Not waving but drowning

 “I remember after a concert me and some other girls stayed at his house. He gave us all so much alcohol that one girl was sick. That night, he came into my room and tried to make me have sex with him, but I lay still and pretended to be asleep. He left the room and I heard him try the same with other pupils and then he got into his double bed with one girl. Suddenly it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one. He had always implied that he was only interested in me, but suddenly it became completely clear to me what he was doing. Some of these girls were much younger than me.”

“He was so brazen about it. It was so out in the open. It was as though he didn’t see that he was doing anything wrong. He seemed to think it was one of the perks of the job to take advantage of these naïve girls shut up in this hot-house environment. It seemed to be open season for him. Now I think: how dare he do that to me? How dare he do that to my friends? How did the school not ask what was going on? I was always crying upstairs and yet my housemistress never asked what was wrong with me”.

A former student at Chetham’s School of Music giving her horrifying account of systematic sexual abuse experienced during her time there, along with others who have plucked up tremendous courage to come forward with their stories in the wake of the suicide of professional violinist and mother-of-four, Frances Andrade (above).

Her death last month provoked an outpouring of testimony from fellow musicians who experienced sexual assault whilst students at eminent musical education institutions across the land throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and launched a front page scandal which has shocked the classical music profession to the core.

If you’re a UK classical musician, you will be now be all too familiar with the sickening facts.

Tipped off by a well-meaning confidante, police learned of the systematic abuse Frances Andrade experienced from the age of 14 by the then director of music at Chets, now celebrated choirmaster, Michael Brewer. A year later, she was told the case would go to court. With huge reluctance at having to dredge up the dark demons pushed down for most of her life, Andrade bravely agreed to stand in the witness box, only to be accused of being a fantasist by defence barrister Kate Blackwell QC.

Andrade hadn’t wanted to go to court. In fact, she hadn’t acknowledged that her experiences were abusive until they came to trial.

A pre-disgraced Michael Brewer doing what he was clearly very good at: inspiring young people to make music. Oh what a SHAME that such a talented man should get it so wrong…

To compound her suffering, Surrey police strongly advised her not to receive the counselling she so desperately needed in case it affected her evidence. Pushed over the edge, Andrade took her own life after reading a report claiming that the jury, on direction from the judge, had recorded not guilty verdicts due to insufficient evidence.

Eventually, Brewer was convicted of five counts of indecent assault although he was cleared of the charge of rape. If only she’d known, says her acclaimed violinist/violist musician husband Levine Andrade in a heart-breaking interview.

It wasn’t the first time Frances Andrade had been accused of lying. Her mother told her daughter that she was “being silly” when she tried to speak about being abused by her uncle, a ghastly sounding character who apparently showed up on her wedding day with the words “Remember I was the first.”

He had molested her from the age of three.

I didn’t meet Fran, as she was known, but she was a familiar presence in recording session studios over the years and much loved by friends, colleagues and family who showed up in overwhelming numbers at her funeral. By all accounts she was a very gifted violinist indeed, but had opted to devote her energies mainly to her family. It shows.

Her son Oliver, aged 21 (below), clearly an old soul of exceptional wisdom and intelligence, tried to save his desperately unhappy mother during her tortuous trial process, even taking it upon himself to oversee her medication having witnessed her trying to OD more than once. Not something one would expect your average 21 yr old boy to have to cope with.

He comes to wise conclusions about court procedure, mental healthcare, police policy and the great need of support for victims of sex abuse in his very articulate press statement, whilst also having the great presence of mind to exonerate the friend who had spilled the beans to the police, and lay the blame squarely at the Brewers’ door.

“One of her hopes was that the bravery she exhibited, and the other stories she knew would come out during the trial, would mean that other students who had also suffered abuse at Chetham’s would be able to receive justice.”

Which indeed they have, in spite of Home Secretary Teresa May’s fears that her experiences might prevent other victims coming forward.

Frances Andrade has started to blow the cover off an extremely large and ugly iceberg.

