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Sex abuse in music schools: three fingers point to London

We were approached today by several individuals who spoke of their experience of a ‘culture of abuse’ at three music institutions in London. The allegations concern professional impropriety rather than criminal activity with minors.

In one instance, a well-known teacher was said to have left the Royal College of Music apparently because she could not bear the authorities’ indifference to the sexual grooming conducted by one of her senior colleagues. In another, a self-stated victim asked why no prosecution had resulted from a Metropolitan Police investigation into a case of staff-student molestation at the Royal Academy of Music in 2002. After the incident was brought to light, the RAM gave assurances that it had introduced ‘strict new rules governing relationships between staff and students”.

royal academy of music

A third allegation at the Guildhall has been passed on to the Guardian’s northern correspondent Helen Pidd, who has led the line in exposing sexual abuse at Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM).

Where will it end? There will have to be a public inquiry.

We were also sent this link to a 2002 Telegraph article, which gives a severely-lawyered account of events at the Royal Academy. It makes honourable mention of Martin Roscoe’s courage in quitting the RNCM ten years earlier in protest at Malcolm Layfield’s admission to ‘having relationships with six pupils’ and the college doing nothing about it. Why has that admission not been taken seriously until now?

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  1. I ask again Norman whether you have tried to reach Edward Gregson or Lord Armstrong for comment? As a responsible journalist might…

  2. Norman, I think your blog must make a clear distinction between “unwanted” sexual harassment and consensual sex between staff and students at any third level college, where ALL are adults ! :)

    • Nina Hirsch says:

      Even when the 2 parties are both over the age of consent, the teacher is starting from a position of trust and authority and it is both unethical and highly inappropriate for the teacher to take advantage of that.
      If the same two people met entirely independently of a teacher/student context, it would not in itself be a problem. Teachers should not take advantage of their position of trust and authority regardless of the age of their students.

      • Malcolm James says:

        Another point is that most of the teachers are top players on their instrument and teaching is not their bread and butter. What will happen is that people will still fall in love (or engage in inappropriate sexual activity ) and, if asked to leave as a result, will do so with relative equanimity. The profession, i.e. their peers, will draw a distinction between someone who happened to fall in love, or maybe made a mistake at a difficult time in their own life, and the genuine abuser.

      • Rosalyn Davies says:

        Hi Nina, I agree!! I was a student at Chetham’s 1990-92. I had the same teacher at Chetham’s as in my first year RNCM. At the end of my first term at the RNCM my teacher asked me to spend the night with him. This preceded 3 years of sexual harassment. I reported it to senior staff at RNCM & was told that as I was attractive, and the tutor in question couldn’t help it????!!!?? I felt totally unsupported & even blamed myself for the whole thing.

  3. Telegraph link broken/wrong

  4. @Derek Gleeson: I vehemently disagree with you. There is NO situation where sexual relations between faculty and students at any level is proper. Professors control the grades and can influence colleagues as to hiring and further training and that power can be used to coerce students into relationships. It’s happened in the UK and it happens in the US, and seems to be more easily “overlooked” at music schools than at universities. This is just wrong and the administrations at conservatories need to wise up and stop sweeping reports under the rug in order to keep “name” faculty members on staff.

    • @ O.C.

      You use the term ” coerce” students into relationships in return for rewards for grades, etc. This is clearly wrong if it happens.

      However, it does not excuse a knee-jerk reaction leading to interference with the sex lives of consenting adults, who should be able to engage in their consensual activity without the threat of the “sexual behavioral police” arriving at their doorstep. By your logic, there should be no sex in the workplace either!

      Incidentally, of the very few cases I am aware of, where musicians in a position to do so, sought to promote colleagues/students (with whom they were having a relationship that was public knowledge) over other qualified persons. Those that did met with a very serious backlash from their other professional colleagues and in the end had to resign or were fired from their positions.

      In reality, it is very difficult, in the orchestral musician profession, to promote anyone to a position outside of the rather rigorous audition and other procedures that are in place.

      I have seen far more attempted “rigging” of a situation based on someone having a “dislike” for another individual as opposed to someones “like” for another individual. !! :)

      • Anonymous Thanks says:

        You’ve clearly never had professional (principal chair of renowned British orchestra) musicians as teachers advise you in ALL SERIOUSNESS that getting orchestral jobs won’t be a problem if I show cleavage/wear a short skirt.

