Another victim of UK music school decides to share his tale

Another victim of UK music school decides to share his tale


norman lebrecht

November 25, 2013

The author, known to us, has never shared his story before. He is the second to post on Slipped Disc this week.



I was abused at a British music school from the time at which I entered the establishment aged ten, until the time I left aged sixteen.

It was, in that era, a boarding school so, aside from weekends off, the abuse was unremitting.

Six years of more or less uninterrupted hell. I have recently, through facebook, come into contact with a fellow student from those days who told me that two other boys, contemporaries of ours at the school back then, took their own lives subsequent, perhaps, to similar abuse.

I was lucky in that there were two academic teachers who seemed somehow to warm to me personally and, having maybe noticed the distress I was suffering, held out much-valued peripatetic hands of friendship, but I was generally unable to express my ongoing discomforts and, in the long run, they were unable to counteract the appalling mistreatment that I experienced from the Headmaster and the other staff.

I was a child. I should not have had to go through the degradation and abuse meted out to me. I do not want to re-live those years on Slipped Disc but you (and others) have started to open up an important subject area. My six years at that music school were profoundly disturbing and, in my adult life, I have as yet been unable to escape the powerful and tremendously negative psychological legacy they have left behind. A friend in the Antipodes was recently advised to send her 9 year old son to that particular place. Although the school has no-doubt developed in many ways, and simply has to have moved on from its 1980’s degeneracy, it was without hesitation that I advised her to look for any other option.


  • PK Miller says:

    I am not mitigating what these young people went through, the degradation and pain. It was, again, a different era. I know of a company in our area (Upstate NY in US) where, once upon a time, Personnel always knew what happened if they got a termination notice from the front office stating (female) “had a disagreement with (company President, Treasurer, etc.) It means she refused to put out for them. we had no concept, then, of sexual harassment, abuse, etc.

    So, too, when this young man & his peers went to school and before it was almost a droit du seigneur. Chances are, if my husband had not been educated in France vs. his native Great Britain, (Wales but THE NORM WAS English boarding schools) HE would have ben victimized as well espec. because he was small in stature.

    I do believe, as I have said many times in this blog, of a reasonable statute of limitations–civil and criminal. Let go and let GOD, as the AA folks says. All the money in the world paid to you every hour on the hour for the rest of your lives could not compensate you for this terrible betrayal. Rest assured GOD will judge the abusers and their enablers, all the people who turned a blind eye.

    But again, this was a different era. Just as, in the US, especially, no one said a word about the priest pedophilia. If Father wasn’t God he sat at God’s right hand (and Sister at His Left) did His bidding and had a direct line to Him. (The celibacy garbage & all-male, good-old-boy network exacerbated the problem.) It’s easy for me to say “Forgive.” I’ve always said it was easy for JESUS to forgive: He was God! Carrying that anger does not help you heal. GOD will render justice that humankind cannot.

    • Ian Pace says:

      PK Miller – it sounds to me as if mitigating what these young people went through is exactly what you are doing. Bringing God into this is absurd. And how do you know that there was not a good deal of abuse in French schools as well?

      There are, to be sure, some reactions to abuse which can border on the hysterical, and some occasions when all allegations are automatically taken to be true even if the only source is second-hand gossip. But in cases like the above, I am quite sure it was likely to have been extremely hard for the person to speak out, as I know for sure it has been for many others. Many face ostracisation and intimidation from peers, fellow alumni, etc., and if musicians the possibility that their own possibilities of work might be seriously affected (it is very difficult truly to remain anonymous in such a small and close-knit world).

      Then each individual who does speak out garners reactions like yours above, and sometimes from several people. I think that in itself is intimidating, and it seems like you would prefer people to suffer in silence and continue to blame themselves for what happened.

    • robcat2075 says:

      “It was a different era” is a nonsense phrase that gets trotted out frequently here in the US.

      Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination of all sorts… someone always pops up to whitewash away the obvious wrong with “different era.”

