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Tomorrow on Slipped Disc: A history of sex abuse at music schools… by a former dean of Curtis

Like many who have observed with horror the revelations and allegations that arose from the conviction of one eminent music teacher in Manchester, we have been casting around for context and perspective on whether the teaching of music is exceptionally at risk of sexual abuse and allegation.

Tomorrow, we will post a thoughtful essay on the subject by Robert Fitzpatrick, dean, the Curtis Institute of Music (1986-2009), a man of exceptional experience of the history and practice of music education. UPDATE: Read the essay here.


Today, the British press laid off the subject for the first time all week, with the exception of a sober report in the Daily Telegraph, which quoted our view of the situation:

“There is a culture of cover-up and denial at the English music schools, which are often concerned more for their reputation than for the children in their care,” says the author and critic Norman Lebrecht. “Ten years ago, when Nigel Kennedy spoke of abuse of girls in his class at the Yehudi Menuhin School, no investigation followed. More recently, when the headmaster of the Purcell School left under cover of darkness, the school said nothing. The schools, when challenged, close ranks, shut their eyes and hide behind lawyers. Until they change their culture, there will always be a risk of abuse.”



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  1. in a much older thread, a warm welcome was extended to you, to visit the Purcell School.
    I guess the argument againt accepting this would be that outwardly (there’s only so much that can be absorbed, on a vist, or even a part-time teaching basis)many instutions seem entirely blameless.

    Vaguely interesting to note that as yet, Wells Cathedral School seems exempt from scandal.
    It’s not 100% geared up for talented musicians so the hot-house element is perhaps diminished.

    • Wells Survivor says:

      I didn’t personally encounter any sexual abuse at Wells Cathedral School. But that doesn’t make it immune, any more than Chets was immune before Frances Andrade took the immensely courageous step of standing up (and nobody could have blamed her if she hadn’t), or the RNCM was immune before people took the immensely brave step of questioning the appointment of Malcolm Layfield (and risking their careers).

      Besides which, Wells wasn’t immune from the hothouse element. Although many music specialists took an active part in wider school life, I studied nothing but music and had little contact with the rest of the school. I’d heard that sports were compulsory, but in two years there I never found out where the playing fields were – exceptions to many rules were made for the musicians.

      • As the parent of a Wells pupil, I certainly feel that, of it’s type, it is the least hot house due to the fact that it is also a main stream school with non-musical pupils. All that you would expect in a high quality public school is there to be taken advantage of should you so wish. Depending on which instrument you play, hours and hours of practise are not always physically possible. As my child plays a brass instrument, there is a limit to how long they can play before the lip goes, unlike string players and pianists who can practise for hours. She has joined many societies and can use the gym and the swimming pool when ever she has the opportunity. We chose Wells specifically as my husband had been one of the earliest pupils at ST Mary’s Edinburgh where the entire school roll was around 50 pupils during his education there. Fortunately – and perhaps unsurprisingly – he is now a professional musician as he says his general education there did little to equip him for life as anything else. Fortunately, this is no longer the case I hasten to add and we believe it has an excellent academic record these days. I am also glad to report that our child, and her friends, have neither seen nor heard any evidence of abuse of any kind.

  2. John Parfrey says:

    Interesting to mention Curtis. Several decades before Fitzpatrick’s tenure, when Leopold Stokowski was faculty conductor of the Curtis orchestra and was reputed to be regularly bedding female students, some people began referring to it as the Coitus Institute. (Times have changed there, I’m sure.)

  3. thekingontheviolin says:

    And now for some light refreshment….

    This film is one of the all time greats. Unfortunately there are only the last three sections on youtube.

    It is an extraordinary cariacature yet compelling in its accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs.

    Is this type of “cover up corruption” universal or is it typically English?

    • Methods may have been updated…

    • As the human race extends beyond the English borders so does sexual abuse. It happened to me at the Meadowbrook School of Music outside of Detroit in the sixties where a certain uber-famous conductor abused me. I agree that ultimately trying to find some “light refreshment” on the issue is one way to vent such tragedy. I only wish that my laughter hadn’t produced so many tears.

      • thekingontheviolin says:



        The cariacature of this film captures brilliantly the panic of the guilty parties as they entrap themselves further and further with their lies and furthermore they very nearly succeed in getting away with the corruption entirely.

        My point is that we can learn something from this film. Those in institutions have an almost biological response to cover up for he sake of themselves projected into “for the sake of the institution” which is further projected into society (the institution being ok means society as a whole is ok) ….
        and in a similar manner to the mechanics of fanatical religious behaviour or fanatical political regimes the individual who is sacrificed is considered less important than the society/institution/director/teacher.

        This blog is trying to explore ways of ensuring the appropriate protection of the student.

        In a healthy regime the healthy student will reflect the good teaching of the teacher who will be happy to be employed and work under the director and they all will all be proud of their institution which will contribute with benificence to the society.

  4. Yep, it was just a matter of time before the Curtis stories came out. Been hearing about it since early 80′s.

  5. Students – or groupies? Seems there can be confusion on both sides. As human as music itself, but systematic advantage-taking is always vile & criminal.

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