an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

When Curtis was known as the Coitus Institute

In a thought-provoking essay for Slipped Disc, Robert Fitzpatrick, dean of the Curtis Institute of Music, 1986-2009 (seen below with Leonard Bernstein, April 1984), reflects on the origins of student abuse and how these issues should be dealt with in the present day.

L. Bernstein & R. Fitzpatrick, April 1984 Academy of Music (2)

A betrayal of trust

by Robert Fitzpatrick

It is a generally accepted fact that adults guilty of abusing those in their charge were very often the victims of such abuse from their own parents, siblings, teachers or even peers during their formative years.  Psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, all have the same goal: the control over another person unable or unwilling to resist the onslaught of the person in power. Where and when did this sinister trend begin in music conservatories?

In my opinion, this longstanding tradition of abuse of students goes back, at least in part, to the establishment of the important European conservatories, most of which were founded in the 19th century or very late 18th (Paris opened in 1796).  Possibly the most “European” of them was the St. Petersburg Conservatory, especially toward the end of the 19th century when the likes of Leopold Auer were guiding the destiny of some of the greatest violin talents that our profession has ever seen.  His list of students reads like a Who’s Who of the violin world in the 20th century with Heifetz and Elman leading the charge.   Psychological torture was often the byword there, especially during Auer’s lessons which were always public master classes performed from memory with a pianist.  Other teachers of this era in St. Petersburg included Isabelle Vengerova (aka “Madame”) who taught Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, Samuel Barber, and scores of others after she moved to America.  Not the least among her students was Gary Graffman, who reports the following in his 1981 biography “I Really Should Be Practicing” concerning his lessons with Madame starting at age 7:

but I was never particularly bothered by the Vengerovian storms that raged during my lessons. They were just a fact of life.  After violent, dramatic scenes during which she sometimes picked up a chair and slammed it down on the floor to emphasize her displeasure, she would announce to my parents that there was no hope for me in any field of endeavor whatsoever.  I think that what bothered her most was my imperturbability.  “He does not listen, he will not listen.  Whatever I tell him, however I tell him…kak sgoosi voda! Like water off a goose’s back!”  she would scream into the phone to my mother so penetratingly that her voice was as clear as if it were originating in our own apartment.

I propose the following theory: students who were terrorized and/or abused by those in authority either imitate their abuser when they become adults and begin to teach, or, like Gary Graffman, take a totally opposite approach and become nurturing pedagogues in reaction to the horrors of their early musical experiences. It was Gary Graffman’s imperturbability and his understanding of the Russian ethic which saved him in this survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere. (NB: Graffman’s father, Vladimir, was Leopold Auer’s teaching assistant in St. Petersburg.)  Leonard Bernstein, already 21 and a Harvard grad when he arrived at Curtis, studied with Madame Vengerova and seems to have survived the ordeal. (Please read the speech to the Curtis 50th Anniversary convocation in 1975 in his book “Findings” which recounts Bernstein’s bittersweet memories of his student days at Harvard and Curtis).

Physical abuse was also an occasional fact-of-life with the St. Petersburg generation that eventually found its way to America in the 1920s.  Striking students or throwing things at them was a real, if infrequent, occurrence.  Imagine the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia when it opened in October 1924 with Leopold Auer, Isabelle Vengerova, and for added exquisite terror, Carl Flesch on the faculty.  Leopold Auer also served on the Juilliard School faculty in the late 1920s, exporting his brand of violinistic psychological warfare to New York City. 

Female conservatory students were very rare in those days and the chauvinist male teachers, almost all products of the Euro-conservatory system, sometimes carried their aggressive educational strategies further to include sexual intimidation and worse toward their female pupils.  It’s no accident that after Curtis (nicknamed “Coitus” by some in the 1930s) was open for a few years, the founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, insisted on small windows in the doors of all teaching studios, class rooms, and practice rooms. Mrs. Bok is said have dismissed one senior faculty member and administrator (a name instantly recognizable to all) in the 1930s after his 15 year old student became pregnant.  According to a subset of my proposed theory, this tradition of the major private teacher as an omnipotent, infallible force capable of abuse was imported to the USA primarily by these St. Petersburg refugees.

Like the Catholic Church, music schools tended to sweep their dirty little secrets under the rug.  Students were never willing to discuss the improper actions of their instructors because of fear of reprisal that could sink their career as a performer.  In my opinion, the atmosphere began to change in the USA during World War II when a significant number of women were admitted to American conservatories to replace the young men called to battle (or at least to play in service ensembles), and then again during the Vietnam War era when there was a certain revolutionary spirit brewing in most institutions of higher education.  But, as usual, music conservatories often lagged behind the changes in universities and colleges because of the “traditions” inherited from the “old school” with its roots in Europe, especially pre-revolutionary Russia.

Stoki in COmmon Room

Leopold Stokowski conducting in Curtis Common Room, mid-1920s

The presumption is that sexual abuse in conservatories is instigated by dirty old men who have nubile female music students as their target.  In fact, this power-play phenomenon knows no barriers of age, gender, or sexual preference.  The old stereotypes have given way to a more expanded model.  What to do in the 21st Century to be sure that students, their teachers, and their supervisors understand the basic ground rules of a healthy teacher-student, student-teacher, student-student, and even teacher-teacher relationship in today’s wide-open and rapidly changing world?  How did conservatories such as Curtis gradually deal with the societal changes that had engulfed them?  The following elements are a possible list of suggestions for successfully avoiding and, when necessary, dealing with cases of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse based on common sense and personal experience after almost 30 years at a small conservatory of music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA).

A Board of Trustees (Governors) that is paying attention to the actual educational, cultural, and social life of the institution is an obvious requirement.  This group of men and women exist primarily to support the mission of the conservatory by appointing a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who should be a musician or at least have a musical background, and who is charged with carrying out this mission. The Board also assumes total fiduciary responsibility for the school.  From a U.S. Business Law and Taxes webpage: The term fiduciary refers to a relationship in which one person/group has a responsibility of care for the assets or rights of another person/group. (The term “fiduciary” is derived from the Latin term for “faith” or “trust”). This charge of faith and trust goes much further than simple financial matters.  Trustees or Governors have the ultimate legal and moral responsibility for the school and can be held personally liable for transgressions.  In the USA, all post-secondary institutions carry personal liability insurance for their Boards.  In the case of large financial settlements resulting from lawsuits, the endowment and/or government support of the school could also be at risk.  A Board of the highest ethical and moral standards is the sine qua non of educational institutions.  The best music conservatories are those that have this solid and irreproachable foundation.

The Administration of a conservatory is hired by the CEO to carry out the mission and his or her personal vision for the institution in relation to the mission.  There is usually a chief academic officer or dean to whom the entire educational apparatus reports.  Conservatories vary in their actual administrative structure, but every leading school has a staff of professionals in the area of student services.  In a conservatory, the emotional, psychological, and physical health of the students is of paramount concern.  A resident or readily available psychologist, with access to psychiatric services with appropriate medical support, is absolutely required in today’s society.  Musicians also need access to physical therapists and physicians who understand how to treat the injuries that often occur because of over-use and stress to the body by eager, aspiring professional musicians.   Because prevention is worth a pound of cure, conservatories have the responsibility to inform students about proper practice procedures and audition preparation.  Open discussions with counselors and visiting professionals regarding student health concerns including, but not limited to, drug use and abuse, sexual issues including harassment by adults and peers, and bullying with an accompanying discussion of suicide prevention.  

