism.

    I, and many of my colleagues, owe a huge debt to the YMS – an institution that (at least for my time there) was run with genuine care, love and a conscientous stewardship of the students’ welfare as well as their musical talents.

    Please drop this and find something better to do.

    • The genuine care that you speak of, Mr. or Mrs. Menuhin Student, was sincerely shown to you while you were there at the school. Unfortunately it is this sincerity that best covers up abuse. Being sensitive to students in a learning environment is an attribute. But after being abused myself I have found that this kindness or shall we say fondness becomes the perfect cover-up for violent abuse that remains most often hidden and tacitly agreed to by administrators, managers or corporate heads where this activity occurs. Mr. Kasnowski’s comments should be lauded for their truthfulness. In my opinion, you are wrong. Outing child abusers should remain a top priority as it is for me on the same level as murder. It simply can ruin people’s lives.

    • Musician parent says:

      Ridiculous. Of course *any* publicly-funded organisation looking after young people *must* be monitored for pastoral care. Just because you were happy does *not* mean everything is OK.

    • As a former student at the YMS I’m astounded at the suggestion that this matter should be dropped. How selfish. I spent 4 years at the school being sexually abused 3 or 4 times every week. I’ve only ever told a handful of people, I’m trying to tell myself that it’s all in the past….well that doesn’t work as demonstrated by the tragic events of the past month…….and if making a fuss saves only one child from abuse then it’s worth it. Don’t have any answers but it would seem to me that children need to be told what is appropriate behaviour and what is not. Perhaps in the light of other allegations the Governors/ Head of a school could be held to account in some way, not simply a quiet resignation!!The abuser is to blame however those who cover up these events are not acting on behalf of the child/ren in their care and make me very angry. The words “put them in jail and throw away the key” comes to mind. I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the school and I pray that further abuse is not happening there now. …..but let’s not be stupid let’s make sure it never happens again.

  7. What a sweeping and uncalled for thing to say, Ian! ‘Music teachers have been seen as a law unto themselves for much too long and there need to be real and enforceable checks and balances upon them, in both schools and conservatoires’.

    You cannot condemn all of us!

    At our music school (The Renaissance Music School) we have a contract with the parents/guardians of all students under the age of 18 and this contract also applies to our adult students. We actively ENCOURAGE parents, guardians, relatives, etc., to be present at lessons of their charges and insist that a parent/guardian is within calling distance of the lesson. All too often, these parents/guardians do not even bother to accompany their children into the music room and we are left to ‘babysit’ their children when the parent/guardian decides to run off to do shopping, etc, and comes back well after the lesson is over. Our doors are always open and there are also windows so that anyone can see into the music rooms. Our contract is in place in order to protect both the pupil and the teacher. No, Ian, we are not the ‘law unto (our)selves’. Parents/guardians also need to take some responisibility. Pupils cannot learn music without full support from their families. You are welcome, Ian, to visit our music school and see for yourself the dedication and understanding of our teachers. Then you will see what quality music teaching is about.
    By the way, abuse is also present in dance, drama, arts academies and any other educational institution you can think of.
    The quality of the teaches needs to be assured and the parents/guardians need to be active participants in their childrens’ education.

  8. ‘We do not need instrumental teachers to be further vetted when the majority of them are guilt-free’

    Imagine if airport security employed this type of argument…

  9. Thanks for your report on Gendron’s child abuse record. I just went through my record colletion and thrown all of Gendrons recordings in the bin. There is no room for child molesters in a record collection.

    Lets make sure his wikipedia records get updated sooner rather than late.

  10. Menhuin student you are so naive

  11. Mark Sheridan says:

    Sexual predation by teachers or other authority figures is not uncommon, and neither is bullying in its many forms. I believe that progress has been made in creating awareness that there are ways of getting help to stop these abuses, which should apply to musicians as much as anyone else, no matter how important or famous they are. It is still difficult for a victim to come forward, not knowing whether or not they will be believed, and healing the pain caused is sometimes never achieved, but I believe that the current culture is much better than it was in 1968, both at the Yehudi Menuhin School and elsewhere.

    • I agree with Mark Sheridan – this all happened years ago when it was a tougher world for a lot of children. Many kids suffered and didn’t come out with anything positive at all – maybe a drug habit – definitely not a career in music. Now things should be much more closely scrutinized because there’s more awareness of the risk.

      If teachers and schools are concerned, there is audio and video equipment which is readily and cheaply available. This can record every one-to-one lesson with all pupils aware that if they have any doubts about their teachers behaviour, there will be evidence to corroborate their story or not, whatever the case may be. Data content can also be stored off site, so that there is no opportunity to edit after the event. This might help give many teachers (and parents) some peace of mind.

      There are lots of other practical and useful steps that further pupils protection which would be better than a huge public enquiry (with media waiting breathlessly in the wings for salacious details) – an enquiry will just be another excuse to cut funding even more than it already has been. Public enquirys can be huge unwieldy beasts that can do more harm than good.

      In the case of Fran Andrade (who I was at Chets with), she was exposing someone who was still working with teenagers, not someone who has since died and can do no more harm. Evidence was also supplied, which it has not been here. Thats not to say its not true, but its not something to shout about without some proof or conditional precepts.

      When I was at Chets, I don’t remember any occasion where the staff were inappropriate or improper in their behaviour towards me – most were really nice, some were irritating and some irrational but that was expected of teachers. This abuse wasn’t necessarily endemic. It was tragic, evil and wrong when it happened but not endemic and unlikely to be just happening in music schools either. I hope that music schools will continue and nurture musical talent for future generations, with bursaries for poorer familes, and with all protection for pupils in place. I hope they survive the next few years.

  12. Not Amused says:

    Can someone confirm the rumours about the true reasons for the sudden departure of an English teacher in the early 1990′s (in YMS) ?
    Also, I agree that pupils should not be subjected to mental abuse by teachers. Pupils abandoned their music-making due to untalented teachers who used screams and verbal abuse as a daily method of teaching (I wish I had taped one teacher). The lucky ones change school or return home and continue with a private teacher, but some just fall by the way which did not have to happen if they had a caring teacher in their music school. Ian Pace is correct, in my experience.
    However, in view of the terrible consequences of sexual abuse, it seems that we should concentrate at this moment and for the moment only on such sexual abuse.
    Incidentally, Yehudi Menuhin sometimes was less than the perfect person for choosing school teachers. And he should have shown a bit more personal interest in the mental and social welfare of pupils, instead of the attitude of ‘let those who are not happy go’.
    Mentioning School Governors. These are mostly useless in all schools. All over Britain School Governor is, to a large extent, a role for the ego and power position of people, not for those who want to do a serious job. .