    • Phil says:

      I find myself pulled in two directions over this. PKMiller, I shared your cynicism and suggestion for a 10yr time-limit on these matters in another posting, but I’m not so sure now. You say yourself ‘it was a ‘different age’, – but that means that 10 yrs after the events for this victim would still find himself in a culture not disposed to taking his claims seriously, and definitely not encouraging his taking action over them. Some would say that even now in 2013 the climate is not favourable for such claims being giving due investigation (but this is where I do grow cynical, for one only has to whisper ‘abuse’ to set the wheels of the law juggernaut in motion).

      Where I have to differ with you unreservedly, is that the comfort you offer in God’s judgement and your suggestion to try and forgive simply does not cut it. Belief is a highly personal notion at best (the atheist brigade would say it’s not even that, rather a useless insanity), and may be an appropriate suggestion for a few people but certainly not for me if I felt badly wronged by a person/persons in my past (yet I am ‘sympathetic’ to supernatural belief). I fear most people would feel belittled by this advice you offer.

      On the other hand, a lifetime of anger, ‘resolution’ through clangerous legal machinery, compensation in money, the ‘revenge’ of destroying what’s left of the offender’s lives – all very questionable whether they lead to any kind of healing. I feel there is an element of being ‘told your are a victim’ with the way social dogma has set itself today – if enough people say it, particularly the ‘experts’, you’ll believe it – although the author’s anguish here is undeniable and palpable. Anybody with any background in institutional classical music can easily believe the life he describes. Some sort of validation/healing is certainly needed. Is it enough for this victim for us to say ‘yes, we believe what happened, and that the people who did it were reprehensible by the standards of any decade’? Perhaps if the classical music establishment sets its house in order from this point on, and nobody else suffers in these ways, then that should satisfy everyone as a validation of victims’ past experiences?

      • Ian Pace says:

        ‘but this is where I do grow cynical, for one only has to whisper ‘abuse’ to set the wheels of the law juggernaut in motion’

        And the standards of proof required by the law for a case to come to court are very high indeed, as a lot of people who have reported their cases have found.

    • timwalton3 says:

      What on earth has God or religeon got to do with this.

      It shouldn’t happen at all regardless of if any person involved is religeous or not.

      If the evil witches (sorry Nuns) in Ireland are anything to go it it trhey that should be in hell!

      Although the Irish Government has apologised the Cathgolic Church hasn’t – still.

      I wouldn’t trust the Catholic Church to butter a piece of toast let alone set moral standards – something they know very little about.

  • tomeg says:

    Another familiar 12-step program slogan is, “Keep it Simple.” RE: sexual abuse, the vast majority of abused children’s lives are ruined or severely affected, emotionally, relationally, employment, relationships and friendships, on and on, not to mention high probability for extreme and severe mental disorder, failure to establish and continue vital relationships, loss of intimacy, on and on. There is no statute of limitations of consequences for the abused, correspondingly neither should there be for offenders.

    On a related topic, I do hope for the day when parents, guardians, etc. are able and willing to educate even their youngest children, by age appropriate means, about the signals and signs of danger and at least the basics of self defense against potential offenders, even including seemingly and perhaps especially “totally trustworthy” older children and adults. And, how to be an acutely aware parent etc.

    By some or other means, if we don’t become educated ourselves about limits boundaries hazards, with relations, intimate or not, our society will continue to have tragedies and avoidable damage to our children.

  • Julie says:

    To the person who has chosen to tell their story: Well done. I am very sorry to hear that you went through all that and that others around you potentially suffered in similar ways. You are by no means alone and I hope you don’t feel it, despite the less than supportive reactions of some in this fraternity to stories like yours. I attended a music school for a few years but left in my early teens. I have only recently discovered that very many of my peers suffered abuse perpetrated by multiple teachers within what appears to have been a culture of abuse. This has all been very shocking and upsetting, particularly in the wake of Frances Andrade’s death. As someone no longer involved in the classical music world until recently what has been even more shocking has been the complacency, suspicion and sometimes downright hostility shown to victims of abuse who have come forward or anyone who has expressed concerns about it. As Ian Pace alludes to above this just leads to more intimidation for survivors and adds insult to injury. What kind of a set up is this where to be a member you are expected to overlook, minimise and ‘forgive’ child sexual abuse, particularly if it happened more than a decade ago? Archaic, primitive, morally bankrupt. Pretty Godless too I would have thought, if you’re into that kind of thing. Thank God I got out when I did.