The real lynchpin in any school is the Faculty; therefore the methodology of their selection must include complete research of the musical, educational, and legal history of each teacher. This is the responsibility of every search committee, the CEO, and ultimately the Board.  The CEO and the chief academic administrator have the responsibility to monitor the progress of each new hire by working closely with department heads who should be visiting lessons, classes, and ensembles on a regular and sometimes unannounced basis.  Faculty orientation and ongoing seminars for teachers should include the topics mentioned in the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Parents of conservatory students are a topic worthy of a separate discussion but their role in support of their child or children in the school is critical.  The conservatory must clearly define that role and set limits in order to allow a parent to become a partner in the musical education of their child and not and impediment to it.

Talented music students form a group at each school which is the ultimate raison d’être.  The teachers have the obligation to identify the candidates with the greatest chance of success as a result of musical talent and personality suited to the difficult life of a professional performing musician.  The administrators have the obligation to ensure the health and safety of the students as they pursue success in their field.  The Board must be constantly vigilant for negligence or abuse on the part of the personnel from the CEO, the administration, the faculty, down to every employee who deals in any way with the young musician.  I know of an example concerning a 17 year old female string player at a conservatory who complained to an administrator about the overly aggressive kisses and hugs of an elderly teacher at the end of each session, often in front of the student waiting for the next lesson.  The result was that two senior administrators spoke to the teacher (one speaking, the other as a witness) and requested that the behavior cease because of possible misunderstanding by the student(s) and the danger of legal action if the parents of the student(s) took that approach to protect their child.  I was told that the actions stopped from that time forward.  The teacher was someone who was educated abroad in the great “Euro-Russian” tradition mentioned earlier.

A vital and active Alumni group is essential for providing professional, moral, and financial support to the conservatory.  Students should have the opportunity to meet with graduates especially in their chosen field.  The methods vary greatly from one school to another, but the goal is always to create a helpful, interested group of alums who are a vital resource to the future of the institution.

I write this paper to offer a checklist for others especially those who are administrators and teachers at troubled schools around the world.  The school where I worked has made a lot of progress since the “coitus” (aka Curtis) days, and today has all of the above elements in place.  There have been many success stories and, unfortunately, a few failures along the way.  A great school learns to deal with both.  Our reward is always to see and hear our former students leading happy and productive lives on the world’s stages and eventually in studios at conservatories teaching their successors.  As I type these final words, a well-known tenor from Peru in his early 40s is singing a bit of Rossini on the radio.  Knowing that I helped to provide a safe environment where his international career could blossom is the best reward.

[Caveat lector: every situation involving abuse is different depending on the individuals involved, the culture of the school, the laws of the city, state, or country, and the general moral climate of the moment.  The basis of comparison here is a private music conservatory in the USA which functions primarily at the tertiary level but with a handful of younger students between 12 and 16 years of age.  The greatest difficulties, in my opinion, occur in the secondary, residential performing arts specialist schools of which I know two in the USA: Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and Idyllwild Arts Academy in California and I do not personally know of unresolved issues involving abuse at either institution.  The current cases in the UK at music specialist residential schools and at tertiary level colleges involve incidents that occurred mainly in the later part of the 20th century which are just now becoming public knowledge.  I assume (and hope) that the current climate at these music schools has evolved according to the issues discussed above.]

(c) Robert Fitzpatrick/Slipped Disc, all rights reserved

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, Norman, for asking me to write these thoughts, and for printing them. This essay is meant to provide a bit of transparency to a topic which is often subject to cover-up, especially concerning the events reported in “Slipped Disc” over the past few weeks. This is not meant to be an exposé of Curtis, but an honest appraisal from my point of view of the progress made since 1924 at that very special institution. Hopefully, the Boards of the UK schools under discussion will find this analysis helpful.
    1. The topic is abuse: psychological, physical, and sexual (of which pedophilia is certainly a subset). I caution the readers, especially those in the UK in the middle of the current firestorm, to remember that the distance between omerta* and a chasse-aux-sorcières** can be dangerously short.
    2. I purposely did not include Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) and the surrounding legends in this article. Stokie, as everyone called him behind his back, was a co-founder of Curtis and was the principal musical advisor to Mary Louise Curtis Bok (1876-1970) who called him “Prince.” The front door of his home was about 50 meters from the back door of the school and there is little doubt that more than one young woman tried this route to fame and glory. To my knowledge, these were consenting adults with a certain agenda (possibly different from that of the Maestro). Legend also indicates that Stokie was more skilled on the podium than on other platforms which require a certain horizontal approach. The topic of “casting coach” abuses in our profession is worthy of further discussion but, from my point of view, it will have to wait.
    *omerta – the Sicilian law of silence. **chasse-aux-sorcières – commonly known as a “witch hunt”

    • Alex Klein says:

      Excellent article, open and transparent, Robert, who for me will always be “Dean Fitzpatrick” since my passage through Curtis in the 1980s. Flying chairs have a way of enforcing discipline and productivity at some level, but what they deliver in these aspects comes at a price, in the dominating power of the opressor limiting the individuality and creativity of the oppressed. Many times what is achieved – even if it is of a commendable level – is the fruit of a higher demand, rather than an inner fire. Thankfully, we today have proof that there are better methods to multiply the inner energy of a student so they will reach higher with independence, pride, and high self-esteem. The flying chair is simply not worth it.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Thanks, Alex. I agree with your analysis and completely understand your comments especially in light of a few chats we had over 25 years ago.

    • Thank you for writing this essay, Mr. Fitzpatrick. It amazes me that this nonsense has gone on as long as it has without perpetrators getting a nice, stiff jail sentence for such behavior. To paraphrase a writer on Watergate: “The criminality displayed here at music conservatory is positively staggering.”

    • One quick addition to what I wrote: When I worked at Curtis (where I never heard about any issues of sexual abuse), many students of John de Lancie’s came to my office physically ill and emotionally upset from his harsh treatment. He did produce some wonderful students, so I have no idea if this was in spite of such treatment or if some students were treated differently.

  2. Steven Honigberg says:

    Felix Salmond, who taught at Curtis and at Juilliard, was a giant in the cello teaching world in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

    The following is an excerpt from my book: Leonard Rose America’s Golden Age and Its First Cellist

    For his first lesson (at Curtis), Rose brought in Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2. He had never played the work before and only a few bars into the opening, Salmond lifted his tall body out of his comfortable chair, approached the student, grabbed him by the arm and started shaking him, shouting in a tenor-pitched foreign accent, “You silly little boy. What do you know about playing Beethoven?” Lesson over, outside the studio door, Rose burst into tears. The experience had such a profound effect Rose vowed then and there he would never disparage a student in this manner, and he never did.

  3. Daniel Farber says:

    Dean Fitzpatrick’s essay and follow-up comment are wonderfully level-headed, fair-minded, and analytical (as distinct from emotional & self-involved). Above all, he uses history not to incriminate but to create an intelligent and humane path going forward. For example what possible good can it do at this stage to call Menuhin the Joe Paterno of music education (as I heard someone way recently)? Although we must take note of the past, the only thing to take care of at this point is the future.

  4. It is always necessary to find a scapegoat for all the evils of this world but asserting that Russia is the reason for all this is a slight exaggeration. Child molestation has never been an issue in post-revolutionary Russia and in pre-revolutionary Russia there were hardly any opportunities for this. Some of the great Russian music teachers indeed had ferocious natures but sexual molestation in music schools is an invention of the West.

    • @Myrrha: ‘Child molestation has never been an issue in post-revolutionary Russia and in pre-revolutionary Russia there were hardly any opportunities for this.’

      On what grounds can you assert this so dogmatically?

