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National Youth Choirs of GB on its convicted ex-director

A statement has been issued by the NYCGB on Mike Brewer, who was found guilty on Friday of sexual abuse of a pupil at Chetham’s and who later left the school after a relationship with another student.

We knew nothing, saw nothing, did nothing wrong, say NYC. Read the statement here and then ask yourselves why the hell they didn’t clarify the circumstances of Brewer’s abrupt departure from Chetham’s.

Negligent, to say the least.

chethams-school-of-music

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Comments

  1. Err, I think you will find he was the founder of the choir.

  2. They might want to update one their earlier new stories about the appointment of the current Director, who “very much looks forward to working with the current team to build on Mike Brewer’s legacy”……

  3. Not only is he the founder of the choir. He WAS the choir. Every appointment to the administration staff was, at the very least, rubber-stamped by him. Most of them are ex-NYC members. And it was and is well-known among members of the choir that Mike was up to no good. [redacted for legal reasons] This choir should be the next big story, and should be restructured from the ground up with people who have and had nothing to do with Mike. It’s a joke to call it the ‘National Youth Choir’. Even with him gone, it’s still ‘Mike Brewer’s Youth Choir’, for which he managed to achieve national acclaim. Outrageous.

    • Fred:
      “it’s still ‘Mike Brewer’s Youth Choir’, for which he managed to achieve national acclaim. Outrageous.”
      Er… so Mike Brewer, an outstanding choral trainer, reached a choir to sing exceptionally well, and they achieve national acclaim. What the heck is outrageous about that? Whatever faults the man may have had, you can’t change the fact that he was (and is) really rather good at training and directing choirs.

      Would you really destroy what has been created by starting all over again as you say? Why would you take away from the next intake of singers the singing structure (and older members) which works so well? Would you really hurt the experience of the next intake of children just in order to make some vaguely political point about the past director’s offences? Seems rather unfair.

      • You make a fair point, and I fully admit that I get a bit carried away on this issue. It is my personal belief that the structures which Mike put in place are not, taken as a whole, as beneficial to the singers as they could/should be. My own views are clearly not shared by the majority of the musical world, although I know that many choral musicians who aren’t involved in NYC would agree with me.

        However, it has become clear to everyone that Mike was extremely manipulative, and I worry that those who he chose to put in power are the ones calling the shots today. I don’t want to call everyone into question on this, but it concerns me. There’s a lot more to NYC issues than meets the eye, and Andy who posted below is in a minority amongst NYC members I’ve heard from (and that’s a lot, from many generations) in claiming not to have known about Mike’s unreliability with young people. It was common knowledge amongst both singers and staff as far as I can tell.

        I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment of disentangling the man from the music. Sometimes, as I believe was and is the case with Mike, manipulative and controlling aspects of character can inform and sometimes dictate the way their musicianship works. I’m more than aware that he has produced some fantastic musicians and he has done a lot for choral music in this country. But a choir which was founded and controlled by one man who has been shown to be, to put it mildly, morally unreliable, is dangerous to my mind. That’s why I want something to change at NYC. I have no false hopes that it will, especially as the story is now about music schools generally.

  4. OK, let’s unpick this one.

    “The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain are aware that its former Artistic Director, Mike Brewer, has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a Chetham’s School of Music student between 1978 and 1982, when he was Head of Music at the school. He has been cleared of a charge of rape against the same victim. We believe that he has been remanded in custody for sentencing at a later date”.

    So no-one ever raised with NYCGB either this instance or any similar one in the past three or more decades? If, as we’re all now increasingly becoming aware, such behaviour, if not actually endemic, is and has long been widespread, is that likely? – or might it have been raised on a number of occasions but consistently rebuffed, as is now being revealed as having been an all too commonplace response?

    “The NYCGB has, in the interests of our young members, been in close contact with the police and child protection officers since the allegations were first made. However, neither then nor during the trial have any questions been raised with the NYCGB by the police, or any other individual, which might have suggested that the issues raised at trial reflect Mike Brewer in his role as Artistic Director of NYCGB.”