  13. Another YMS student says:

    I think it highly irresponsible to propagate such statements without diligently checking on their veracity. To accuse two people who are dead and therefore do not have a chance to defend themselves of such things with scant evidence (but ample evidence to the contrary) is incomprehensible to me. I was one of the so-called “young boys” at the YMS at the same time as Michal, and, perhaps you should consider the following inescapable facts before rushing to judgement:
    1) I was at the classes where he alleges inappropriate things happened – actually, all the cello students were as we were actually expected to attend. These were almost never one-on-one sessions. The fewest attendees I ever had in one of my lessons was one, and nothing improper ever occurred.
    2) [redacted]Even though I don’t condone yelling at a student at any time, consider that Gendron had just flown in from France, did not get paid for teaching at the YMS, and you might agree that this waste of his time, as well as the obvious insult, could justify a certain anger in the teacher. [redacted]

    My personal experience with both Gendron and Menuhin was that they were completely committed to the education of the kids at the YMS. I have been alone with both of them frequently without the slightest hint of improper conduct. [redacted]

    Michal’s article is further compromised by the insistance on talking about boys, despite the trigger for all of this being about a woman being abused[redacted]

    I feel terrible for the Andrades, and Levine who was a gentleman even at the age of 12! Is it because he is a gentleman that he has not “used” this opportunity to talk about similar problems at the YMS, or is it because in fact these problems did not exist there? [redacted]

    • We have redacted this post to remove abuse and personal grievance. If the writer was prepared to shed anonymity, as others courageously have done, his views might carry greater weight. The charges made here by Michal Kaznowski have been supported by two independent witnesses.

      • Another YMS student says:

        Mr. Lebrecht – I thank you for what you do, and I think the way you have redacted my post is mostly fair and sensible.
        Nevertheless, I do wish to state that there may be more than one side to this story, and as one who was actually there I can assure you that every one of my contemporaries at the YMS to whom I have spoken would be flabbergasted at some of these accusations here and would claim them to be factually wrong. For example, the statement: “We were on our own in his cello class. Nobody came in to see the crying” is an outright lie – we were in attendance and we DID see it. I have my issues with the problems inherent in being shipped off to a boarding school at a young age, and opinions about how to teach and not to teach that are quite similar to those posted above. This article, however, goes far beyond that, and a single lie (an unnecessary one at that) simply puts the entire statement into question.
        As for the corroboration from two independent witnesses, the nature of that corroboration and who the witnesses are must surely be balanced by the vast majority of former YMS students who would deny many or most of the allegations above. There are signs to look for in an abused child, and I do not think anyone who was a student at the YMS ever observed these common signs in any of their fellow students – I did not, nor did anyone I have spoken to who was there.
        As for the insinuation that remaining anonymous is a lack of courage, perhaps you might consider that there is a very good reason for doing so. The YMS is a smaller place than many people realize, as is the music business as a whole, and I do not think it particularly productive to air our dirty laundry in public. You have seen what I originally wrote (which was only a fraction of what is relevant in this particular case), and I believe that what I have said should be enough for readers to ask questions. After all, your “two independent witnesses” are also anonymous at this point – presumably, by your definition, this means their corroboration also carries less weight.

        • Michal Kaznowski says:

          AYMS Mr. Lebrecht – I thank you for what you do, and I think the way you have redacted my post is mostly fair and sensible.
          Nevertheless, I do wish to state that there may be more than one side to this story, and as one who was actually there I can assure you that every one of my contemporaries at the YMS to whom I have spoken would be flabbergasted at some of these accusations here and would claim them to be factually wrong. For example, the statement: “We were on our own in his cello class. Nobody came in to see the crying” is an outright lie – we were in attendance and we DID see it.

          MK So you did see the crying and were in every class. The Junior school and the Senior school had different timetables. The Juniors did academic studies while we did music and vice versa. How were you in my lessons if you were in academic studies in the Junior school, as I was in the Senior school? Having said that it did sometimes happen. Probably at weekends.

          AYMS I have my issues with the problems inherent in being shipped off to a boarding school at a young age, and opinions about how to teach and not to teach that are quite similar to those posted above. This article, however, goes far beyond that, and a single lie (an unnecessary one at that) simply puts the entire statement into question.
          As for the corroboration from two independent witnesses, the nature of that corroboration and who the witnesses are must surely be balanced by the vast majority of former YMS students who would deny many or most of the allegations above. There are signs to look for in an abused child, and I do not think anyone who was a student at the YMS ever observed these common signs in any of their fellow students – I did not, nor did anyone I have spoken to who was there.

          MK Abuse? You remember the cello student (and please don’t name him for very good reasons) who repeatedly ran away from the school. His lessons were much worse than mine. I have had students stop playing the cello – but not that way. It is our job to do that delicately. Especially as he was talented.

          AYMS As for the insinuation that remaining anonymous is a lack of courage, perhaps you might consider that there is a very good reason for doing so. The YMS is a smaller place than many people realise, as is the music business as a whole, and I do not think it particularly productive to air our dirty laundry in public.

          MK The whole lesson of Chethams is of unfinished business and damaged children. The offenders then go on to reoffend elsewhere. Let me quote from Martin Roscoe’s correspondence 13th Dec 2001 from the Guardian:

          “While teaching at **** in the 1980’s, Malcolm led a school trip to Hong Kong. Allegedly, upon return he was interviewed by the Headmistress and accused of having sex with one of the students during the trip. He denied it. My understanding is that Malcolm is now persona non grata at *****.”

          MK I taught at **** and personally told the Head of Music in a conversation after the appointment of Malcolm to conduct the Orchestra that he was unreliable with girls. He gave me a hugely memorable reply. “My dear boy, (I was 47), we know what we are doing”

          You have no case for not airing problems.

          AYMS You have seen what I originally wrote (which was only a fraction of what is relevant in this particular case), and I believe that what I have said should be enough for readers to ask questions. After all, your “two independent witnesses” are also anonymous at this point – presumably, by your definition, this means their corroboration also carries less weight.

          As for the corroboration from two independent witnesses, the nature of that corroboration and who the witnesses are must surely be balanced by the vast majority of former YMS students who would deny many or most of the allegations above. There are signs to look for in an abused child, and I do not think anyone who was a student at the YMS ever observed these common signs in any of their fellow students – I did not, nor did anyone I have spoken to who was there.

          MK It would be nice if some of the other students who were at the at the school at the time might reply to the point about signs of abuse. It was a harsh environment in my opinion. There are many more sources of information than me.

          AYMS As for the insinuation that remaining anonymous is a lack of courage, perhaps you might consider that there is a very good reason for doing so. The YMS is a smaller place than many people realize, as is the music business as a whole, and I do not think it particularly productive to air our dirty laundry in public. You have seen what I originally wrote (which was only a fraction of what is relevant in this particular case), and I believe that what I have said should be enough for readers to ask questions. After all, your “two independent witnesses” are also anonymous at this point – presumably, by your definition, this means their corroboration also carries less weight.

          • YMS Survivor says:

            I was a student at the YMS during the ’70s. While I have no wish to play “now it can be told”, I have read this recent correspondence with increasing sadness and a dreary sense of familiarity. I feel I have to comment, although it gives me no pleasure to do so and brings back truly painful memories. Before I start, I would like to make it clear that I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that the Menuhin School of today bears any resemblance to the institution I attended 40 years ago. I am sure it is hugely improved, both in its teaching and ethical standards, and its treatment of young children. It would have to be or it would quite possibly have been shut down by now.