There are signs that reparative action is being taken: police investigations into fresh allegations of abuse at music schools are underway, legal and police handling of rape trial victims is up for high level review, petitions have been launched, helpline numbers publicised and victims encouraged to come forward.

So how could abuse on this scale have happened in the first place?

As Vicci Wardman, distinguished violist and former Chets pupil and senior RNCM lecturer explained to the Guardian:

“The one to one relationship between a tutor and student is one of the most powerful in a young musician’s development. Its very nature is intimate, detailed and precise, and most often conducted behind closed doors. The vast majority of tutors are excellent and inspirational, respecting the vulnerability and sensitivities of their students within this setting. Tragically, that very structure can also be an invitation to the sort of predators who up to now have operated freely within musical institutions.”

One of the somewhat grim and foreboding pix of Chets’ currently doing the press rounds. 

Thinking back to my own intense one-to-one instrumental lessons, I remember putting myself under enormous pressure to get things right: “If you don’t play this C sharp minor 4 octave scale perfectly 10 times in a row”, my 9 year old inner piano practice voice said to me, “then the Nazis are going to come and get you.” Extreme? By normal standards, yes. But not entirely atypical I suspect, of children who are absolutely driven to perfect craft from an early age, either from pushy parents (not the case with me), teachers or simply an inner instinct to excel.

Not only did I place very high technical demands on myself, but would also create vivid scenes and characters in my head whilst attempting to make sense of the very adult emotions and sensibilities that informed certain pieces of music. For example, I remember inventing a graphic Siberian barbed-wire snow-bound starving prisoner scene to help me phrase some bleak Rachmaninov prelude; the voice of an orphaned girl served as cantabile model for some yearning bit of Liszt; a whole brightly coloured set of Commedia del Arte figures helped me characterize Henze’s otherwise (arguably) tedious Serenade for solo cello (a piece, incidentally, he told me he loathed).

“The Music Lesson” by Fragonard, 1769. Oil on Canvas. That teacher is SO not thinking about his pupil’s understanding of harmonic structure…

And I wasn’t even at a dedicated music school. Or boarding. I got to go home in between lessons and have the chance to normal-up (it didn’t work) in the daily rough and tumble of the local comp.

And who oversaw the results of these labours? My teacher, of course. Once a week or more in the most full-on hour or two you can imagine, my instrumental technique, musical interpretation and the thought processes that lay behind them were exposed to tough criticism and even ridicule along with wise guidance and coveted praise.

At the age of twelve I was deeply in love with my piano teacher. I’d have done anything he asked…

Music IS a sexy thing and it’s no wonder that us musos are a frisky lot. The great releases that come from harmonic resolution in music are perhaps the closest thing to orgasm that we have in abstract art. Tension created by a prolonged and well-paced dominant pedal is not a million miles away from the sensation of sexual excitement. As is the sensuous yearning of certain melodies, throbbing orchestral textures or pounding rhythmic figuration.

Super sexy cellist Frances-Marie Uitti doing interesting things to her cello with her secret two-bow technique. (She wouldn’t show me how to do it when I asked her many years ago.)

Look at Tristan and Isolde for goodness sake. Le Poeme d’Exstase. Strauss tone poems. The Rite of Spring. Boulez’ Derive II  (fear not, I’m joking with that last one). The list of sexy moments in music is endless. But that’s no excuse for an adult who consciously understands these parallels to take advantage of a young student who doesn’t.

“He was obsessed with sex and his teaching seemed to revolve around it; he asked me in one lesson to play a piece of music and pretend that I was having an orgasm. I wasn’t yet a teenager.”

A former Chets’ student on the joys of studying with Chris Ling, a highly successful and charismatic violin teacher who escaped growing police interest in his activities in the early 90s to set up the affluent Hollywood lifestyle he currently enjoys running a talent agency in California.