    Does this mean that neither the police nor anyone else ever raised such issues with NYCGB at all at any time before the trial or that, if they did, none was ever deemed to “reflect” (upon) Mr Brewer in his rôle as Artistic Director purely on the grounds that it was not thought to affect his musicianship or his musical ability to fulfil that rôle?

    “All the events which were the subject of the trial occurred before 1994 while Mike was teaching at Chetham’s School. The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, until the trial, were not aware of the reasons behind Mike Brewer’s resignation from Chetham’s School in 1994.”

    Were they not, indeed? If not, why not? If it was because the proper checks that one might have assumed NYCGB to have made as part of its consideration of Mr Brewer’s suitability for appointment as its Artistic Director revealed nothing untoward, can NYCGB reasonably be exonerated from responsibility on the grounds that it had neither reasons to suspect nor means to discover a cover-up on the part of Chetham’s? If so, then fair enough, perhaps, but then all this does is pass the buck back to Chethams’ record-keeping.

    “Mike Brewer had been planning for retirement before his suspension following the allegations, and we confirm that Mike Brewer no longer has any involvement with NYCGB”.

    Well, obviously he doesn’t now that he’s in custody awaiting sentence, but isn’t the point at issue that he’d nevertheless had an involvement with NYCGB in a senior capacity for many years?

    “While we hope that Mike Brewer’s musical legacies for young singers – including vocal excellence, outstanding performance opportunities, and exploring a vast repertoire – will remain core to NYCGB’s work, we now move forward with our 30th anniversary year”.

    “A vast repertoire” of music only, one hopes! – but does “we now move forward” mean that NYCGB does not believe that it needs to examine the legacy of Mr Brewer as a whole in order to ensure as best it can that the organisation minimises the risk that its future beyond that “30th anniversary year” be besmirched by acts such as those of which Mr Brewer has been convicted?

    As it happens, a distinguished singer of my acquaintance who happens to know both Frances Andrade’s husband and the singer in whom she (Frances) had confided (and who evidently saw it as her moral responsibility to alert the police) has said to me “I shall never use Michael Brewer’s sight singing books again”. It will not surprise me at all if the utter disgust felt by other professional musicians cause them to react in similar ways to that part of Mr Brewer’s “legacy” for which he’s been convicted…

    • Alistair, I wonder if your distinguished singer acquaintance is “cutting their nose off to spite their face” – Brewer’s books may be good, and I see no reason not to use them if they help teach people to sing. Not performing music written by someone or linked to someone or an organisation with deviant habits you don’t much like is a hard rule to follow, and would prevent us performing a wide variety of music, admiring various works of art and literary achievements.

      • Your may indeed wonder and, accordingly, I hasten to assure you that I am seeking neither to endorse nor to decry that particular singer’s response, my reference to it being for the sole purpose of pointing out that, as I wrote, “it will not surprise me at all if the utter disgust felt by other professional musicians cause them to react in similar ways to that part of Mr Brewer’s “legacy” for which he’s been convicted”; now, for the record, for the sake of clarity and for the avoidance of doubt, I have stated that such reactions would or will not surprise me in the particular circumstances – no more, no less. My remarks are therefore not, nor are they intended to represent, any criticism of Brewer’s textbooks per se although, that said, as they are arguably not the only route to sight-singing salvation, I am less than convinced that eschewing them for whatever reason would necessarily constitute an especially detrimental effect upon one’s singing or aural training students.

  5. Malcolm James says:

    According to Wikipaedia, which I hope is accurate on basic dates and fact which are in the public domain, Mike Brewer founded the choir in 1983. Therefore when he left Chets he would simply have devoted more of his efforts to NYCGB.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Youth_Choirs_of_Great_Britain

    The incident which led him to resign was different from the incidents on which he has been tried and convicted, since, whilst it was thoroughly unprofessional and an abuse of his position, was not illegal under the law of the time.

    It was doubtless brushed off as a one-off, brought about by difficulties in his life at the time. By the standards of the time this did not debar him from worikng with young people therefter. The past is indeed a different country, which does not condone what went on, but just a recognition of the way things were.