            If you haven’t got 10 minutes to spend, you may wish to stop reading here.

            Regarding Michal’s statements about Maurice Gendron: I am not a cellist and was not particularly close to any there at the time. However, many of the cellists would quietly discuss Mr. Gendron’s predilection for verbal and sexual abuse and other students did indeed hear those comments, including me. There was little that could have been said or done during that period and, in the seamy environment of YMS daily life then, such talk didn’t even raise eyebrows.

            During my studies there children ran away, children were expelled, children shoplifted, children set the building on fire quite deliberately. (An unforgettable evening. Cost thousands of pounds and the place smelled terrible for months.) Occasionally a child would claim they were being sexually abused by a parent. We didn’t really believe them and nobody seemed to care. Students had sex with students. At least one member of staff had an incredibly public affair with another staff member while his spouse and children were actually living on campus. Scraping the bottom of this unpleasantly deep barrel, one staff member initiated and sustained a sexual relationship with a young student on and off campus while, yet again, his wife and children actually lived in school. He was eventually asked not to come back. His wife and family stayed. We all knew about it. How could we not? The Menuhin School is a very small place and almost nothing could be hidden. Voices carry and most gossip really did turn out to be true. It’s a boarding school and when beds were empty it was obvious. Sometimes it seemed as if people even wanted their actions to be known. One learned to keep a quiet profile, say little, and go home at weekends. I would return wondering what new and stressful events might unfold, and whether there would be enough air to breathe by next Saturday.

            I was certainly not sexually abused at the YMS, but psychological abuse is another story. Over the years other former students have correctly indicated publicly that the school was, to put it kindly, a gladiatorial place. There was no nurturing and care for the fragility of young, gifted children. Those who sank were deemed failures, those who didn’t had their successes trumpeted by a publicity-hungry administration. Royalty and camera crews visited frequently. At one point YMS students even enjoyed regular appearances on Jimmy Saville’s “Jim’ll Fix It.” That’s quite a thought these days. The Menuhin School was described as a kind of garden of eden for brilliant prodigies. It was not and we were not.

            My own teacher was clearly profoundly unhinged and should never have been allowed to teach anyone. Why this person was able to do so for so many years remains a complete mystery to me. She seemed to enjoy inflicting deep distress and humiliation on her defenseless pupils on a twice-weekly basis. Her demented howls and shrieks of rage would echo through the corridors from the Music Room throughout the teaching day, and students as young as 8 and as old as 17 would emerge shaking, crying, and degraded from their lessons. The student waiting outside the door for his or her turn would know perfectly well what was waiting for them. Other forms of bullying from this teacher included but were not confined to extreme manipulation, ugly comparisons to fellow students, insults, frequent threats of expulsion and disgrace, and a relentless poisoning of confidence and growth. She also had a habit of eavesdropping outside students’ doors and bursting in on them screaming accusations. (I observed her doing this many times.) Her behaviour was so horrific that sometimes it was just plain funny. Some students developed quite a sense of gallows humour. She was finally quietly removed after causing the physical collapse of one child. From this so-called teacher I learned only how never, ever to teach.

            I have no insights about other music institutions at that time or later. I can only observe that small, isolated private schools need to keep their doors, windows and minds open and they should absolutely never, for any reason, be tempted to sacrifice the needs of their highly vulnerable students on the altar of national reputation. Those students should not be the only ones required to show great courage and fight for compassion and truth. I and a number of my fellow students found ourselves in that position with miserable regularity. I was at school with Levine Andrade. He’s a wonderful artist and human being, and my heart breaks for what has happened to him and his beautiful family.

            I’m sorry to remain anonymous although I’m sure some might know who I am. Over four decades after my experiences, talking about the YMS still feels toxic and threatening for me. Furthermore, I certainly won’t be naming names and don’t intend to be asked. I assume that this blog will keep my email private.

            However, after all this verbiage, I need to end on a positive note. The Menuhin School’s music ensemble work was consistently an utter joy to hear. Brahms sextets, Bartok quartets, choral work (we had a lovely choir) and, above all, the extraordinary quality of the school’s string orchestra, all of it never failed to amaze me. Under the eccentric but inspiring school conductor and theory teacher, this student orchestra of incredibly young people created performances of such urgency and beauty that they’re engraved on my memory. Tippett, Bach, Elgar, all magic. Those were only times I was proud of my school. In the orchestra, everyone was a prodigy and it showed.

            I’m signing off now. Thanks for reading this.

      • YMS pupil 65/68 says:

        This is a message to YMS survivor (February 12th) and I’m not all that good with computers and fear that my attempt at communication might go pear shaped but I had to tell you how much your words moved me and how they rang so many bells. I’m not sure that we were ever at the school together but what you said completely tied in with my memories and I am so grateful to you for having the courage to write your thoughts down.

        As a little girl all those years ago I was dreadfully confused and unhappy by what went on and I knew that the older girls were being abused (don’t ask me how I knew but I just did) and I made my escape at the age of 12. By that time I was ringing my mum in tears two or three times a day and my parents pulled me out, thank goodness!

        My self esteem was in tatters when I left and though my piano teacher wasn’t as dreadful as yours he still did a lot of damage. I would be reduced to tears one minute in lessons then taken on his knee for ‘comforting’ the next and how confusing is that for a vulnerable child?

        Thank you for saying all the things you did as your message really stood out to me. The things you described were very much along the lines of everything I remembered when I was at the YMS a few years before you. All sorts of things went on that were not right but you learnt to keep a low profile, as you said!

        It’s such a relief to be able to talk about it now and I fully understood you when you used the words ‘toxic and threatening’ but I think that now is the time to come forward and tell the truth. It’s possible to do this in confidence apparently and I want to tell my story now.

        You have helped me along this path so this is to say thank you. You write so expressively that I couldn’t help but be encouraged to write about my experiences too!

    • Michal Kaznowski says:

      I think it highly irresponsible to propagate such statements without diligently checking on their veracity. To accuse two people who are dead and therefore do not have a chance to defend themselves of such things with scant evidence (but ample evidence to the contrary) is incomprehensible to me. I was one of the so-called “young boys” at the YMS at the same time as Michal, and, perhaps you should consider the following inescapable facts before rushing to judgement:

      It is not irresponsible to talk about child abuse and cruelty. It happened to me. Yes they are dead. So is Jimmy Saville.

      1) I was at the classes where he alleges inappropriate things happened – actually, all the cello students were as we were actually expected to attend. These were almost never one-on-one sessions. The fewest attendees I ever had in one of my lessons was one, and nothing improper ever occurred.

      I am telling the truth. Nobody but me and Gendron were in the Yellow Room when he sent the weekly teacher out of the room and spoke to me of my sex life. You have no reason and no evidence to doubt my story. Others can confirm whether or not they had one to one sessions with him or with only the weekly teacher in the room.