    • What an absurd suggestion. To say that such abuse categorically did not exist sounds like the president of Iran saying that nobody in his country is homosexual. And it makes your claim sound all the more absurd and even desperate.

      And anyway, nobody said that child abuse was a Russian invention.

    • And there are no homosexuals in Iran.

  5. Extremely thoughtful article, and doubly valuable, since it is by one who was directly involved with administering a great institution and the procedures and mechanisms for handling the issues cited and so many others. Mr. Fitzpatrick also makes an excellent point that one must strike a balance between “omerta” and “chasse-aux-sorcières”. Yet, sometimes merely taking note of the past, as one of the commentators has suggested, instead of examining it honestly and in depth (though without the witch hunt), risks perpetuating improper behavior and false myths or a false reality. By analogy, we have been through this with our nation, and are still bearing the scars and consequences of great malfeasance without the corrective remedies that the country needs, and this is due in part because our leaders have skirted the past. Also, while I don’t know about Curtis and its Russian teachers, the problems of abuse of power and pedophilia really know no borders, whether in the arts, or other fields of endeavor.

  6. A truly excellent article providing some historical and cultural context for the phenomenon being uncovered today. I have noted how little comprehensive comparative study there is of historical musical pedagogy – I wonder if a reason for this neglect is the fact that scholars would have to engage with some very difficult historical truths, which continue to inform a fair amount of pedagogy today? Too many histories of institutions are written by those who are still running them, and tend to be whitewashes – this article above is a refreshing change in this respect.

    Over and above Russia, there is reason to believe that this model applied elsewhere in the 19th century, not least in the ferocious Stuttgart Conservatory.

  7. Excellent. The most useful article I have read concerning our present scandal. Thank you.

  8. Miles Golding says:

    I was fortunate to study violin with Sascha Lasserson in the early 70s at his little studio off Shepherd’s Bush. He had been a pupil of Leopold Auer, rubbing shoulders with Milstein, Prokovieff (“he hed zese big ears”)….. A sweeter, more gentle, more inspiring teacher one could not wish for.
    He never spoke to me of the nature of lessons with Auer, but, if they were as bad as that, he didn’t absorb any of the aggression and anger, and was never other than gently encouraging and supportive.

  9. I am a big fan of Dean Fitzpatrick’s ,and I enjoyed this article. However, while speaking in broad terms, the author fails to provide the promised “checklist” of specific steps that educational institutions should take to create safe places for their young charges. These steps consist of numerous discrete actions and policies (such as having written anti-abuse policies to which faculty must subscribe in writing, having a zero-tolerance policy, mandated reporting, no-retaliation policies, etc.). It is not my purpose to enumerate these steps here. Unfortunately, the one example that is given of corrective action — the overly emotive instructor who was given a stern talking-to with a witness present — shows, to me, an appalling degree of political correctness that can only assure that all imported emotions and their demonstration will ultimately be reduced to Wonder Bread. Suffice it to say that there now exist a wide range of “best practices” that schools can acquire from the literature and from experts. Dean Fitzpatrick’s well-intentioned article serves primarily to ask the right questions rather than to provide specific answers.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      The checklist was the elements needed in place (a good Board, etc). If the right questions are on the table, each school needs to answer them honestly but in its own way. Thanks for your comments.

  10. I appreciate Mr. Fitzpatrick’s admirable attempt to address sexual abuse in secondary and tertiary level education, but I feel some additional commentary is necessary. (I wanted to participate much earlier in this discussion but I have pneumonia and can’t do much these days. I hope what I write here will be adequately readable.)

    The first problem is that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s remedies do not refer to the many practices that have long been established by many American institutions to solve these problems. The actual practices in place in many universities today, and the detailed way in which they are implemented, are far in advance of what Mr. Fitzpatrick describes. An adequate discussion of the topic would need to include descriptions of these programs. This could be an important resource for conservatories, which are often quite behind universities in developing programs to deal with sexual abuse and exploitation.
    For another example, here in Europe, the FrauenMusikForum in Switzerland has designed and instituted a pilot program in one conservatory and six music schools for school-age children which trains students, teachers and staff to deal with the problems of sexual abuse and exploitation, and even more importantly, how to avoid them. (I hope to write more about this pilot program soon if the occasion arises, and if my health permits.)
    The FMF’s pilot program was initiated after they completed an astounding study about the sexual exploitation of school age children studying music. (The title is “Sexuelle Belästigung im Musikunterricht” and can be ordered directly from them.) The percentage of young students they found abused was mind-boggling. The FMF’s pilot program for solving the problems of sexual abuse would make an excellent model for study by other European institutions that are searching for ways to end these problems.
    The second problem is that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s article might give uniformed readers the vague sense that this is mostly a historical problem that has been mostly alleviated. Many have this impression, but it is not based on evidence. Even if there has been some improvement, there are strong indications the problem continues at serious levels. The cases that have recently been exposed in the UK are historic because the victims often do not find the understanding, confidence, and support to speak out until they are adults. It is likely that there are far more recent cases that remain unknown because the victims are still too young to understand what has happened to them – and because they do not have sufficient support structures.

    I will provide a few illustrations to show that the problems are not merely historic. Just last year, the first trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Massimo la Rossa, was banned for life from the University of Iowa when the university –after a thorough investigation– found that he had sexually assaulted a student. He was a guest artist at the school and offered a special private lesson to one of the women students with the explanation that he wanted to give her further help her with some problems. At the lesson he began fondling her and even tried to reach up her dress. She repeatedly told him to stop but he continued. He told her to close her eyes to imagine some sort of mental exercise and then kissed her. At that point she fully realized he had no intention of stopping the harassment and she walked out of the lesson in a state of shock. She went to the campus police who referred her to the investigative unit of the university’s equal rights office. In addition to university’s ban, la Rossa was also removed from the Board of the International Trombone Association. (The extreme professionalism with which the University of Iowa addressed and dealt with this problem would be an excellent case study for conservatories looking to develop adequate programs for protecting students.)

    The University of Iowa also contacted the Cleveland Institute of Music where la Rossa teaches [redacted]. La Rossa is still listed on their website as the head of the trombone faculty.

    This was not the first time the Cleveland Institute faced these problems. In 2007, the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, William Preucil, repeatedly made unwanted advances toward one of his students. [redacted] CIM paid for the student to transfer schools and continue her musical education elsewhere. [redacted] You can read more about the Preucil incident here:

    In 2002, at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a former oboe student, Maureen Johnson, won $250,000 in damages as a result of her lawsuit claiming that she was
    repeatedly sexually harassed by a visiting professor.

    In 2002, at the University of Texas, Monica Lynn, 37, filed a
    complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for
    Civil Rights, charging that the music school’s most prominent
    composition professor repeatedly made off-color jokes and
    remarks that made her uncomfortable. Other students, both current and former, both male and female, joined Ms. Lynn in protesting the atmosphere
    in the department. Their complaints, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, painted a picture of a “boys’
    club in which some music professors joke about strip clubs,
    sing songs about the male anatomy, comment on the physical
    appearance of female performers, and carry on sexual
    relationships with students.”