When I tot it up, I know an alarming number of people who have been sexually abused as children, most by close male relatives or teachers rather than passing strangers. In each case the experience has had a shattering impact on their life: many have attracted a series of abusive relationships, deep depressions, overwhelming feelings of guilt, panic attacks and an inability to have fulfilling sexual relationships.

These lines from a poem by Stevie Smith (right) brilliantly sum up this feeling of never quite coping:

“I was much too far out all my life / Not waving, but drowning”

“The one thing that I cannot stress enough is the enormous impact this has had on my life. I’ve been anorexic, bulimic and have abused alcohol. I’ve suffered from depression for years and was unable to even touch the violin for seven years after leaving music college.”  A casualty of “Ling’s Strings” shares fallout from those formative years.

“Anyone who has been tortured, remains tortured”. Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved.

Yet don’t think they are all dysfunctional screwed-up losers. Like Frances Andrade, many of these former victims are now highly successful, attractive, talented, lovely people with families who have somehow managed to overcome appalling psychological suffering and make lives for themselves, either through therapy and the support of friends or simply by pushing the memories as far away as possible.

“The Lonely Ones” Edvard Munch (1935). 

As it happens, I’ve just raced through an astoundingly brilliant book called The Way the Crow Flies by Canadian writer, performer and actress Ann-Marie MacDonald (below), about the lives of an air force family living on a Canadian military airbase around the time of the Cuban missile crisis. It’s well worth a go. After the deceptively slow-paced sunny start, the narrative whips up a terrifyingly dark pace, impossible to abandon until the final chilling denouement.

Set amidst the imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon, immigrant Nazi rocket scientists, dodgy CIA agents, cold war politics, the American consumer dream and the space race, the book paints a razor-sharp portrait of the experiences of a highly gifted little girl systematically abused by her school teacher, along with her classmates, and the lifelong effects that follow. MacDonald has the clearest understanding of the overwhelming difficulty children have in telling adults what is happening to them, and how the signs of abuse are ignored or misconstrued again and again by otherwise well meaning parents. Or perpetuated, the story also implies, by those who are themselves abusers.

“Madeleine’s head feels swampy, her underpants feel dank, she pictures their yellow butterfly pattern but remembers that those are Claire’s, not hers, hers have a ladybug pattern, Maman bought them at Woolworth’s, no one ever imagined that a teacher could touch them, that’s what happened today. Also, usually you just feel his thing poking through his trousers when you do your backbends and the poking could be an accident or a pocket-knife. Now you can never say to anyone, “Oh we just do backbends.” You can’t say anything.”


Incidentally, Michael Brewer’s wife Kay was also convicted  of sexually assaulting Frances Andrade. It’s interesting how the press have skirted over her contribution to the narrative. What was her story I wonder? Was she trapped in a Hindley/Brady-type relationship, the brain-washed dupe of a controlling man, or just another rotten apple?

Kate Winslet as a serial child sex offender and Nazi war criminal in the marvelous and disturbing film “The Reader” (2008), here in the bath with her 16 yr old lover.

I’m not saying that Kay Brewer was a Nazi, but I do find it particularly upsetting when one hears of a woman abusing a child. Truly against nature in a world when men hold the monopoly on sex crimes.

In trying to figure out the whys and wherefores of this knotty topic, I can’t help thinking back to the woefully inadequate sex education meted out when I was at school, part of the same generation that is now bringing its childhood abuse to light.

On finally experiencing the dreaded monthly “Curse”, as it had been grimly described years before during a brief, confusing and deeply embarrassing lecture, I felt evil, unclean and guilty to the core: a shameful monster who must hide evidence of their secret whatever the cost. Nearly passing out with pain, I broke my own hymen with my first tampon. Did you know that’s what happens? Virginity lost at my own hands, and not a clue that’s what had just taken place.

A couple of years later, I lost my virginity a second time to the alcoholic yet intellectually brilliant Headmaster of my school, then nearly 3 times my age. In return, I was introduced to great art, literature, poetry, music and drinking. It’s a complex, colorful and ultimately moving story which I’ll spare you for now, and one that without question dramatically altered the course of my life.