      Most of my cello lessons with Gendron were alone with the weekly cello teacher and Gendron. Some had other cellists in, but that soon stopped as my memory serves me. I didn’t want to be seen crying nor did others, so I didn’t go to their lesson to see them cry, nor did they come to mine. Other pupils at the school have talked much about the appalling atmosphere and the behaviour of the cellists when Gendron was around. It was no secret. We were very scared.

      [redacted]Even though I don’t condone yelling at a student at any time, consider that Gendron had just flown in from France, did not get paid for teaching at the YMS, and you might agree that this waste of his time, as well as the obvious insult, could justify a certain anger in the teacher. [redacted]

      Whether he was paid or not he was very cruel, and he well crossed over the line of what can be discussed with students. I was 14 – 17. Why such cruelty at that age? He was sarcastic, bullying, impatient, rude, invasive – he was awful. I don’t understand your logic of him taking out in a student his frustration at having to teach.

      Here is an extract from Colin Carr’s website:

      Menuhin brought Gendron to the School because of their long-standing professional relationship; they had played together for decades. But Gendron was a terrifying and tyrannical teacher. He was extremely demanding, impatient, intolerant, and not used to dealing with children; I was ten years old.
      He would often yell, raising his voice to a pitch that was quite scary for child, and he was physically violent at times. I remember him deliberately knocking the bow out of my hand with his bow. By the time I left the school at age 16, people realized that, although Gendron was a wonderful cellist, he was not suited to teach young children; they phased him out.

      Apologies to Colin if he doesn’t want his website quoted. Colin was at the school at the same time as me.

      My personal experience with both Gendron and Menuhin was that they were completely committed to the education of the kids at the YMS. I have been alone with both of them frequently without the slightest hint of improper conduct. [redacted]

      Nobody said anything about Menuhin not being committed to education. I criticised his choice of cello teacher as have others. My criticism stands.

      Michal’s article is further compromised by the insistance on talking about boys, despite the trigger for all of this being about a woman being abused[redacted]

      So child abuse is only to girls? Do you also recognise that cruelty is also child abuse? It is the law now.

      I feel terrible for the Andrades, and Levine who was a gentleman even at the age of 12! Is it because he is a gentleman that he has not “used” this opportunity to talk about similar problems at the YMS, or is it because in fact these problems did not exist there? [redacted]

      Levine will or will not speak about his time at the YMS. Neither I nor you should speak for him.

      By the way. I know Levine, Mark Sheridan, and we have all identified ourselves in this blog. Who are you?

      Michal Kaznowski

  14. Abigail Clifford says:

    At the RNCM how is Professor Layfield supposed to be taken seriously with all the alleged rumours against him. Maybe the issue will rekindle an interest in his performance career and we can expect new interpretations
    of the masters from him.

  15. As far as I can tell, no one here – not Mr Lebrecht, not Mr Pace nor anyone else in any of the other recently commenced pieces about child abuse in musical education institutions is claiming – as it would indeed be as rash as it would be absurdly irrational to do – that all music teachers are child abusers; of course that is nonsense. It is equally clear, however, that we’re not considering just one or two isolated incidents (serious enough though it would still be if we were) but a widespread and possibly even endemic culture of decades’ standing.

    The fact that some of the perpetrators were at the same time fine musicians, whilst no doubt true, is at the same time wholly irrelevant to the question of whether their behaviour was commensurate with their positions and responsibilities as teachers of young children or indeed acceptable as human beings deserving of having young children placed under their charge.

    One person with whom I discussed this told me that he had suffered both threatening behaviour and attempted sexual abuse from such a teacher at the age of 13; he said that he resisted the sexual abuse but that this and the threatening behaviour prompted him to give up the oboe and that he disposed of his instrument forthwith and has never played an oboe since. What kind of behaviour is this from a musician?

    To berate and to seek to undermine those who have suffered such abuse at the hands of music teachers when they were minors is to behave as appallingly and inexcusably as it appears the defence barrister and judge did at the trial of Mr Brewer. To do so in the full knowledge that such behaviour was soon afterwards to prove the very final straw for Frances Andrade and bring untold and untellable distress upon the Andrade family displays the kind of crass bigotry and rabid insensitivity that, in my humble opinion, has no place here (or, for that matter, anywhere else).

    Levine Andrade and his children need and deserve all the help, support and sympathy that they can get in these dreadful circumstances, just as do any others who have encountered this kind of behaviour. The detractors and nay-sayers here are nevertheless providing just the opposite.

  16. Nigel Kennedy quoted in the Guardian in 2003 :

    Kennedy reveals abuse at music school

    David Smith, arts and media correspondent
    The Observer, Sunday 28 September 2003
    Violonist Nigel Kennedy has alleged that young girls were sexually abused at the exclusive Yehudi Menuhin School for gifted musicians.
    ‘There were strange things going on with some of the girls and the older teachers that would have been illegal, definitely,’ said Kennedy, Menuhin’s most famous protégé. ‘It affected me a little bit, because for giving a Mars bar to one of the young girls I was almost chucked out of the school by this particular person who was guilty of these offences.

    ‘I think this young girl was the object of his affections, so he saw me as a rival. I was about eight. It was a strange message to get. It appeared in a school report at the end of the term. It just said he’s causing a disruptive influence to this particular girl’s practice routine.’

    Kennedy, 46, added: ‘The girls didn’t talk about it until 20 years later, which is common. I think they feel guilty because it’s been done to them. There was a strange atmosphere, an underlying current because of that.’

    He said he felt he could now break his silence because the teacher concerned and many of his family members were dead. Norman Lebrecht, interviewing Kennedy for the BBC, asked if the teacher was raping the girls. Kennedy replied: ‘Not absolutely 100 per cent that, but molestation.’

    Lebrecht asked if only one teacher had been involved. ‘Just the one,’ Kennedy said. ‘Us boys were oblivious to the fact it was going on, and I’m not sure if the individual girls it happened to talked to each other about it. I think actually they didn’t.

    During the interview, in One On One (Radio 3, 5.45pm, today), Kennedy was asked why so many music teachers had been involved in cases of molestation. He replied: ‘Maybe it’s very close to religion, music. If you’ve got someone who’s like a guru figure, you probably might think what they’re doing is right.’

    Founded by the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1963, the school began with 15 students in a London hotel and moved to Stoke D’Abernon in Surrey a year later. It now has 61 students. Kennedy was a student from 1964 to 1974.

    Nicolas Chisholm, the headmaster, said last night: ‘I have been here for 15 years and never heard a whisper of this. I would have to get substantiation from other areas to take it seriously.’

    Was this ever followed up?

  17. Michal Kaznowski says:

    YMS Survivor gives a vivid picture of what it was like at the YMS in the early 70’s days. One comment I will expand on because it is key to how all the students behaved then and after.

    “Over four decades after my experiences, talking about the YMS still feels toxic and threatening for me.”

    This is so true. This is because it was our fault what happened. In a lesson it it wasn’t right, it was our fault. We had not done enough practice. If we were struggling it was our fault. We were at a good school. Yehudi ran it. If were were threatened in our lessons, it was necessary, after all we were in a good school and really good lessons must be tough. If other students left (sank) we struggled more not to be one of the failures. All the teaching extremes used against us were normal, we deserved them because we were not progressing fast enough.