    Later in the year, at a holiday party, Mr. Welcher
    asked Ms. Lynn to go to the Yellow Rose, a local
    strip joint, an invitation she refused. She remembers him
    announcing in a loud voice, “Hey, Monica will be dancing tonight.
    She’ll be wearing her dog collar and chain.” He also told her she had no future as a composer. She left UT and continued her studies elsewhere. About three years ago she received a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California in Santa Cruz.
    You can read about these events at the University of Texas here:
    In mid December, here on Slipped Disc, I discussed other examples of the sexual exploitation of students by two members of the Chicago Symphony – one so chronic that it could be described as predatory. I also mentioned a case involving the Curtis Institute. You can read Norman’s blog and the heated comments here:
    In the German-speaking world, it is an almost openly accepted practice for male music professors to have sexual relationships with their women students. Most are decent enough not to get involved in that sort of thing, but those who do face few repercussions. Prof. Dr. Freia Hoffmann recently published a book about this problem entitled “Panische Gefühle: Sexuelle Übergriffe im Instrumentalunterricht.” See:
    The Neuen Musikzeitung hosted a panel discussion about the problems, which can be listened to here:
    When my wife addressed this problem with the Rektor of the Musikhochschule
    Trossingen, he brushed it aside, and said there was nothing he could do
    because it would require firing a third of the professors. At another
    meeting a little later, he made crude jokes about the problem. It is often
    not taken seriously.
    It is little wonder that these problems are still frequent, because they are rooted, in part, in the masculinist nature of our orchestral culture. I’ll mention three examples.
    In February, 1995, Kathleen A. Vigilante, a second bassoonist who had performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1988, filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit. The legal documents state that Mark Gigliotti, the orchestra’s associate principal bassoonist (and a professor at Curtis,) displayed “bizarre and unnerving conduct” that “took on menacing and sexual overtones”, and that the orchestra knew of the situation but did nothing to stop it. The suit claimed that Gigliotti’s conduct included touching her after she specifically requested that he stop this activity, verbal abuse, and harassment. The lawsuit alleged that Gigliotti physically restrained Dr. Vigilante in a parking lot, and that he mentioned keeping a gun in his car. It also asserted that he tried to undercut her professional standing when angry with her rebuffs.
    A second suit was filed by Vigilante’s lawyer in May 1995, alleging that orchestra management had retaliated against her for filing the first lawsuit. The two lawsuits were subsequently consolidated, and were settled out of court in 1996. Under the terms of the settlement, she resigned from the orchestra and received an undisclosed cash sum. [redacted] Later, to its benefit, the Philadelphia Orchestra did hire a consultant to hold seminars for the members about sexual harassment.

    The St. Louis Symphony faced a similar problem in the 90s when its first trombonist, Roger Oyster, sexually assaulted a staff member. The case was so extreme he was fired on the spot.

    Just last year, both women members of the New York Philharmonic’s brass section were fired during their trial periods. One of the women, [named removed by request] felt so sexually threatened by one of the trumpet players, Matthew Muckie, that she obtained a restraining order against him. (The alleged details of what happened are horrific, but I am not in a position to report them at this time.) The other woman brass player [name removed] stood in solidarity with her colleague. Both were fired. The NY Phil once again has an all male brass section.

    I think these examples illustrate that we are dealing with much more than a mere “historical” problem. In fact, the work of dealing with the problems of sexual abuse and exploitation in music education has hardly even begun.

    Again, my thanks to Mr. Fitzpatrick for his noble efforts in addressing these problems.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I will only respond by correcting a factual error: Mark Gigliotti is not now, nor has he ever been, to my knowledge, a professor at Curtis. He is a graduate.

    • James Creitz says:

      Wow, thanks Bill, for braving your pneumonia and sharing your encyclopedic knowledge of discrimination and abuse. It is high time for all organizations to examine previous approaches and to incorporate the most progressive into their structures. The tales you relate are a terrible indictment of the music world.

    • William, do you have any direct evidence of any of these claims? I’m not doubting you, but these are strong allegations, and I want to make sure no one is unfairly accused.

    • William, thank you for these detailed cases. I have redacted them lightly in order to remove supposition and unresolved cases.

      The difference between these instances and those that have come to light and are alleged in the UK is that they involve adults above the age of consent. Reprehensible and odious as is much of the conduct described, it does not consist of grooming child or adolescent pupils for adult sexual gratification. That is where the rot has to be rooted out first.

      • Thank you, Norman. The edits you made are very good. It’s true that there are significant differences between abuse and exploitation at the secondary and tertiary levels of education. The problem is clearly more urgent at the secondary level because it involves minors, but I think only a comprehensive approach at all levels will ultimately solve the problem. If there is moral and ethical confusion in the universities and orchestras that train school teachers, the problems will be passed on to the school teachers.

    • harold braun says:

      Dear Mr.Osborne,
      I also can´go along with Mr.Fitzpatricks sweeping remarks concerning the so called Russian School.It brought
      forth countless great and often iconic performers,so it can`t have been so bad at all! And ,mind you:Being a
      serious musician,be it a soloist or a member of a top organization,always has some aspects of”survival of the

    • william osborne says:
      February 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      “In the German-speaking world, it is an almost openly accepted practice for male music professors to have sexual relationships with their women students. Most are decent enough not to get involved in that sort of thing, but those who do face few repercussions.”

      Oh good – that means it happens rarely, and if it happens, it happens between consenting adults. So no reason for you to stick your nose in there.

      What I would like to know though is how can there be a “thorough investigation” in a case like la Rosa – isn’t it strictly her word against his? Or did he admit to harassing the student? Or does an US university simply have to assume someone guilty in that kind of situation to protect itself from the possible legal implications in a sue-happy, sexually repressed, morally hypocritical society?

      • Why do some people who post here think it’s ok for a professor to bone their students ‘if they are consenting adults’. It violates the student/teacher relationship, is an abuse of power and is rightly a sackable offence in most educational institutions.

        • I don’t believe such a crude statement was necessary.

          I do believe any sexual relationship between teacher and student is highly inappropriate, however.

        • I personally don’t think it’s OK either, but more important than that, I believe in the concept of being an “adult”. At some point in a person’s life, depending on where the person lives, that person is considered an “adult”, meaning that the person has full rights but also full responsibilities. What that means for sexual relations is that an “adult” has any right to enter into a personal relationship with any other consenting “adult”. Relationships can be tricky, and being in a teacher-student relationship or any other form of dependence or within any kind of hierarchy makes things even trickier, and that is why I think people should stay away from that stuff, but if they decide to do it anyway, it’s up to them to figure it out – or not – and live with their decision. I don’t think adults should be told what to do as long as they don’t violate other people’s rights – period.

          An it’s not just about sex. That kind of suspended adulthood in which you are supposedly an adult but somebody still tells you what to do about intimate aspects of your own life is easily then expanded into other areas in which the adult’s freedoms are intruded upon. So, it’s a matter of principle, not of in what situations people should be allowed to fool around or not.

          And women aren’t always the “victims” in such relationships. I think it is in itself degrading to dictate to adult women who they can have a relationship and who not. An adult woman should decide for herself. She also needs to take responsibility for her actions and if the relationship causes here problems, it’s up to her as an adult to figure that out. Some women are attracted to men they perceive as figures of authority and they sometimes even compete with other women in who can “score” the perceived “alpha male”.

          Do such relationships often lead to problems? Yes. Life is hard. But it’s up to adult people to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and figure life out.

      • With regard to “thorough investigations” that some American universities employ– it is the university’s job to first protect the student. Departments of Equal Opportunity and Diversity generally handle these situations as “official complaints” within the university, and while proceedings are not classified as “legal,” they exist on behalf of the university’s laws, which forbid sexual harassment / assault and violence. The ramifications of a thorough investigation include documenting both sides of the incident, gathering any evidence such as text messages and emails, documenting the accounts from other sources, and alerting all involved the findings of the report.