    The past

  6. I was a member of the National Youth Choir from 1985 – 1991. It was one of the most profound experiences that shaped my musical education hugely. Mike Brewer was always an inspiration – particularly in rehearsals, where I learned an enormous amount, both about how to sing, and about how to get a choir to sound amazing. There are now hundreds of groups and thousands of people all over the country which are benefitting from this experience as I know that many of my contemporaries and successors in the choir are running music groups for children and adults.

    At no time while I was there were there any rumours or suggestions that Mike Brewer was responsible for the kind of behaviour for which he has now been convicted. If he were, I would have expected there to be some sense that something was going on, but that just never happened.

    In the press reports about this case so far, I’ve seen no suggestion that there are other victims – just one, who against her initial will, became the prosecution witness. I don’t know her, so can make no judgement as to the truth of the allegations based on my own experience. Others who knew her at the time apparently do have things to say which would have helped the defence in this case, though I’ve seen no such reports in the coverage of this case.

    Teachers – music teachers in particular – are hugely vulnerable to false allegations of this kind. It troubles me greatly that there seems to have been no real examination of whether this is what happened here. From recent reports in The Guardian, it would seem that there were teachers at Chethams who were responsible for the abuse of a number of students. If that was so, then clearly anyone else who knew what was happening also bears some responsibility. Though as Malcolm James says above, these things happened in a different time, and many other people in organisations like the BBC and the Catholic church bear similar responsibilities for turning a blind eye.

    I’m extremely concerned that what has happened here may be a miscarriage of justice.

    • It would be unreasonable to expect anyone such as you who did not personally experience or encounter or hear about such incidents and who did not know Frances Andrade to be able to pronounce on these issues as would someone who did. That said, the extent to which “these things happened at a different time” is an arguable issue and will remain such until far more cases have come to light and been investigated; you rightly mention the BBC and the Roman Catholic Church and, whilst the abnegation of responsibilities of which you accuse them is undoubtedly justified, there’s no certainty that the issues that we confront here are a purely historical phenomenon.

      What you mean by “others who knew her at the time apparently do have things to say which would have helped the defence in this case” is something that you do not make clear, but then such people, if any, could have come forward had they so wished but didn’t do so, in which case we must accept the verdict of the jury.

      Like you, “I’m extremely concerned that what has happened here may be a miscarriage of justice”; however, in my case that is because of doubts about the charges of which Mr Brewer was acquitted.

      • Malcolm James says:

        The problem here is that in cases which largely rely on one person’s word against another the standard of proof required, rightly, in a criminal court is always likely to leave at least a nagging suspicion that someone has ‘got away with it’. This is particularly true in historic cases of abuse, where the passage of time has denied the accused any defence other than to question the reliability of the accuser.

        I share the concerns of BOTH Andy and Alistair Hinton. [redacted, for legal reasons] All I do know is that if we remove too many protections to prevent the conviction of the innocent, particularly in these historic cases, we are tumbling down the slippery slope to Salem-style witch trials.

        • It is both difficult and inappropriate for me to respond to the part of your post that’s been redacted because it has been so redacted, but I would nevertheless counsel you to consider what you wrote in the redacted part of your post that makes reference to a factor that has already been widely discussed in terms of the police having allegedly ordered Mrs Andrade not to – well, I’m saying no more but you can read it elsewhere for yourself to understand what it is that I’m urging you to think about.

          I am not left with any impression that the trial of – er – now, who was it? – ah yes, NOT Mrs Andrade – was anything remotely akin to a “Salem-style witch trial” and I wish humbly to appeal to your better sensibilities to consider withdrawing such a reference in conjunction with this particular and particularly harrowing trial; whatever your views, please try not to avoid appropriately respecting Mrs Andrade’s memory. Thank you.

        • It is possible for someone to be falsely accused and it is undesireable to have a witch hunt, but as many associated charities and organisations point out, the amount of cases that involve the injustice swinging that way is absolutely minute compared to the huge amount that never come to court or that fail once there. There is very little incentive to go into that process if you don’t need to: to make up alegations, go through the whole distressing laborious process, be grilled about them, be accused of lying about them and be condemned and ridiculed for them (which as Frances said will likely feel like more abuse). We should be aware of the risk of false allegations and have safeguards in place, but some people seem unduly preoccupied with that side of things and disturbingly unconcerned about the vast majority of victims, what they go through and how to avoid or right injustices against them.