    In my lessons all weapons were used with nothing off limits. We went back to the beginning (open strings) and learnt as if we were beginners (I do argue that I needed it, as my teaching before had been very poor, but it is a well known method of control). In our music (Bach etc) we had to erase with a razor all phrasing marks and put in Gendron’s bowing’s and fingerings in ink! He told me every lesson I was not practising hard enough. My very best practice he listened to (Franchomme study C# min) he said ‘how could I bear to play so sharp’ and humiliated me. He knocked the bow out of my hand. He made me record my playing so that he could play it back and tell me how awful it was.

    I was told most lessons that I could leave at the end of term/year. I was told I was not good enough to go on to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Gendron. (Oh, joy! Yes – Fawlty Towers quote!) I had months of studies and scales only as punishment. I studied the Saint-Saens concerto for a whole year. (I teach it and play it without tears.) His use of sarcasm had been perfected over decades, and was delivered by someone who would pick up your cello and play it fabulously to prove his point. You had to be wrong!

    He told me how much my Mother would be disappointed in me. (My Mother was bringing all her six children up singled handed as her Husband had just died (at 47). He told me how my Father (yes he knew) would be disappointed in me. (My Father had been a professional cellist in Lwow Philharmonic, a Gulag survivor and a war hero).

    I learnt to tell Gendron nothing.

    The problem from my second year onwards was to survive till the end of the third year and get out. What I did was practice as much as possible as an insurance policy. At least that would help. Nobody could say I was lazy. (I think this was everyones strategy in hindsight). We got up before breakfast to practice, so much so, that the Headmaster had to say we could not start before 6.30am.

    This was useless practice. Just try to learn something when with absolute certainty your next lesson will be at least as bad as the last (the humiliation of which you are trying to forget) or possibly worse. The mental processes are nihilistic, tortured and mostly futile. Of course the main problem in my playing at the time wasn’t being addressed. I was fantastically tense physically and mentally. (Why?) The measure of success in the lessons was what studies and pieces I had got to and how well I played them in tune. How I played them was a matter of how much practice I did. Simple. No marks were given for posture or relaxation. (Physical relaxation and mental poise are two of the main planks of my teaching for the last 25 years). My Family at home watched my marked change in personality.

    I have not talked about here about the internal concert atmosphere. Could someone else do that?

    But, if you had confronted me aged 15 and asked me about the school I would have told you it was a wonderful place with huge opportunity. If you were in the know you could have asked about my cello lessons. I would have been evasive and talked about Gendron’s great sound and huge technique. Almost nothing would have made me talk about the lessons and my humiliation and pain. This is why the students who went through it with the other teachers (Mrs Kerslake and Mrs Gazelle) wont talk either. Refer to the quote at the top. YMS Survivor puts it so eloquently.

    I wasn’t physically abused, but my time was horrible (except for Peter Norris and Anthony Brakenbury) and it has taken me years of playing and teaching to confront that statement inside myself and the shame I felt all these years. Others were, on top of it all, abused.

    All these years later, it was my children and wife who made me think. They regularly go to reunions of their old schools. They happily see old friends and discuss the teachers they liked and the teachers they hated. All so normal.

    So, as ex students we are caught between wanting to forget and wanting to exorcise these memories. When you talk to someone from that era who was not in the group who were able to cope owing to their huge talent, you may find that day they do not want to remember. Then on another day they will tell you what you don’t want to believe – they must be exaggerating and probably were not all that good at school! (To my amusement, when I arrived at he RAM I was put in second year aural lessons, and came second in an aural prize! Didn’t they know I wasn’t very good?) The Chethams story shows they were not exaggerating. Nor are we.

    Specialist Music Schools are pressure cooker environments. Most of the people running them have never been through that sort of environment. Fortunately or unfortunately (you choose), they have no idea of what it can be like.

    People like me who now talk about it are a bit of a nuisance. As for me, is my experience relevant?

    Michal Kaznowski

    • And how!

    • Your experience is extremely relevant – and horrifying. As the parent of two young string players I am hugely grateful to you for being brave enough to discuss it so openly. Your experience makes it very clear that the issue of mental cruelty in music teaching needs to be addressed every bit as much as the sexual abuse. How you found the strength to still be walking around today – let alone to become the wonderful musician and fabulous teacher you are today (I know one of your pupils so have insider knowledge on that one!). I have great respect for you and the strength you have shown. To still be able to find joy and show sensitivity to others in spite of how you were treated at such a formative age shows an incredible spirit. That’s also what made Fran so amazing. Obviously all of this comes at precisely the time of year that a lot of parents of musical children are having to make decisions about how they are going to juggle the senior school issue. We’d already decided to stick with the day school/Junior Consevatory option and I’m now extremely relieved that we did. My daughter’s instrumental teacher at her JC is one of the loveliest men you could meet and, like you, he is first and foremost concerned that she be relaxed and happy and that, above all, learning her instrument should be a creative and fun process. She’s only 11 and he is more or less a god in her eyes – his approval means everything to her and she’s constantly craving more and more time with him. It’s clear to see how easy she would be to manipulate by a less scrupulous teacher. Although I’ve always known how very lucky we were to have him – your experiences and those of others on this forum have made that even more clear.

    • Wells Survivor says:

      Thanks for your honesty Michal, and yes, I find your experience is very relevant. The pressure cooker environment in both music schools and colleges seems to be predicated on the principle that in order to make it in the competitive music world pupils need to develop as quickly as possible whilst they’re young and malleable.

      As an educational principle I see nothing wrong with guiding pupils to do their best at something they love, and to do this a certain amount of pressure is needed. If its done sensitively (not just musically, but looking at the development of a person as a whole) there is a virtuous circle where the pupils face achievable challenges and enjoy moving on to more, until such as time as they can do this for themselves and no longer need a teacher. The personality and patterns of behaviour formed whilst young and malleable can last a lifetime.

      But unfortunately not all teachers are sensitive, and without any malicious intent can generate a vicious circle instead, fuelled by a competitive environment that can lead almost anyone to rank themselves as a failure against their peers. And the consequences of snapping under pressure can take a lifetime to sort out too.

      I was at Wells for the 6th form during the time you’ve previously mentioned. I don’t know if it was the same as your time at YMS, but for me the internal concert atmosphere at Wells (not to mention the constant stream of music festivals, competitions, and who got chosen to play in concerts and masterclasses) meant we were always being compared and I felt I had a lot of catching up to do. To which end I too regularly broke into the locked practise rooms at 6am, and practised until my fingers bled (occasionally), putting plasters on so I could keep practising. After a while I had a bit of a mental breakdown, and had a week off, only to get back to the same routine. My teacher sometimes gave me pieces such as Feux Follets to learn which were a little too challenging for where I was at the time, so it wasn’t uncommon to end up crying in lessons at having failed, with no belief in the prospect of ever catching up.