        I find it offensive to classify victims of sexual assault and violence as being “sue-happy” and “sexually repressed,” for if you pay tuition to attend a university only to be molested by a manipulative creep during a music lesson, you have every right to want to take legal action against the person who attacked you. Universities recognize this by assisting the victim in filing formal complaints, taking further legal action, and even filing police reports. Not wanting to be touched in a sexual manner by a teacher during a lesson (no matter how worshipped he/she is in the music world) does not make you sexually repressed.

        I believe that teachers who make sexual advances towards their students are guilty of breaking what should be a sacred trust. Even if both individuals are considered adults, it is an abuse of power. If a teacher wields sexual power over a student, what is a student to do? Many people would suggest that the student simply walk away or push the teacher away. What most people don’t understand is how confusing and terrifying it can be for the student who is experiencing this unwanted behavior. Here is someone that you trusted, even admired, someone potentially important to your career, someone to whom you have expressed your musical soul to, and they are doing what?! It takes a lot of courage to tell someone like that, “Can you please not do that?” or “STOP!” It takes even more courage to tell someone about what happened or to take action, but it certainly is necessary because this behavior cannot be tolerated.

        It seems like most musicians guilty of this behavior only receive a slap on a wrist by the institutions that value prestige over common decency and respect. The true consequences affect the person who was the victim in the situation– to feel nervous every time you play your instrument, to be scared of seeing your assailant again, to be scared of having another music lesson, to wonder if you did something wrong or were deserving of such demeaning behavior. No one deserves to be treated that way. Some people might say that it is a compliment to the student when a teacher makes sexual advances. That could not be further from the truth. Any teacher who forces themselves on a student is simply aggressing power and making themselves feel better or more powerful by making their victim feel awful and powerless.

        I am very thankful to Robert Fitzpatrick for posting this article and to everyone who has submitted responses. This dialogue could not be more important considering the state our music world is in today.

        • Thank you, Jessica, for this remarkably clear and effective post. Your views represent a younger generation of professional musicians who are developing higher standards of professional ethics. Your insights, and the administrative practices you describe, point to a much better future for classical music. I wish you and the many other young musicians who are creating these changes in the field every success.

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:


          • Thanks, Bill– I appreciate your comment. Robert Fitzpatrick mentioned in his original article that some victims of abuse have the choice to continue the abuse to their future students or to respond in a complete opposite manner, becoming nurturing pedagogues. While this is a complex issue, I certainly hope that victims of abuse can heal in a way that allows them to let the abuse stop at them.

            It certainly is not my intent to call out a single person’s thoughts and comments, but I find it scary that even some of the good people who have contributed to this conversation seem to accept that this is just how life in the music world is.

            That said, an earlier commentator concluded with, “Life is hard. But it’s up to adult people to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and figure life out.” True, life is hard. And as an adult, I do not find it OK to accept that this is just how the music world is today. I do not accept that just because I am a young woman, I should expect and learn to deal with the unwanted behavior that might come my way. We as musicians must expect more from ourselves as human beings. Teachers must be worthy of the sacred trust that is placed in them. Students must be courageous and principled, demanding professionalism and common decency. Let’s not forget why we do this– why we are musicians. We strive to be musicians that make music. The musical product that results when teachers are abusive or sexually manipulative to their students is a lie. It is a disease that tortures the very soul that we are trying to express.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Oberlin’s “excellent policy”, especially as it regards faculty/staff relations with students when all parties are above the age of consent, is like solving a termite problem by burning down the building. Efforts to legislate real life have been tried (e.g. 1917 and 1949) without, it seems fair to say, notable long-term success.

      • Contractual agreements with employees regarding professional ethics is not legislation. Employers can, with relative confidence, regulate and enforce antifraternization policies that have some reasonably direct relationship to their business goals. These types of agreements are wide-spread in academia, business, and even the military.

        • Daniel Farber says:

          Well, yes–of course institutions have the “right” to do this contractually, and it is not “legislating” in a strictly denotative sense. You are smart enough to parse, while avoiding the broader issue that I raise: means and ends.

  11. Gregor Benko says:

    A very complex subject. [ It is a big mistake to imply that the problem was more prevalent at conservatories than at other institutions of learning.] One error in Fitzpatirck’s article was the business about Mrs. Bok having windows installed in the practice rooms. This was done at the insistence of Josef Hofmann when he became Director of the Curtis, something his mentor Anton Rubinstein had done at the St. Petersberg Conservatory. I can think of a number of perspectives that have been left unexplored in this article – for instance, the mental cruelty inflicted on her students by another “Piano Madame,” Juiliiard’s Adele Marcus, who often was far worse than Vengerova. Another is the very homophobic atmosphere at Curtis (and Juilliard and elsewhere) until just recently, which left a deep impression on William Harms, Jorge Bolet and other gay artists I interviewed. There actually were anti-gay witch hunts at the Eastman School until comparatively recently. At Curtis Menotti and Barber were Mrs. Bok’s pets, “the boys,” as she called them, she overlooked their obvious sexuality and became their “fag hag,” as the lingo has it.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Gregor, my point is not that these problems were more prevalent in conservatories, but that conservatories tended to be slower with their reaction and constantly “behind the times.” The point about the famous windows is interesting but we all agree that they were installed after Curtis opened in 1924 (Hofmann decame Director in 1927) and that they are not there simply to improve the decor. I sent Gary Graffman an advance copy of this essay and he said that during the 1940s, his classmates referred to them as the Mr. X windows (Mr. X was another notorious sexual predator on the faculty; I am not as willing as some others on this blog to name names unless the facts are public knowledge and unless the perp, even deceased, has been convicted in a court of law). Interesting that they could have been copies of A. Rubinstein’s idea fpr St. Petersburg, which certainly brings into question another correspondent’s statement that “…sexual molestation in music schools is an invention of the West.”

      The question of homophobia in our schools is more than troubling. But, I have another take on Mrs. Bok’s acceptance of “the boys” (Sam and Gian Carlo). I consider her a pioneer in many ways and would like to think that her blessing of their couple helped pave the way for the eventual acceptance of others. (I find your use of an epithet to describe Mrs. Bok misplaced, to say the least) Is it possible that the macho faculty and almost all-male (about 90%) student body exuded a homophobic sentiment at pre-war Curtis? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes.

      I knew Jorge Bolet well and we had discussions over the years when he was on the Curtis faculty (late 70s through late 80s) and he never indicated to me that the school was hostile to homosexuals during that period (70s-80s). I can tell you with certainty that this issue is no longer a serious problem at Curtis, Juilliard, Eastman or any of the other great schools of the performing arts in the USA. Individuals might still harbor that attitude, but arts institutions have made great progress in the acceptance of all students without regard to their origins, beliefs or preferences, sexual or otherwise. I was personally involved in the case of an academic (not music) faculty member who was dismissed in the early 1980s for the harassment of a gay male student (the teacher wanted to “cure” the young man). John de Lancie, Director at the time, took that action with hestitation.

      For the record: Gary Graffman told me that his father, Vladimir, was Leopold Auer’s assistant but in NYC and NOT in St. Petersburg (where Vladimir Graffman was a student of Auer is the same class with Heifetz and Prokofiev!).

    • Amelia C. Spaniel says:

      Mr. Fitzpatrick, you have made a very kind response to a very ignorant remark. Mr. Benko, Mary Louise Curtis Bok was a forward-thinking woman who gave assistance to those who she felt deserved it regardless of race, religion, or any other defining characteristic. I have read correspondence between her and Sam Barber as well as Menotti and other artists. She was a smart woman and, when facts are considered, certainly cannot be reduced to an oblivious “fag hag.” I imagine you are also the sort which likes to believe that all of her decisions came out of a deep seated need to marry a CI director. Thus, she tossed aside Grolle, Hoffman not because of their poor job performance, but because they didn’t want to marry her. Ah, were I a man in 1940, I’d probably start the same rumor too!