The glorious Claire Rayner who died 2 years ago; well-known TV agony aunt and tireless campaigner for better sex education in the UK. Oh Claire, WHY didn’t I have you to talk to when I was growing up?!

Incredible as it now sounds, I had no idea what ovulation was until well into my twenties, long after first forcing down the contraceptive pills liberally administered by tight-lipped and morally disapproving “family planning clinics,” drugs that made me fat, depressed, fuzzy-headed and nauseous until I finally hurled the poisonous crap into the bin. The contraceptive advice I subsequently received ran much along the lines of “don’t”. Not great advice for a young woman with a healthy musician’s libido. “Nice girls don’t know” seemed to be the credo of the day.

So much for the sixties.

Speaking of which, perhaps some of the offenders in the current scandal justified their actions by the free love hippy ethic they learned as students. But I just don’t buy it. It’s a very flimsy cover for a once-liberal way of thinking that has been grievously distorted for the personal gratification of the warped and often powerful few.

If children and young people have learnt that their bodies are things of shame and have no understanding of sex or adult relationships, it must surely make it much harder to clock when predators are homing in for the kill. In the emotionally heightened atmosphere of a specialist music school, a child would also need considerable emotional maturity to resist the pressures of an all-powerful teacher, often a substitute parent figure whilst at boarding school, who has systematically groomed him or her for abuse.

“Leopardskin nuclear bomb no. 2″  (1963) by Colin Self, a commentary on the sexual as well as military aggression of the 60s. Currently at the Tate.

In the same vein, the musicians who hold professorships at distinguished institutions of musical study are rarely given any professional guidance or training on how to teach. Musical excellence is their qualification, not necessarily their ability to interact responsibly with students.

Innocence is one thing. Ignorance is quite another. Yet there’s no need for them to be mutually exclusive.

Here’s a little story from 21st century suburban Holland where my ex’s 11 and 13 year old middle class boys made it their business to try and shock me, their Dad’s nice new English girlfriend, with porn videos downloaded on their phones. Don’t ask me how they got them (answer: all too easily) but let’s just say that after managing to watch the whole lot without screaming, I explained to the boys that a) real women don’t look like the shiny moaning fembots in the films and b) suggested that when they bed their first girlfriends, they leave out the eels. 

Standard adolescent boy behaviour perhaps. But there’s much to say on the multi-billion pound porn industry, fuel for the fantasizing that keeps people firmly in their heads rather than hearts, often dehumanizing the living objects of lust. (I wouldn’t mind being a living object of lust, by the way, but you get my point in this context). Porn, the highly processed poison food of the sex world, creates a hunger no amount of orgasms can satiate. No wonder its coffers continue to swell with cash.

“My name is Paul Raymond,” coos Steve Coogan, playing Britain’s greatest porn king in Michael Winterbottom’s biopic, The King of Soho. “Welcome to my world of erotica.”

I’m more than beginning to suspect that porn has become the main source of sex education not only in the west, but over large parts of the globe.

The age of consent is a sticky issue, if you’ll pardon the choice of adjective. The official demarcation lines on what who’s allowed to do when tell us much about a country’s attitude to sex. In contemporary Spain you can shag at 13, France – 14, Tunisia – 20, Angola – 12. And to put things in perspective, there are many dark spots on the planet where there is no age of consent. In fact, there’s no consent. Girls are marriage fodder at or even before puberty, bearing children before their immature bodies, let alone minds, can cope with motherhood. Can you imagine the suffering? And we haven’t even started on child prostitution.

Fortunately for you, there’s not enough space here to try and tackle global sexual crime, oppression, frustration, dysfunction, confusion, misery and its root causes.

But to narrow it down, we know that sexual abuse is not a new thing, even if the terminology is. It’s probably been around as long as humans have in one way or another, along with jealousy, greed, murder and all the other deadlies. It’s just that our dirt-hungry media now makes it much harder for offenders to get away with it. In the West, at any rate.