      When I got to the Guildhall I had a teacher for whom I have the utmost respect, and who did all he could to encourage me to become a well-rounded musician. And when taught with sensitivity, going back to basics with the Leschetitsky method wasn’t a trauma, but a valuable lesson in physical control and relaxation. But mental relaxation was not so easy – for me that pressure cooker atmosphere of Wells had became internalised, so I was sure I would forever be a failure, and continued to sometimes cry in lessons, despite my teacher’s protestations and encouragement. After a few years I gave up, and didn’t touch the piano for 10 years. Since then I’ve played in bands, written electronic music, and found myself drawn to playing chamber music with friends who have been through similar experiences. There are a surprising number of them around! And it is liberating to be able to enjoy music without fear of failure, and also a surprise to discover that music can heal as well as hurt.

      I know that in the light of everything that is currently going on, my experiences are of minor consequence. But I also believe that there is a connection: the hothouse environment of specialist music schools meant it became normal for children to be under extreme pressure to an unhealthy extent, some could cope and some didn’t. And those in loco parentis didn’t always step in to redress the balance when needed. In such an environment abuse could easily go unnoticed and unchecked.

      I hope that things have changed for the better, and that a debate about the best way of nurturing young musicians will continue. I find it a privilege to teach for one of the “Centres for Advanced Training”, and agree with Rachel’s comment above – personally I think this model has a lot of advantages over residential schools.

  18. it’s a jar with worms. now we’ve opened it….

  19. Another YMS ex student says:

    I am also an ex YMS student and agree with what “YMS Survivor” wrote. I was there in the late 80′s/early 90′s and whilst I did not experience any sexual abuse or physical abuse by any staff I was aware of many rumours and complaints. I did however experience plenty of psychological abuse to which I still struggle with to this day and have had counselling for. Whilst the school gave me some fantastic experiences, I still believe that there were some fundamental flaws in the set up and that the staff and adults who were there to guide us were not and should have not been in the position of looking after children. I could list numerous examples of inadequate care but, to be honest, as I’m not prepared to name names and I haven’t spoken to the students involved about this, I do not feel that it is my place to say anything. But yes, I was pretty messed up from that place and 20+ years later still have nightmares about still being there and having to see out yet another term! YMS survivor wrote so eloquently that “there was no nurturing or care for the fragility of young, gifted children. Those who sank were deemed failures, those who didn’t had their successes trumpeted by a publicity hungry administration” – I fully agree with that statement. It’s all very sad really, what a massive waste of talent there has been.

  20. sacha barlow says:

    Sadly YMS was rife with all kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse and child neglect. I was a student there for 7 years and did not get through without emotional scars, inflicted by both faculty and other students. I cannot think of any of my peers who say they really enjoyed their stay at YMS.

  21. Another YMS alumni says:

    I feel I must speak from the point of view of someone who thoroughly enjoyed my time at the YMS. Yes, things were going on and yes, it is right that they are finally outed and those involved finally bought to justice, but I don’t think the child abuse issue should be confused with whether or not hot-house music schools are a good thing or are run well.
    Each ex-student will have their own view of how the school treated them and how they came out the other end. Adolescence, talent and hot-housing are a difficult combination and a balanced discussion of how they can be combined well would be positive. I spent some time reconciling my time there with who I am now and it is easy to apportion blame to the school for difficulties that I may have had in my life – but who is to know what my adolescence would have been like at home? I was an awkward child! The school in my opinion was filled with teachers who cared, who tried and who gave. Unfortunately there were a few who did not.

  22. Another YMS alumni says:

    I have contacted the website to ask to amend my post which was clumsily put however no response yet! So just to clarify, when I said things were going on I was not specifically speaking about YMS but about the music schools in general and I do not personally have any knowledge of anything untoward at YMS. The point of my post was not to accuse or point fingers but to wish for clarity in what we are talking about- child abuse or the way hot house schools are run.

    • Michal Kaznowski says:

      The contributor Another YMS alumni has asked: … ‘what we are talking about – child abuse or the way hot house schools are run.’

      My aim in bringing up this topic on Norman Lebrechts Slipped Disk Blog, was to make a place where the sexual and emotional abuse, as I had when I was a young cellist at a specialist music school in the 70s, could be discussed and exorcised.

      That is why I started with my story and went on to expand about my cello lessons.

      There had been, as far as I know, no sustained public discussion since the inception of specialist music schools, of the problems which were common knowledge to ex students, ex teachers, parents and other musicians. That was broken last year on this site when the Purcell School was extensively discussed.

      The problems at the Purcell School were quite severe, although those problems are now completely eclipsed by what has emerged about Chethams over the last few weeks.

      If ex students write their stories about specialist music schools on blogs it is a first. This is how the public will finally get to know. My experience is that the schools in question have learned only a little since the 1970s about how to prevent cruelty and sexual abuse in the one to one teaching.

      After all, if the Specialist Schools had taken heed over the last forty years of what all of us who went to these schools as students readily knew, what has happened at Chets would have been prevented.

      Effectively, public discussion of these schools and their results has been completely stifled. Fear of telling, fear of remembering, fear of the press and fear of what your music colleagues will think have all contributed to the Chets disaster.

      We could have said something. We knew!

      Well, it can’t happen in the future. Us, ex students and others will prevent that by having a normal healthy, robust and continuing discussion about all aspects of these schools. I am not a student any more and I can talk about this.

      This is what we can do and is our responsibility.

      Just like normal schools.

  23. I was at YMS for 7 years from 1986-1993. I loved every second and i cherish the memories.

  24. Jeremy Williams says:

    Michai is brave and courageous to share his disturbing experiences with us. He too could have remained anonymous like his critics from the Menuhin School!. As an observer reading all the correspondence it is not the school Michai criticises, but the awful experience he had there. The people who hide behind a smoke screen but severely criticise him in hiding are out of touch and are missing the point he makes with considerable clarity.

  25. Clark Tracey says:

    Many fascinating and often heated comments.
    Living as we do in an Orwellian world much of the time, wouldn’t CCTV prevent further abuse?

  26. Katharine Tylko-Hill says:

    Michal Kaznowski – thank you for broadening the subject to include psychological as well as sexual abuse. I strongly support better regulation of 1-1 music lessons. In the 1970′s, aged 16, I was taken by my piano teacher at a Junior Music College to a guru-like famous teacher who agreed to teach me. I was soon sucked into a cult of devastating psychological abuse, which I was then too immature to recognise or resist. My teacher died after a year and I felt partly responsible. A decade or so later I wrote a (heavily disguised) short-story based on my experiences, as an attempt to understand what had happened. I have masses of sympathy for young musicians who’ve found themselves trapped by abusive teachers and have felt unable to speak out. People who have blown the whistle on their abusers have my admiration.

    Just in case the story is of any small use in the much-needed campaign to investigate and prevent sexual and psychological abuse of young music students, I append it here:

    SEMPRE BEN LEGATO
    Every morning Dale ran headlong into the office-fodder that erupted from Holborn Tube, and fought for a copy of The Times. He could not begin his piano-practice without checking first. ‘…Withers, Wykeham-Smythe, York.’ Better luck tomorrow.

    He did not have to wait long. ‘On July 26th, suddenly at home in Bath, Lydia Z, aged 82. Dearly beloved teacher.’