    It is for those directly affected to decide if and when to forgive. This is an entirely different issue in my view to acknowledging and appropriately dealing with the seriousness, scale and context of the abuse of children that has happened within music schools. To acknowledge it would involve desisting from minimising it. To appropriately deal with it involves there being fitting consequences for perpetrators and others implicated if and where possible, not pleading for leniency or forgetting the whole thing. The context of these multiple atrocities was seemingly a warped and unchecked shared moral compass amongst those involved in running and staffing the school that involved the commodification of children and the minimisation and normalisation of child abuse. The fact that there are still so many dyed in the wool abuser apologists populating this community just goes to show how little things actually have moved on and how diseased the culture still remains. It will take more than a few platitudes and pleas to forget the whole thing to get this house in order. This community needs to TAKE RESPONSIBILTY.

    Stop with the dogma of telling people who were raped as children that they were NOT victims. Only within this community or some cloistered incestuous cult would such an argument hold the slightest bit of water. Many perpetrators are dead or elusive and many victims will not for one reason or another ever have their day in court, let alone the dreaded compensation pay-outs that some people seem to be so afraid of (again, where are the priorities?). The least we could do for them and for all victims is to treat this with the seriousness it deserves.

  • Martin Roscoe says:

    PK Miller, your comments re statute of limitations and “it was, again, a different era ” display a basic lack of empathy and also a lack of understanding of this entire subject. If you had troubled to speak to abuse victims you would not be apologising on the behalf of the perpetrators. Your attempts to bring God, Jesus and Christianity into this topic are irrelevant and offensive to the many Christians who abhor abuse in all its forms. I am completely in favour of forgiveness but only when abusers have accepted the consequences of their own behaviour

  • Mary says:

    I strongly agree with the point you made tomeg: “There is no statute of limitations of consequences for the abused, correspondingly neither should there be for offenders.”

    That is how it seems to me. I am glad the police are taking the abuse that happened to me at music school seriously. It is helpful to me to have it officially acknowledged that what happened was wrong. Just because some time has passed does not make it any less wrong, especially as I am still living with the psychological consequences of it.

    I think it is great that the author was able to post this account – thank you.

  • Robert says:

    I cannot understand why, after everything that has been reported in the English-speaking world’s media over the last decade regarding sexual abuse and (sometimes) uncontrolled physical violence, so many parents with more money than sense decide to send their kids – and in particular their sons – to boarding schools at all.

    So many of the very worst cases of abuse involve boarding schools rather than day schools, that I’m sure future ages will find it impossible to comprehend why we tolerate boarding schools in the first place. Just as we in 2013 find it impossible to comprehend why our grandparents tolerated so many things unthinkable now: lynching-bees, asbestos, doctors who denied the link connecting smoking with cancer, and “No Catholics need apply” job advertisements.

  • “It was a different era” is no defence. This was actual harm done to a real person. If one must bring religion into things then in order for there to be redemption the person responsible for the abuse needs to be truly repentant of their actions – all of their actions. It does not matter if the poor victim is forgiving (although that does say much about that person). Most of the people responsible for such acts of abuse do not see what they have done wrong as wrong so are unrepentant, and attitudes to do with the spirit of the age do nothing to help this.

    Ian Pace knows what it felt like from experience, and Martin Roscoe did his best to stop abuse. Both of these me, through speaking out have demonstrated great courage, as has the lady who has testified anonymously at the start of this thread. There should be no tolerance to sexual abuse within schools current or historic. It damages children and these children grow up and carry that wound with them for the rest of their lives.

    Anyone trying to justify it behind religious rhetoric is wrong, and may God be their judge.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      “Anyone trying to justify it behind religious rhetoric is wrong, and may God be their judge.”

      Love the subtle irony (voluntary? involuntary?) behind this last sentence!

  • Ian Pace says:

    Just need to correct two things – I don’t speak from personal experience of sexual abuse (and cannot possibly pretend to know how that feels), and also, as I have pointed out on my own blog post on this, the person in question making the original appeal is a he.

  • Sorry for putting words into your mouth Ian, and thank you for your correction.

    Michael the irony behind the last sentence was totally deliberate; then again I’m not trying to defend paedophilia or hide it behind religious rhetoric.