So here’s the million dollar question: HOW could anyone ever want to take sexual advantage of a young person placed in their care? How does the evolutionary-instilled censorship mechanism (assuming there is one) get so faulty?

“Little Girl Presenting Cherries” John Russell (1745 – 1806), Musée du Louvre. Not such an innocent picture when you clock the cherries’ sinister underlying symbolism. 

It’s hard to beat Nabokov when it comes to the connoisseur paedo: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

(Try saying this sentence whilst observing what your tongue does to realise how pervy it all is. Like Hamlet’s mouth-churning “incestuous sheets.”)  “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was Lolita.”

Do you know any more sensual evocation of the object of the paedophile’s lust? I mean, I’m actually on Humbert’s side for most of that book. It’s incredible.

Sue Lyon, aged 14 at the time of filming, as Lolita in Kubrick’s 1962 film

A few years ago I made several visits along with a violinist and pianist to the Albany prison on the Isle of Wight, home to many of the UK’s convicted sex offenders. Those wanting vengeance can rest assured that life for the prisoners there is no picnic. The taxi driver taking me to the ferry port sniffed in disgust when he heard that I was going to perform a concert for prisoners. “Castrate ‘em, drag ‘em, hang ‘em. Slowly,” was his comment.

The prison warder I spoke to shared his sentiments, warning me not to make eye contact with “those filthy animals”. Prison food was sometimes tampered with, and at one time inmates could expect to find broken glass and razor blades in their daily fare, along with other unspeakable ingredients added by venomous prison cooks.

In some prisons, sex offenders are locked up for 23 out of 24 hours a day, and at the Albany 5 out of 7 wings still continue the charming Victorian practice of slopping out. Inmates are subject to random searches that can result in confiscation of any and all personal effects without warning or explanation.

In spite of my overwhelmingly negative impression of the place, I’m told by a regular outside visitor to the Albany that prison officers actually often have more understanding and even compassion than the general public.

Maybe I’d feel that this was meagre punishment if it was my child that had been violated. Perhaps I would even find that I was capable of murder. And in prison, murderers enjoy considerably higher caste than sex offenders amongst inmates. But has vengeance satisfied ever really brought lasting peace?

In the heart of this grisly place is a small haven of light created and nurtured by a prize-winning poet who lives on the island. For three hours a week under her expert supervision prisoners can join the Albany Writers’ Group: “an oasis, a space for reflection and for laughter as well as for writing. We all come back every week, ready to share three hours of reading, talking and writing, our lives left behind”.

On hearing their poems, some of which I set to music, it was overwhelmingly clear how ghastly their own childhoods had been. Abuse sang through the tortured pens of these serial rapists, paedophiles, park perverts and child molesters. Many of the poems were heart-breakingly beautiful, and several extremely well written. And it was all too apparent that few of these men had experienced much love in their lives.

Children scramble to get out of the local pool at the frenzied commands of their parents on seeing recently released paedophile “Ronnie”, compassionately played by Jackie Haley, enter the water in Todd Field’s masterful 2006 film, Little Children.

We were working in the prison chapel, an otherwise featureless brown room lined with some of the goriest suffering Jesus daubs I’ve ever seen; a suitably guilt-inducing atmo heightened by the presence of scowling Neandertal prison warders (or so it seemed to me at the time) jangling their disapproval with huge bunches of keys chained to their belts.

Wearing bright green regulation dungarees, the prisoners sat quietly listening to us playing Ravel’s piano trio. It was a life changing moment for me to see how profoundly moved many of them were by this sublime piece: yet another example of how great music levels saints and sinners alike in its unconditional embrace.

Later that afternoon, following our enthusiastically pained rendition of Shostakovitch’s unrelentingly grim piano trio in E minor, one of the prisoners put up his hand. “Excuse me,” he asked politely, “but is the cello part actually marked senza vibrato at the beginning of the first movement?”