      Ask CI alums who had the privilege of attending the school while Barber was there and you will find that many were aware of the nature of Barber and Menotti’s personal relationship. However, this bit of gossip had little impact on their respect for the men themselves. To imply that somehow Curtis or like-minded institutions were more homophobic than the culture within they exist is groundless. Mr. Fitzpatrick is not speaking of solving the ills of society, but rather the need for a specific changes in organizational culture…and I agree, we musicians are a bit behind the times on certain matters. Let’s not stray into shows of “who knows more dirt than who.” It’s ridiculously off-putting and condescending.

      I do hope your assessments of Hoffmann, if you do ever manage to publish your biography about him, are more erudite. I am certainly not impressed with your writing thus far.

  12. This is tangential though related to the basic subject of this excellent thread, and maybe needs a separate thread of its own, but in a specifically musical context, what sorts of studies have ever been done of the effect of domineering and abusive parents? In particular, what about the perception of an abusive teacher from one used to an abusive family environment, or the role of abusive parents in instilling in a child complete acceptance of abuse from a teacher, especially in social contexts where parental authority is absolute? These would appear to me to be extremely important questions.

    And I might mention Amy Chua in this context….

    On the subject of the legendary Adele Marcus (about whom my own Juilliard teacher had strong and caustic views, to say the least), whose equally legendary direct-route-to-tendonitis exercises have been published (in a series of articles in Clavier magazine, collected in the volume Pianists at Play, edited by Dean Elder), I remember hearing (in the early 1990s, when in NYC) that several of her former students had launched lawsuits because of irreparable muscular damage brought about directly as a result of incessant practice of those very exercises. Can anyone confirm this? Were the lawsuits at all successful?

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Yes, Ian, the topic of “stage” parents is worthy of a separate discussion and before we discuss it, I recommend Lang Lang’s auto-biography (sic) which, although filled with glowing remarks about this and about that, is certainly accurate in the representation of his father. Your point of analysing a situation where an abusive parent requires a child to accept the treatment of an abusive teacher to achieve success (I call it the “golden goose” syndrome) is a troubling fact of life, especially today. I do agree that the current storm brewing in the UK is not unrealed to this issue.

      Concerning injured pianists, I will leave that to others for commentary. But, as you point out, it is a serious issue that needs to be discussed.

      • Bob, how do we move forward? Do we need a new code of conduct for music schools and colleges?

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          There is an organization called the Association of European Conservatories (AEC) now located in Brussells.
          I think that they need to help schools deal with these issues. I will check into some of their materials and let you know what I find. Many UK schools at the tertiary level are members of AEC.

          But, to answer your question directly, I think that music schools and colleges need to update their codes of conduct to reflect these issues and concerns. To me, the standard of good practice in the profession is the information on the web site of the Juilliard School ( but not all of it is available to the general public because there is also an intranet visible only to students, faculty, administrators and parents with the gory details. Juilliard has been dealing with these issues for many years with the added complexities of housing a conservatory of music, of drama, and of dance. Many Curtis grads who go to Juilliard for a Masters tell me that what they value most there, is this cross-polination of the arts and the school’s success at dealing with it artistically and culturally. Someone in the UK should invite Joseph Polisi to chair a panel that would come to grips with the issue of sexual abuse, etc and issue some guidelines.

          Unfortunately, as I recently saw in a political cartoon, the purpose of most meetings is to decide the agenda for the next meeting. Progress may be our most important product( as Ronald Reagan used to say on TV in the 1950s) but it is very difficult to achieve. Festina Lente (make haste slowly) is also not a bad motto when the stakes are so high.

        • The sexual harassment policies now implemented in many major American universities, and the methods of enforcement they use, provide very clear examples of how conservatories could move forward. The information is readily available. It’s now mostly a matter of conservatories getting policies and programs that have been proven effective in place. As just one of countless examples, detailed information about such programs is available on the University of Iowa’s website. See:

          Oberlin College also has an excellent program. See:

          Note the clear definitions, practices, and policies. Note that all this information is readily available to students and easy to access. Note the staff specifically assigned to address and enforce the issues. And note that even the forms for registering complaints are included on line. That’s how you stop these problems.

          Its also worth noting that Oberlin forbids sexual relationships between faculty and students. Here is how they spell it out:

          “Oberlin College seeks to provide and maintain the best possible learning and working
          environment. For this reason it is prohibited for faculty members to engage in any
          sexual relationships with students to whom they are not married or in formal domestic
          partnerships, even when both parties believe that the relationship is consensual. This
          prohibition applies even if the student is not enrolled in the faculty member’s class. Also
          prohibited, with the same exceptions, are sexual relationships between staff and
          students. Faculty and staff who violate this prohibition are subject to appropriate college
          adjudication processes and disciplinary action.”

          With a little intelligence and will, these problems can be, for the most part, stopped dead in their tracks. The conservatories just need to catch up.

      • Steven Honigberg says:

        “stage parents”: Jascha Heifetz, Michael Rabin, Midori, Hilary Hahn come immediately to mind.

  13. Ingrid Bock says:

    I am very glad to see this article here, and the comments. I do not, and will not, donate to my alma mater because of institutional cover-ups of incidents like these. While I was not personally victimized, and don’t feel prepared to respond to the issue in any way other than by refusing financial support, I’m thrilled to see others responding more powerfully. Awareness always helps.

  14. I never experienced sexual abuse in my many years of musical study. However, I grew up in an era where temper tantrums, what we now would call verbal/psychological abuse, was the norm. One of my greatest mentors was Professor Arthur Laabs. Perhaps people reading this >60 who knew the renown Prof. Laabs would appreciate his histrionics were the norm. NOT as a cover for lack of musicianship or insecurity. It was the SOP–how he was trained, indeed, how my dad, native of Schweigern Germany, was trained. Prof. Laabs had little patience with people who were NOT at his level. He once received an award,from National Endowment for Humanities, “Fifty Years as an Outstanding German-American Conductor/Composer. I chuckled that Prof. Laabs expected EVERYONE to be at that level. Once, when Laabs rehearsed a 4 City Concert (German Singing Socities of Albany, Schenectady, Troy & Gloversville NY), the accompanist ran off in tears when he yelled at her because she could not improvise piano accompaniment for a chorus that had 4 staves for chorus & no accompaniment. He expected her to do so intuitively–hey HE could! Also in my era, the word “Mercy” was not in the vocabulary of the Sister of.

    Was all this “abuse.” Today, unequivocally. Then–NO. Prof. Laabs, BTW, was my theory teacher for many years. I loved the man dearly, he forgot more about music than I’ll ever know. But I grew up w/this sort of Germanic tantruming etc. It’s why my organ teacher, Fred Kalohn a cantankerous German, held no terrors for me!

  15. Carole Isseks Bailis says:

    Thank you, Bob, for saying what should have been said years ago and for doing so in such a clear, dispassionate manner.