  7. Mark Powell says:

    I too was a chorister and staff member of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain from 1987 to 1991. It is not simply a personal conviction based on the character of the accused that leads me (and many of my fellow choristers – both male and female) also to believe that a miscarriage of justice as taken place. As it has been stated above, these kinds of cases rely all too heavily upon the word of one person against another, particularly when the alleged events took place decades ago. I have friends who attended the trial in person, who observed that the defence was able to substantiate materially the falseness of much of the prosecution’s case, at least through testimony on the dates of the alleged offences, the presentation of medical evidence, identification of inconsistent testimony. But because of the sense that someone ‘might get away with something’, both Michael Brewer and his ex-wife seem to have been presumed guilty unless *they* could prove each count false, rather than the prosecution prove them true. That sense that they were guilty unless proved innocent counts to me as a stark reversal of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and is reflected also in the criticism above of the NYCGB’s actual handling of the situation (assuming guilt in advance of the trial’s outcome). Moreover, it is a tragedy in every way that Mrs Andrade took her own life, but, with all respect for the dead–may God grant rest to her soul–this cannot stand as some sort of irrefutable proof that her allegations were true. As Andy states above, even in all the new allegations against other teachers at Chetham’s School/RNCM, a careful reading of the latest news stories will show that no other complainants have been reported to have come forward either against Michael Brewer or his ex-wife.

  8. Whatever the best part of Mike Brewer is, it is in his work with NYCGB that he has left it. Lots of stuff in the books he wrote about singing is now rather out of date, superceded by current voice research. What he could do with the sound of voices, however, had to be heard to be appreciated and his case is all the worse for the fact that he is not a monster but a man.

    Demonising him is unhelpful. Making monsters of these people only serves to distort the view of ourselves and make us victims, with no responsibilities for this as a society, and no scary connections to manipulative and base behaviour.

  9. “minority amongst NYC members I’ve heard from (and that’s a lot, from many generations) in claiming not to have known about Mike’s unreliability with young people. It was common knowledge amongst both singers and staff as far as I can tell.”

    Fred you seem to know a lot of rumours about what went allegedly went on on NYC courses. I never sang in NYC but attended many courses in the early 90′s in a support and pastoral role and I can categorically say that I never saw anything, had anyone say anything to me or heard any gossip that lead me to believe that Mike Brewer behaved improperly in any way.

    Jenevora Williams, is currently employed by NYC and is the person who reported what Frances Andrade told her to the police.

    She said in court that before going to the police that she discussed what had been said to her with several long standing members of NYC staff and that neither her nor any of them had ANY personal knowledge of action or rumour of any improper behaviour by Mike Brewer.

    • Whatever Ms Williams may have said that she discussed with “several long standing members of NYC staff” before referring the matter to the police, she did not discuss going to the police with Frances Andrade in advance of dong so and, if indeed neither she “nor any NYC staff member had ANY personal knowledge of action or rumour of any improper behaviour by Mike Brewer”, as you write, why do you suppose that
      (a) she still went to the police
      (b) [redacted for legal reasons]

  10. Linda Dell says:

    The Youth Choir can rise above his taint.
    His victims admired excellent music.

    Until recently, people assumed those in power could be trusted with it.
    Fear probably played a large role in this issue not being addressed in the past.
    Courage has grown and youths will be much more protected now.

    New people are building a new legacy.

  11. Michael Stimson says:

    I Have no connection with the school where it is alleged that Ms Andrade was sexually abused by Mike Brewer.However,Ifeel entitled to post a comment,merely on the strength of reading the Times report of the proceedings.

    Jenevora Williams displayed a lack of common sense and a complete misunderstanding of the core values of friendship when she reported the ‘abuse’to the police,decades after the event.How could she not know that Ms Andrade was very unwilling to go to to Court?

    And how could the Police and the Prosecuting authorities not know that that Ms Andrade was an extremely unwilling and vulnerable witness?

    Sadly the guilt of Williams and the Police is not punishable in law,although Williams may be suffering enough without all that.

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