    None of the pupils had been told that she was ill. But Dale knew that death was the only hope of escape. Not for her but for him. He would have lost his purpose in life had he admitted, “OK, you got it right, I’m a goddamn failure. I quit.” He would have lost his sanity had the lessons continued. Death was the only solution.

    Their final meeting a fortnight earlier had been extraordinary. For the first time in months Lydia’s swollen face had not blotched purple with rage. She had not stamped so that the shutters shook. She had not screamed, “You betray my generosity! You insult the composer! I asked for liquid legato, and you bring me what? Pornographic thumping! When I’ve shown you all I know, entrusted you with my life’s work… because I loved you. You’re unworthy of human love. Go and poke in farmyard filth – let me NEVER see you again.”

    The final meeting had indeed been extraordinary. Miss Z displayed aristocratic composure. Seated motionless at the second keyboard she listened, without flinching, to all 730 bars of the Tempest Sonata. She discussed the fingering of the Adagio and praised the right-hand cantabile. Then she returned to Lesson One: C major legato. Upon leaving, Dale was invited to kiss her goodbye – without his ritual plea for forgiveness and ‘just one more chance’. Perhaps Miss Z already knew that she would not survive the summer break, that her battle with mediocrity was lost.

    Dale decided against black. He was not in mourning. Nor would he wear a designer suit. He surprised himself by choosing a pair of herniating jeans and a scratchy cheesecloth shirt. The funeral was a disgrace. The crematorium served a can of Jesu Joy. No-one wept. A music college tried to persuade Dale to study with one of its ‘more experienced’ professors. He could not. He may have killed her but he could not betray her. Dale contributed nothing to the pupils’ eulogistic anthology. He was astonished to read of a cultured, elderly Estonian who had coaxed musical innocents into an Aladdin’s cave of sparkling sounds. Lydia Z – sempre ben amata. He had not even cried. Unlike his first death: Uncle’s suffocating barium meal at the Mayo Clinic; the lack of medical intervention; the futile attempts at spooning the palest of custards into a nicotine-yellow carcass. A good man tucked away in a cot in the corner – to spare the living the sight of the dying.

    But worst of all, Dale had not loved her. Not as the other pupils had. Not as she had demanded to be loved. He had quite simply used her.

    The young man’s ordeal dated back to a series of ‘East-West Romantic Encounters’ proudly presented by Bath International Festival. Dale Petersson, the dynamic, inspired (but still cheap) Rakhmaninov pianist from Minnesota, ploughed through a sweaty lunchtime recital at the Guildhall. The earnest bean-pole was impressed by the pea-green Banqueting Hall, its chandeliers, gilt fluted pillars and anti-American portraits- but he was overwhelmed by the Brits’ cabbage drains and Bath Festival’s quaint customs: the bunch of pippy grapes proffered by a trainee trog at Linley House (Why hadn’t Morton mentioned fruit?); the self-conscious socializing of the well-heeled punters; the deathly hush proceeding their stamp of approval. Sure there were traditions in the States, and Dale’s Scaramouche was packed ready for a bash with the Sponsor’s daughter.

    But in the event he was taken to a late lunch in the Pump Room and quizzed on the Twin Cities by a startlingly intelligent young woman who cued the Festival Director on Dale’s (or was it Dwayne’s) programme. And that was it. No talk-shows, no press-pix of his aquiline profile, no invitations to play at Aldeburgh. A very low-key European reception. Dale Petersson was not a NAME. He had performed to a hall of widely spaced seats. But a guy could do a lot worse than visit Bath in June. Mosquito-free, tornado-free and oh for Roman ruins. And by lodging with a local piano-teacher he got to pound a Bösendorfer and inspect a generic Georgian dwelling.

    The Festival’s cheque in his wallet, post-performance euphoria prompted Dale to humour the decrepit local musician. He asked her to play. It was a chastening experience. She dispatched a couple of Paganini variations with consummate ease. Her sound was crystal-clear, three-dimensional, effortlessly legato. While Dale relied upon inspiration and steel forearms, Lydia commanded facile nobility. Dale just HAD to study with her. Who better to prepare him for Moscow!

    So he engineered a phoney Fulbright (‘Shakespeare’s Legacy: the Hamletic in Mother Russia’s Pianistic Oeuvre’) and moved into an efficiency appartment in Holborn with an ex-dormfriend. Marcie had drifted into the safety-net of musicology, and fortunately for Dale was inextricably caught up chasing scores in the British Library. Back home on the prairie Dale’s family welcomed his news. He sure could do with a romance; all that music had gotten him over-intense. Marcie was averagely attractive, averagely experienced. She’d do just fine. Dale omitted to mention that it was a dumpy Estonian great-aunt and not a willowy Minnesotan blonde who excited his thoughts.

    Lydia would be happy to coach him. She looked up with storm-black eyes at her serious new pupil.
    “My dear boy, we shall work well together. I do trust that we shall be friends.”

    Since childhood, piano-playing had rescued Dale from boredom and shyness. While his brothers went tubing or fished for muskies, Dale practised for concerts. He became intoxicated by the danger of performance, invigorated by the adrenaline which fueled his manipulation of emotion. He relished the chance to flaunt his sensuality and appeal to that of an audience.

    When he heard Lydia play, Dale felt ashamed of his musical immaturity. Here was pianism of pristine beauty – Brendel, Perahia, Michelangeli. Enjoyment was a dirty word, fun a blasphemy.
    “You must abandon the lamentable mediocrity in which you have been raised. Without a formidable technique your best intentions are of no avail. You will cultivate the purest legato. Let us commence with the C major scale. Observe the angle of the thumb, the hollow of the palm, the pivoting of the finger-tips.”
    Dale listened spell-bound. He practised ten-finger exercises until the blood refused to flow to his hands. He bought a dummy-keyboard, considering himself unfit for a real piano. Music was now a moral issue,

    “Be a better person and you will be a better musician”, Lydia implored.
    “Whatever!” – Dale was only too willing to accept self-mortification as the path to prize-winning pianism.

    Marcle’s 2-bit Psychology interpreted Dale’s perfection-kick as a means of forestalling the realization that he would never be a NAME. He was avoiding reality, denying the common experience, forgoing happiness. But in Dale’s eyes Marcie confused actuality with reality. Her solace lay in sex and libraries; his in music and an ideal. Her gratification was ephemeral; his eternal. Reality had never been clearer: LEGATO. Subjugate the piano’s percussive nature and make it sing. Even when his spindly fingers gripped a ten-part chord, every note was an independent voice bound to yield to one of ten new notes…

    But his playing sounded stilted. What was he doing wrong? And why could an arthritic octogenerian play exquisitely, while he could not? Lydla’s initial patience gave way to disappointment, then rage. Each lesson became a shared nightmare. Lydia issued meticulous instructions and gave immaculate demonstrations. But when Dale applied her method, the music fragmented into wooden splinters.

    “I teach 6-year olds with more integrity than you!”
    Dale remained unbroken, he would persevere. He could weather the abuse.