        • You are absolutely right. My principal chair teachers of renowned orchestras never advised me to show cleavage or to wear a short skirt. Either seriously or in jest!! :)

      • Regularly we are told as young female musicians at music colleges, be it a joke or not, that “shagging” your way into the profession is OK, like Anonymous said, it’s in the same as being told to “show a bit of flesh” in auditions will help.

        Some less strong-minded, more easily-influenced young women would take this as the truth (I know some) because their desire to be a professional, successful musician is so strong. There is no underestimating how much power, be it sexual or not, a male member of staff at a music college has on their female pupils.

        I think the focus of this whole saga should be on young female music students. They seem to keep being forgotten about. They are the victims NOT the RNCM, RCM, RAM etcetcetc!!!

        • To S B: Seems to me you are addressing a wider societal issue. In my experience, while the visual display of “flesh” at an audition might bring a smile to the faces of the panel, it would NEVER influence a decision. The person displaying the flesh would be delusional to think that it would! :) :)

  5. Malcolm James says:

    I imagine that alarm bells are ringing in every music school and conservatoire in the UK, if not the world, since I’m sure it goes on in all of them in all countries. I know a number of people who are connected in various ways with the Royal Welsh College and, as a university lecturer myself, I broached the topic of how teachers might protect themselves against false allegations, to which music teachers are also uniquely vulnerable given the one-to-one nature of music lessons and which are the flip side of the unique access which instrumental teachers have to molest and abuse their pupils. The reaction seemed to be to stick their heads in the sand, because they would rather not think about the possibility of false accusations. One response was ‘It’s been the start of many happy marriages’, and indeed the shared passion for music in general and a specific instrument in particular can provide the basis for a long-term consensual relationship.

    One friend said that the problem was worse at [Cardiff] University because the doors of the rooms were solid, whereas those at the Welsh College have small windows in them. These were presumably put in so that people could check whether a practice room was empty without having to disturb any occupants, but they presumably would also make someone think twice if there was a possibility of someone catching them in a compromising position.

  6. Richard Wallace says:

    This Telegraph article from 2002 makes some excellent points, I would echo Martin Roscoe’s view that in all music colleges, regardless of whether criminal offences are alleged or not, there need to be rules forbidding sexual relationships between teaching staff and students. The 1 to 1 relationship in the teaching studio is a situation quite unlike any other higher education environment and needs to be carefully protected if the essential culture of trust is to be maintained.

    • Malcolm James says:

      A blanket ban might fall foul of the HRA which gives people the right to form relationships with whomever they like.

  7. Richard Wallace says:

    I’m not convinced that this would fall into the sphere of influence of the HRA. Such relationships are banned in school environments, even if the student is over the age of consent.
    One measure (which might strike some people as a little Orwellian) might be to install CCTV and possibly audio recording in all teaching studios. This would have the possible effect of both helping to protect students from abuse and teachers from false allegations . Any views folks?

    • Orwellian :)

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      It’s actually more simple than that: Small windows in the doors of all teaching studios AND practice rooms; regular visits, sometimes unannounced, by senior staff and peers to observe lessons, and teacher orientation during which these issues are frankly discussed. A “big brother” electronic presence or even the above suggestions would not necessarily stop the extra-curricular, off-campus efforts of a predatory faculty member.

      Every school has faced these issues but the personal, intense, contact required by arts performance education makes those institutions more susceptible to faculty/student sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. What are these schools doing today about this situation? I have a feeling that children and young adults are safer today in our schools than in the past. There is no question that many institutions world-wide have a sordid past that was usually swept under the rug.

      Cynics say that the Pope is leaving office to coach football at Penn State. Optimists say that the church and all types of schools are better and safer places for students today because of the public revelations of past transgressions. Let’s hope that leaders like Linda Merrick ar RNCM are the solution to the problem as we give them some breathing room to set their houses in order.

      • Robert:

        In response to your quote: “A “big brother” electronic presence or even the above suggestions would not necessarily stop the extra-curricular, off-campus efforts of a predatory faculty member.”

        Wow! What a presumption!! In a college populated by adults has it not occurred to you that it may be the adult pupil making initial sexual advances?