Sex offenders are clearly a cut above your average crim, and many I met that day were highly educated men, including a couple of choirmasters, one composer and at least two graduates of the Royal College of Organists. Bringing us back neatly to the dangers that lurk in specialist music education environments.

Violist Vicci Wardman again: “It is now undeniable that those who should have protected their students at Chets failed to do so, on the contrary ignoring and even promoting their abusers.”

One niggly question comes to mind: could something else be behind the otherwise inexplicable decisions taken by heads of these institutions not to take action against culprits in the face of overwhelming evidence that students were being regularly abused? Why otherwise keep on Malcolm Layfield, for example, as RNCM’s Head of Strings when his former misconduct with students at Chets was an open secret in the music world?

It is interesting to read an anonymous comment on one of Lebrecht’s blog posts on the abuse scandal: “ ‘An old boys network’ is a gentle way of describing it. When I was an undergrad during that period at the RNCM, it was common knowledge that from the Principal down through senior management Freemasonry had a healthy (or should I say unhealthy) representation. The board of Governors too.”

In recent times there has been far more awareness of the problem of indecent assault in educational establishments, and it’s a big mistake to brush all UK music education institutions today with the core-rotten tar of Frances Andrade’s time.

Pupils at the Purcell School, for example, are instructed to memorize the Childline number. Most universities and colleges of further education have Rape Crisis centre info dotted about. Current students at music schools tell me that there is now excellent pastoral care and professional help available for students when personal problems arise. Which they are bound to do in such artificial hothouse environments.

As the continuing Jimmy Saville/ BBC meltdown illustrates, there’s a real danger that innocent people could get hurt in the current press witch-hunt. One of the latest Chets teachers to be accused of rape, an allegation he vehemently denies, has had his named splashed liberally in the press. He has yet to be found guilty in a court of law, but either way his career is probably now in tatters.

Many classroom school-teachers I’ve met tell me how children are becoming aware of the potentially lethal weapon in their hands. “Sir! You touched me! I’m gonna get Child-Line on you!” is a very real threat when it comes to their word against yours in front of an emotionally-influenced jury. Whilst in the Albany, I met a couple of inmates who were by all accounts victims of gross miscarriages of justice in exactly this kind of scenario.

This pic is not supposed to be as pervy as it appears, but merely serves to illustrate how helpful it is for teachers to physically assist students when learning instruments. 

There is considerable red tape one now has to go through when coming in as an outside teacher into institutions. Each time I give a master-class or coaching on a music course, or dep for someone at one of the music colleges or schools, I have to present an up-to- date Criminal Records Bureau form. (Not that that bit of paper would necessarily weed me out as a child molester.)

At some establishments, teachers are instructed to leave doors open when giving one to one music lessons, and are forbidden to touch students at all. It’s tricky to teach like this 1) because of noise interference and 2) because it can be extremely helpful to physically assist students learning how to play an instrument or sing. In the same vein, it’s so sad to hear stories of nursery school teachers forbidden to cuddle small children in need of reasssurance.

Wouldn’t CCTV make more sense? Or the existence of a professional regulating body like that of the medical and legal professions?

Whatever the solutions, it’s vital to preserve common sense in trying to clear up this mess. After all, the majority of professional musicians are teaching with the greatest integrity. How sad that they and the wonderful musical institutions that enrich this country’s cultural life to such internationally high standards should have their name sullied by the despicable acts of a deluded minority.

Music lesson depicted on a Greek vase, c. 510 BC

One doesn’t have to look far to realise that our civilisation has been in the grip of misogynist male-dominated thinking for a very long time indeed. Millennia. If the ancient tracts of indigenous tribes the world over are to believed, we are now entering the age of Aquarius, a new chapter of human history when the female qualities of compassion, gentleness, intuition and wisdom return to the forefront to be in balance with male energy. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 10 thousand years to manifest.

Until that time, there is work to be done.

Rest in peace, Frances Andrade. And may your grieving family and friends, and the whole classical music family take solace in the fact that you did not die in vain.

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