  16. Gregor Benko says:

    The biggest offender in terms of sexual harassment in the old days at Curtis was undoubtedly Carlos Salzedo. (I see no reason to protect his name so many years after his death. All we owe the dead is the truth, as Voltaire wrote.) His prurient interest in his female students was an open secret, and at the 1931 Curtis Christmas party for faculty and students there was an interesting skit. These annual parties were in a way “topsy-turvy days” at CIM, when students put faculty members through paces not permitted otherwise. Salzedo was made to dance inside a cavnvas harp case along with two or three female students. The symbolism was understood by everyone. I later spoke to several folks who had been there – Orlando Cole among them. I spent hours with Salzedo’s first wife and many who had been CIM students at the time – there is no question that Salzedo is being falsely accused here. The period when Curtis was hostile to homosexual students and faculty members was when Jorge Bolet was a student, not later when he became a faculty member. I doubt very much, given his natural reticence, that Jorge would have discussed these matters at all with a non-homosexual friend. About Adele Marcus – in the 1960s I knew a prodigy “piano valkyrie” who seemed to me to have the talent to turn into a new Teresa Carreno. Her well-meaning but misguided parents put complete trust in Juilliard and Adele Marcus – a huge mistake. The psychological abuse heaped on this girl by Marcus was more than she could bear, and she ended up in an institution. In the very hour before her graduation recital Marcus was a virago, screaming at her that she was worthless and presumptuous to suppose she was ready for the appearance, etc etc, in so vicious and intense a manner that the poor girl had a breakdown and did not play the recital – or ever again anywhere. I suppose the intent of Marcus’s tirade was to produce the opposite effect. I remember a party at Sidney Foster’s house when he, Bolet and Abbey Simon reminisced about Leopold Godowsky, who apparently used sarcasm and insults with studfents in the same way as Marcus, and it left an indelible impression on these great artists, who had all played for him and suffered abuse. Leopold Auer also insulted his students in front of other students and others present. I think this was not unusual in the 19th century. Von Buelow could wither a student, and often did, with a few words. There was a tradition for this sort of thing, an hisrorical aspect of pedagogy that has not been much discussed. There have been many studies of musical prodigies but all have been inadequate (at least the ones in English) – think of the impact on a young person’s psyche! Of course many great artists survived such cruelty, but it had to have a negative effect on their own personalities.

    • “I see no reason to protect his name so many years after his death. All we owe the dead is the truth, as Voltaire wrote” I agree with this sentiment.
      Along the same lines, we can be grateful for the disturbing stories relating to Maurice Gendron which came to light on ‘Slipped Disc’

  17. Much of what has been said here and elsewhere has been about instrumental teachers – but let’s not forget vocal pedagogy as well, in which I imagine (not least because of the acceptance of fashionable cults of divadom) the potential for abuse is just as great, if not more so.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Yes, vocal teachers should also be included but, for reasons which I can’t expalin, there seems to be less of this psychological and sexual abuse between them and their students, at least in my experience. Perhaps the fact that singers don’t begin intensive study until a later age has something to do with it. Worth pondering and discussing…

      • In an earlier stage in life I often accompanied singers with a variety of teachers. Some of these teachers were very considerate, caring, and concerned about their students’ welfare, but on the other hand sometimes I saw how the relationship could turn quite poisonous, and perhaps even more personalised than with instrumentalists. I don’t know how representative this might have been, though. The potential for dependency seems extremely great.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          But you mention an important point. The average voice lesson almost always has an intermediary present at the piano. Sexual advances are more difficult under those circumstances although psychological provocation is certainly possible. The typical instrumental lesson is 1 to 1 except when a pianist attends. I do know of a few instrumental teachers who insist on a pianist all the time at every lesson but that is usally for very advanced students at the tertiary level.

          • Sarah Dailey says:

            It would be great to say that incidents of abuse are lower among singers and teachers of voice, but Classical Singer magazine devoted an entire issue to the topic in 2002. At the time, they conducted a survey on teacher abuse and had over 400 respondents, 40% of which claimed to be victims of abuse and 5% of sexual abuse. Granted, this was all self-reported and anecdotal, but still. Unfortunately, the magazine archives are only available to subscribers; otherwise, I’d give more details.

    • Ian

      Could you expand on your phrase “the acceptance of fashionable cults of divadom”? I’m really not clear what you mean.

      • I just meant the notion that to act like a diva (temperamental, demanding, self-centered, bitchy, expecting adoration, etc.) is something which might not merely be accepted, but is sometimes admired as a sign of artistic temperament. I should add that this does not need to be gender-specific.

        • Hmmmm. In my (pretty up-to-date) experience of the vocal departments of major conservatories in Britain and the USA I’ve seen no evidence that such behaviour is admired. I’m not saying it never happens but I think it’s a bit of a caricature…

          However I do agree that dependency can be an issue. The ‘Svengali’-style teachers are out there and the reality that singing teaching depends almost totally on metaphor makes it in some respects easier for them to exert that kind of influence.

          • “Been there, but did not do THAT.”
            I could probably write a volume on the prestidigitation of voice teachers (piano are not too much better) as though transfer of knowledge depends on immersing oneself in the personality of another and receiving it by osmosis.
            TRUST is the one word that would send me flying out of a studio. I resolved never to use it, instead, tell students they can question me on anything they want. If I don’t know the answer we can investigate and perhaps find it together.
            Oh and what did I find in the end, that one doesn’t have to rely on fuzzy metaphors, that the principles of Bel Canto at least taught before the XXth century are very SPECIFIC.
            Also found that the knowledge is in inverse proportion to diva strutting around – the more ego, the fewer musical credentials of a teacher.

    • Another factor might be that vocal pedagogy is often gender specific. Women often teach women and men often teach men, which for obvious reasons reduces the potential for abuse. And on a much more abstract level, singers seem to have stronger conceptions about the sanctity of the body, because it IS their instrument. Little can be said, though, in the absense of data.

  18. Latham Cort says:

    A thoughtful piece, though its tendentiousness concerning Russia as the putative source of the abuse is ridiculous and offensive.

    Also, the term “sexual preference” is homophobic. It’s SEXUAL ORIENTATION.

  19. Good to hear from Robert Fitzpatrick! I was on staff of the Curtis Institute of Music (as orchestra librarian and manager) from 1972 to 1978, also was Leopold Stokowski’s personal librarian for many years as well as a close friend. He was a highly complex person as well as musician, and I think it important not to invest in legends or generalities. The slightly gossipy tone of some of this information reeks of Abram Chasins, a biographer who had his own agenda, whose sources were not dependable (I gave him only one statement that was misquoted in the book) and who rushed the book into print shortly after Stoki (a shortened version of his name that he liked; he signed some of his letters to me thusly) died. I hope to offer insight into the way he related to people in a memoir I am now writing.

  20. This is a great essay but I wonder – what’s the difference between the behavior you analyze at music conservatories and the behavior we see in all manner of private schools and other hothouse educational environments? The way I look at it, such behavior (from a boarding school for young people, up to and including professors and their graduate students at practically every university) is so widespread that it shouldn’t be a surprise at all to find it in music conservatories too.

  21. Robert Koenig says:

    Thank you so much for this!

  22. Is Otto-Werner Mueller synonym to “ABUSIVE” category?

  23. North Carolina School of the Arts (now UNCSA) hasn’t changed much as I had an ongoing relationship with my major teacher while I was there. When it ended (very violently) my full scholarship mysteriously vanished due to lack of funding. It didn’t bother me though as I couldn’t imagine staying in that studio.

    • If it was physical violence, did you consider filing charges?

      • I didn’t want said person to lose their job as I was not forced into the relationship, but I was young(er) and stupid(er) and should never have gotten involved with my professor. I didn’t want to be black-balled in a very small classical world, although that has happened to a certain extent as I didn’t finish my degree and I can’t get a recommendation letter from said person.

  24. Job-hunting in the late 1970s, I was interviewed at the North Carolina School of the Arts. I was floored when the man who picked me up at that airport mentioned casually that he had just come back from a week in Washington DC, where he had gone with his girlfriend — who happened to be one of his instrumental students. He explained that she was on the verge of graduating, as if that made it perfectly normal.