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Yes, it has occured to me; and it’s men and women on both sides of the student-faculty aisle who can be involved in making advances. But, I think we should reject the recent statement of a catholic priest who claimed that the church’s issues concerned, more often than not, the seduction of clerics by the altar boys. I believe, as others have stated here, that those with responsibilty over students of any age, in any situation, must hold themselves accountable to a higher standard of behavior.

  8. Nina Hirsch’s comment makes excellent sense.

  9. I know of one music professor who voluntarily video tapes his private lessons and leaves the door open. I presume that this is to prevent misunderstandings which could occur from either teacher or pupil.

  10. As a graduate of the London music college scene 10 years or so ago, I’d be very surprised if you could find anyone from my era that *didn’t* know of at least one student who had had an inappropriate affair with a professor.

  11. I agree with Nina. It’s an unequal status relationship.

  12. Dick Rodgers says:

    And in doing so, we should NOT lose sight of the sexual abuse of pupils at The Purcell Music School in London, and the recent history of verbal sexual abuse, which led to the eventual ‘removal’ of former Head, Peter (paedo) Crook, whose pupils phone recording of an alarming, lewd and unacceptable unscheduled ‘sex’ lesson in his house (with the wife away) to frightened teenage boys, resulted in a catalogue of bullying from school Governors in their desperate attempts to silence those who criticised this attempt of grooming by a new Headmaster, who thought it his right to speak and show graphic DVD’s to boys under his care.

    This was combined with Crook’s reputation of self gratification when taking an unhealthy interest about some of his 6th formers private sexual adventures, in a lewd and explicit manner, to the ongoing distress of a dozen or so carefully chosen favourites, who remain ‘traumatised’ at what he said to them.

    Despite two investigations, (unbeknown to parents at the time) it became depressing to learn that Crook told the authorities that the ‘verbally abused’ complainents were fantasists and liars (same words used by Mike Brewers QC to Fran Andrade in court) and their complaints of sexual verbal abuse were ignored by then Chairman Graham Smallbone, and other senior Governors, who also bullied staff into accepting that as Crook had been investigated, but not completely exonerated. he should be allowed to return to working with children at the Purcell School.

    Two years on, following the governors shameful decision, Peter Crook eventually left the school without reason in October 2011.

    Alarmingly, he is now working in Repton School, Dubai, despite the serious allegations and his unacceptable behaviour at The Purcell School.

    With so many examples of sexual abuse in all the UK Music Schools now coming to light, those former Purcellians’ who were verbally abused by Crook, owe it to brave Fran Andrade to speak up as she did, and inform the authorities of any sexual harassment or bullying by him and others (Crook covered up two other staff/underage pupil liasons in his last two years) so that once and for all, such vile predatory behaviour can be destroyed for the well being and safety of vunerable young people in all private music schools in the future.

    Serious questions however, also need to be asked, about the personnel of the people whose responsibility it is to govern these music schools, and those governors, knowing of the abuse in the schools they govern, and yet deciding to ‘cover up’ such paedophilia for the reputations of the schools, should be named and shamed for their irresponsibility and negligence as Governors.

  13. Andy is right. We all know of at least one person that this has happened to, often more, and have all kept our mouths shut on this subject for a long time. Often through fear of losing work, getting a bad grade or simply being too immature to fully understand the consequences. And to the person who suggested that the student sometimes starts it. The correct professional response in that situation is ‘No’.

    There will be much more to come on this story, from many different instruments, I hope all concerned are brave enough/will be supported to speak up.

    • Malcolm James says:

      The reason why a lot of people kept quiet was that their ‘knowledge’ might have consisted entirely of second or third-hand rumours which circulated freely within (and often outside) the college (‘everyone knew what X was up to’). However, everyone knows that if they are to make very serious accusations against someone, they need hard evidence.

    • And many will have kept their mouths shut, Helen, in the knowledge that in many cases their student friend-in-a-relationship-with-a-teacher went in to such a relationship willingly, freely, and was enjoying it. Hardly something to write home about.

          • And finally, from me anyway. To Anon, how would you feel in your final exam if your teacher that you are having a relationship with is on the panel? How would you feel as the teacher in that situation?

            And how would you feel if you were one of the other students of the same teacher having an exam on the same day? Or if you happen to be the flatmate of the student and happen to be studying with the teacher’s partner?