    Dale was not the sole cause of his teacher’s frustration. Miss Z.’s real life had ended in 1940, with the death of her father, Juhan. The rapturous success of Lydia’s concert-career in Tallinn owed much to Juhan’s unstinting encouragement. Then came War, Juhan’s execution, Lydia’s escape to Sweden and passage to London. In Britain concert-pianists were common-place, and arrogant, Estonian émigrees received no special favours. So it was polkas at the ballet-class and the occasional performance for a music-club.
    No-one appreciated Lydia’s fear of these recitals. No-one understood that when a musician advertises perfection then one false move, a single slip of the hand, will send him hurtling towards professional death. Miss Z. could have played it safe, teaching at a music college, had not her aristocratic artistry abhorred the Merrie English Sight-Reading School. As for the British prizewinners at Moscow, these were dismissed as percussive, lumpen vulgarians. Lydia should have pursued her public career. But without Juhan she could only teach and study, teach and study.

    So Miss Z left London for Bath, where she rented two vast, acoustically immaculate rooms. With the utmost integrity she taught a succession of prissy schoolgirls, and hoped one day to acquire a gifted pupil who would continue her mission. Unbeknown to Dale, none of the handful of accomplished pianists who consulted Miss Z ever re-entered the world of shared music.

    Dale’s exercises continued and his playing deteriorated. He was forbidden to perform in public. Marcie could no longer contain her scorn,

    “Ten fuckless months, Christ you’re nearly 23! How much longer do you plan to wear holes in your toy-piano? I guess you can forget about The Tschaikovsky but it sure is time to get up off your ass. Go screw Grandma!”
    Dale explained that his deliverance from mediocrity could well be a slow process. Meanwhile, not only his fingers, but his mind ceased to admit sensation. Dale was a robot. Being de-programmed. Without questioning the efficacy of his actions, he would travel to Bath for his weekly abuse. As the train slid into the station, the SINS and BLOOD besmirched atop Widcombe Baptist Church affirmed that Dale’s lesson was doomed. No matter how hard he concentrated, no matter which way his fingers moved, she would deride his efforts.

    “You’re a sadist and a failure,” he should have yelled. But it never occurred to him.

    Then Miss Z initiated Dale’s total disintegration, and he decided that she must die.

    The day after .Lydia’s funeral, Dale abandonned both pianistic career and bogus thesis, and returned to Minnesota. Dale Petersson was no longer the dynamic, inspired (but still cheap) Rakhmaninov pianist, but just another under-committed Liberal Arts Major.

    A year later he went to pieces. One afternoon he awoke with Rakhmaninov’s thoughts, Rakhmaninov’s sensations and Rakhmaninov’s problems. He re-wrote the Preludes. Everyone was too mediocre to understand. He didn’t mind, he preferred it that way.

    ‘You talk like you murdered that old teacher,’ they told him. Dale grew tired of explaining that the concept is of greater import than the concrete. It is the THOUGHT that counts. Of course he had murdered her. Still no-one understood. Then Miss Z. rose from the dead to wreak vengeance. The cacophony was unbearable. Someone in authority had to help. But who? There was no deity to consult. Lydia had been his God.
    In desperation Rakhmaninov flew to London Gatwick, and journeyed to Bath Spa. He staggered to the Police Station and admitted to the murder of ‘an old woman with a metronome on Widcombe Hill’. The desk-sargeant tried not to smile, “No violent deaths in Avon. I’m sorry we can’t help you, Mr Rakhmaninov. Best have a word with a doctor.”

    Back in Minneapolis the self-confessed killer re-composed the soundtrack to Brief Encounters.

    Five years passed. Dale Petersson, MD of ‘East-West Concert Agency Inc’, wields power over the celebrated pianists whose ranks he failed to join. No. Dale Petersson, shacked up with a psychotherapist, teaches piano and copulates like a farmyard. No.

    Most days he is Rakhmaninov’s 1990’s scion. His slick and sickly systems blues accompany many a back-room video. The ‘music’ extrudes from an opulent studio in Dinkytown. It’s a deal. The composer savours his dead teacher’s apoplexy (“Failure, traitor, adulterer!”) and screams back with arrogant impunity, “Okay, so it’s porno cow-crap – shit but exquisitely served – and oh boy can I create! You, my dear, could only RE-create.”

    Other days, he denies all knowledge of music and embarks on the long haul to Bath, U.K.
    A tall, youngish American tourist in tight jeans and T-shirt is observed loitering at the No.2 bus-stop behind the Abbey. He approaches an old woman and begs her forgiveness.

    END
    26.7.88 © K.TyIko

  27. I sense that certain people writing here are unable to comprehend that such terrible things went on. I think these people need to remember that abuse by sex offenders tends to be against vunerable individuals who have been
    identified as such by their abusers. If you were at a music school, but came from a solid background, then it is unsurprising you saw nothing. I had such a friend at Chets who had no idea this was happening. There would have been two cultures going in in the same environment.

    That quiet, withdrawn kid you thought was just shy, or the kid who had tantrums for no apparent reason (you thought they were just spoilt, they were probably the ones being abused. Savile controlled his environment by the “good works” he did, whilst at the same time honing in on vunerable kids. Music teachers hid behind their “charisma” that their talent bestowed upon them, as they too preyed on disfunctional pupils

    I think the agressive and undermining behaviour of some teachers is a red herring in this discussion. To become musically great at an instrument requires immense hard work, diligence and single mindedness. To become STUNNING and BRILLIANT…… well, multiply the effort by 10!!! Someone has to drive the students to greater heights. Odd behaviour is bound to be a by product of the practice and application needed if a person sets out on this kind of journey.

    Harry James the virtuoso trumpet player springs to mind. He was beaten by his father on a regular basis because he wasn’t practicing long enough, hard enough and effectively enough. It is unnatural to make a child to do the kind of work involved in achieving this kind of excellence. I’m happy being a reasonably decent musician who earns a reasonable living and enjoys a stable relationship with my wife and kids. I think the price a lot of excellent musicians paid is far too high for the rewards and plaudits.

    One final thought……to become REALLY good musical stuff you practice fundamentals for hours on end, days on end, months on end till they become part of you. Surely this is a form of obsessive compulsive behaviour???

    • Very important stuff here, Jeff. Some people simply do not want to recognize sexual abuse as a crime either because they relate to it within themselves or are within a point of view that this is not a crime if committed by some great artist, someone who is above the law. The people that who don’t lament over this kind of thing are perhaps trying hard to be great as well……..finding things that they can latch on to including how these great people abuse others. Boards of Directors at times, in my opinion, do not always hold abusers accountable when booking them. if they sell out the house you’ll often find them hired. Yes “you have to practice fundamentals for hours on end, days on end, months on end” but that is no reason for those who oversee those high standards to break the law and ruin others lives.

  28. Sorry, didn’t read my last paragraph properly before posting! It should have read:

    One final thought……to become REALLY good at musical stuff, you have to practice fundamentals for hours on end, days on end, months on end till they become part of you. Surely this is a form of obsessive compulsive behaviour???

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