    I would have assumed that such relationships would be carried on under a deep veil of secrecy, so i was even more surprised the next day, when having drinks with the top administrators of the school, to hear them laughing and joking about this little trip — making cracks to the effect that the couple had probably not seen anything in DC because they must have spent their whole time in bed. Then, as if to explain to me, they said that, since the woman had finished all her course work and given her last recital, it was not as if she was still his student! No one gave any indication that the relationship had only just begun, and no one offered any inkling that they felt there could anything wrong or even unusual with it.

    In the end, though I was offered the job, I did not accept it for various reasons (mostly not relating to this incident), but I was nonetheless disturbed that a school that took students in at high school age and then often kept them through an undergraduate college degree could be so casual about explicitly sexual relationships between students and faculty.

    It was only years later, reading Blair Tindall’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” that I realized how widespread the practice apparently was. I wondered then, and wonder now, how it is possible that parents sending their talented teens off to a residential school would not hear at least SOME rumors of these activities and demand an investigation.

    As for students who have reached the age of consent, while such relationships are not perhaps illegal, they are certainly utterly unethical. A teacher has power over a student — the power to give good or bad grades, give
    a recommendation to future employers, to recommend them for a place in the orchestra, or whatever. And such power can essentially force someone to take part in a relationship that cannot in any way be described as truly consensual.

    I wasn’t going to post this comment until I read Can’t Say’s remarks. Now I wonder how long ago she had her experience there, because I had blithely assumed that things MUST have changed over the last 30-plus years. But perhaps not.

    • I can say from experience that things haven’t changed much as I left the school only a few years ago and I knew of other abuses. For example our conductor was notorious for only putting his cute gay boy pets in the principal wind positions and he was famous for showing up at student parties. He left on not so good terms but those things never surfaced. The local paper did a pathetic job trying to cover the story not mentioning anything about those issues but rather favoring him. UNCSA is a horrible place that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

  25. John Ferrillo says:

    Oboists of the Curtis tradition have two legacies. The musical legacy is a wonderful one- it is four generations long, dating back to Gillet at the Paris Conservatory. A musical language of great intellectual and artistic power has been passed down to today’s oboists (in fact, to all American wind players). John deLancie, my teacher was a giant- brilliantly talented and extremely committed to conveying the Paris Conservatory tradition to the next generation. I am who I am as a musician because of him, and the conveying of this legacy is a very important mission of mine, as well. As an adult, I was very grateful, as well, for deLancie’s support and clear-eyed view of our profession.

    In the area of pedagogy, however, we Curtis students have a very different legacy. The environment at Curtis is and was quite brutal for young musicians, who are scarcely beyond adolescence when they endure it (indeed, both my teacher and his successor were only 14 when they first attended). It is clear to me that the behavior exhibited by teachers was learned behavior. Intimidation and emotionally abusive behavior, both in private lessons and in public classes was a constant. The accounts I have from previous generations (including stories of Gillet at the turn of the previous century) are startlingly similar to my experiences in the 70′s, as well as that related by current attendees. The words themselves only have changed slightly, imbued with the idea, constantly hammered in private and in front of peers, that a student’s poor playing is intentional- designed to insult both teacher and institution. Even if a young person is very mature, and realizes that he or she is not truly to blame, the words are too disturbing, too haunting, to dismiss. The fact that the behavior is reflexive, and scarcely within the control of the teacher, doesn’t really absolve any of the parties of responsibility. The emotional impact of this bullying, with its parallels to the PTSD displayed by individuals in other high stress occupations, casts a very long shadow in the lives of its victims. I have seen it follow people to their grave.

    I say all of this not out of anger- I am beyond that, and I do owe an incalculable professional debt to my teacher and his brilliant successor, as well as the school we attended.

    We must shine the light of truth on these practices; we must disinherit them publicly and utterly expunge them. I wish the current leadership of the Curtis Institute the very best in this endeavor.

    John Ferrillo
    Principal Oboist, Boston Symphony
    Faculty, New England Conservatory, Boston University, Boston University Tanglewood Institute
    Former Faculty, the Juilliard School

    • Bravo to John Ferrillo for discussing his Curtis Institute experiences with insight and without resentment. I was orchestra librarian at Curtis from 1972 to 1978, working for two years under Rudolf Serkin, two years under Peter Schoenbach, and the last two under John de Lancie. de Lancie’s use of intimidation and emotional abuse was not limited to his students, extending to some members of the staff, even to some volunteers. I well remember students becoming physically ill before and/or after chamber music coaching sessions with him, not just private oboe lessons. The age of musical intimidation seems to have ended, even with conductors! But there were, even through the 1970′s, loving and compassionate teachers who did not take advantage of their students. Openness about the issues of sexual and psychological abuse is a powerful means of ending them.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        Enjoyed your comment. Am curious to know what it was like to work under Rudolph Serkin. Nobody seems to have mentioned him in comments on the Curtis piece.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      So would you say your teacher’s “tough love” treatment helped you cope with the pressure of being on stage and performing or would you say it made no difference and was just unnecessary bullying, or that it made everything worse for you? I studied with a very strict and sometimes very aggressive teacher, too, and even though I sometimes hated him a little bit, I think he actually helped me because I had to learn how to cope with the stress. And standing in front of your teacher and getting yelled at for making a mistake is actually much less stress than standing there in an important audition and making a mistake when you won’t get yelled at, but you also fail the audition. So overall, the sometimes very harsh treatment I got from my teacher helped me get over stage fright almost completely.

  26. I had the dubious opportunity to experience some of the fallout concerning Stokowski and his wife or at least to hear about it through the complaints of my teacher from the PMA, Phiadelphia Music Academy. He was brought to Phila. by Olga Samaroff (nee Hickenlooper) from New Castle who was going around trolling for talent as she herself discovered and to a certain extent, was responsible for the mystique surrounding the conductor. She encouraged him to emphasize his Polish descent and speak with a phony accent although he was born and raised in London. They were divorced in 1923 much having to do with his extra-musical activities, quite a blow to the person who helped launch him.
    At any rate, frustration does manage to pass through the generations and it is no different in music. She according to him, was quite a virago, and was quite ruthless in promoting herself through her students. This was accomplished by forcefeeding Beethoven sonatas they had to memorize or else. I actually read online an article by her in the 1920′s, that is quite awful to contemplate, “Concentration in Music Study” that reduces music to bytes that have to be mechanically reproduced. Her own recording also on youtube of Liszt Rhapsody might be note perfect but has no depth, actually quite irritating.
    Those who were unable to survive the abuse by their teachers in many cases repeat it in one way or another. I really don’t know what satisfaction is achieved by yelling at students because one was yelled at or humiliatied. I’d rather take the path of Rose who vowed never to do that with his students.
    In my case, not only was I treated to the stories of his frustrations with Samaroff but was used at the age of 14-15 as a soundboard for a host of his other psychological and family problems. Now that I know better, call it abuse.
    I also want to point out that abusive teachers don’t always tear down but build up the students’ expectations and egos to an unrealistic extent. I have seen in some of my colleagues, the danger of blowing up their student’s egos out of proportion to what they are actually doing and achieving. Maybe the idea is to give them an extra dose of confidence but they become unable to assess their real value to the extent of not being able to process information properly.
    Glenn Gould spoke about the bifurcation when performers were separated from creators. Ego strutting comes from an exaggerated view of what is means to reproduce music rather than to make it.

an ArtsJournal blog