            I’m sure he/she may be enjoying it, real romance often blossoms in the least expected places. The age gap at conservatoire level can be very close as well. But it is the professional and moral duty of the teacher to take control and leave sex out of the relationship, so long as they are teacher and student.

          • Malcolm James says:

            I think that the least that can be expected of a teacher is that they declare an interest and do not put themselves or the students in that position. Beware of unintended consequences, since if you make these sorts of relationships unacceptable, when they happen, people are going to be secretive. If colleges accept that teachers and students are going to fall in love and have a procedure to deal with the inevitable potential conflicts of interest, they can be avoided.

  14. This may seem to be off-point, but I’d suggest what really needs attention is unhealthy *emotional* relationships between teacher and student. I’m not implying that inappropriate sexual relations in an educational environment aren’t damaging, but my guess is that many – if not all – of these reported cases of unwanted sexual conduct occured against a backdrop of emotional manipulation and power play. As other commentators have highlighted, students at these institutions put their careers in the hands of their professors, but in addition, they are often in a position of total emotional submission, and in my view, that’s where the working relationship has the potential to become dysfunctional. I’d be interested to know how many of the victims at these institutions cried in lessons on a regular basis, were shouted at or otherwise bullied by their professors, were probed and/or ‘counselled’ about their non-musical lives, etc. It seems to me that it’s the culture of fear and psychological dependency which facilitates these incidents, and needs addressing.

    • Rachel, I think that is so spot-on, and it’s an aspect of musical teaching which has gone unexamined for far too long, and has real potential to do serious damage.

  15. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Your point is an excellent one. I would like to hear from others concerning this emotional manipulation of students by their mentors. There are sports trainers afflicted with this same desire to create a “culture of fear and psychological dependency” to use your words. This is a much broader phenomenon than just in music conservatories.

    • I agree, and I think within these respective fields and institutions it’s a commonly accepted, excused, and often encouraged method of ‘getting the best out of a student’. Of course the line between what is and isn’t appropriate on an emotional level is far more fuzzy than in cases of physical abuse, and in my experience there can often be a Stockholm-like collusion in the relationship on the part of the student – who is at that point stripped of all defenses, and in a highly competitive environment where their professor may feel like their only ally as well as their tormentor. It’s something musicians can be (bitterly) flippant about because it’s so common it’s almost the norm… that said, I’ve been dismayed by how many will happily recommend professors they know operate in this way (including sexually); I can only assume it’s a case of ‘Well, we all went through it, dear… you want to learn to play, don’t you?’

  16. There was a class of 1st years Ling students 1989 at the RNCM.This was his first class there. I believe he wanted to make sure his Chetham kids could carry on with him at music college level. There was already a lot of gossip about Ling at the time and it is amazing that he was ever appointed there! Although I was 18 I felt very vulnerable and impressionable. I believe that music institutes need to take care of their young adult students and protect them unlike the RNCM did for me.

  17. Mark Mortimer says:

    I have little experience of the conservatoire system in this country, having read music at university.

    But I did undertake postgraduate music studies at Indiana University School of Music in the US, which is to all intents and purposes- a conservatoire. Inappropriate liasons between professors and students were two a penny and the benefits of career advancement which came with it. So lets us not think for a moment that this type of thing is exclusive to elite British music institutions.

    The casting couch syndrome is an appalling thing- but with so many talented people chasing such little work in the classical arena, it takes anything to get ahead.

  18. Teachers used to be considered ‘in loco parentis’ when dealing with pupils. I know there have been parents like that, but they end up in jail. Doctors can be struck off by the BMA for inappropriate relationships with patients. Proper schools forbid teacher / student liaisons even with post 16s. As a musician and teacher for over 45 years I have encountered several musicians and teachers, music and other subjects, who made lewd ‘private’ comments about ‘jail bait’. It is a comment on the maturity and professionalism of the adult (?) concerned. As a very perceptive non-qualified young teacher once said to me ‘ If it’s in your head it shouldn’t be’ No excuses. I have a daughter who almost went to Chethams and actually went to the RNCM to study violin while Layfield was head of strings! I echo the concerns about how young, impressionable, vulnerable young people react to the senior person who, to a large extent, controls their professional future.

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