The violinist Zeneba Bowers has gone public in the Washington Post today with an account of her experience of alleged sexual assault by the Cleveland concertmaster, William Preucil. In an additional reflection for her friends (and Slipped Disc), Zeneba decides that she has left some important things unsaid:
Thanks to Anne Midgette and Peggy McGlone at the Washington Post who wrote a very important article about the MeToo movement in the classical world. This post is just to add a little further detail for those that are interested. I’m adding in a few notes about the music business since many of my friends are not in the biz.
1. New World Symphony is an elite orchestral academy whose goal is to place its students in leadership positions in orchestras around the world. Concertmasters from top orchestras were brought in to teach us private lessons. When NWS posted the sign-up sheet for lessons, I’d make a beeline to it and I’d always take the last lesson of the day. That way I could get extra time if the lesson wanted to go long, and if I felt I had a rapport with the teacher, I would always ask them if I could take them out for a coffee or beer afterward. I used to keep a yellow legal pad. As things happened in rehearsal (conflicts between principal players, concertmaster/conductor relations, etc.), I’d record them on my yellow legal pad. Then at one of these coffee or beer summits I’d ask my questions (e.g. “How would you handle this?” Or “What’s standard protocol for this?” It was part of my effort to educate myself, as I hoped to be in a leadership position myself someday, and virtually none of the “rules” are actually written down. I went to several coffee/beer summits with several concertmasters without incident. All but one were male.
2. My lesson with Preucil was at 4pm. I remember that little detail because I remember being concerned about the appearance, but I thought that a 5pm drink was not a big deal. Right outside the hall is a large pedestrian zone full of cafes and bars. It was broad daylight and there were thousands of people around. The last lesson of the day was always 4pm, and as I mentioned above, I always tried to snag it.
We walked a couple of blocks down the pedestrian zone and stopped at one of the many cafes. I think it was a whiskey bar but I wasn’t a whiskey drinker at the time. I don’t remember what drink I had but it was probably a glass of wine. (I know it was alcohol; so if that is a judgement issue for you, go ahead and start chalking up your black marks now.)
I went through my legal pad questions; in my memory we had a good time. He is an affable guy and easy to talk to. His hotel was at the end of the pedestrian zone, and my apartment was a few blocks past that, so we walked together. About two blocks past the bar, he stopped dead in the street, and started panicking; he had left his Stradivarius at the bar.
He started running and I ran with him. We got to the bar sweated and panicked, but there it was, tucked by a chair. We were both extremely relieved and shared a moment in the street, laughing and trying to catch our breath. He begged me not to tell anyone. Of course I agreed. This was the “good” kind of way a man in power asks a subordinate not to tell anyone about an incident: No one was harmed, but had it become public knowledge that he left a priceless work of art sitting in a whiskey bar in Miami it would have really damaged his reputation. I felt like we now had a little secret and I was happy to keep it for him. I’d had a great violin lesson, we had had a good time going over my work questions, and now this funny thing happened, and I thought the day was a success. We kept walking down the pedestrian zone and as we got within sight of his hotel he asked if I would like to have a cigar with him. “My ticket to the boy’s club!”, I thought. It was still daylight out. I felt safe. It was not until I got in to the room that I saw there was no balcony, and there would be no cigars.
Note: I did not give him my phone number. As I ran home panicked and crying after the incident, he must have called the front desk at NWS housing to get my number. My phone was ringing as I walked in the door. There was no caller ID in those days so I picked it up.
3. Obviously the most disturbing part of this type of incident is the physical violation of your body. But one aspect of this that is so overlooked is the impact that something like this has on your career.
Networking is vital to our little music business. A mentor or teacher can see you on stage and see you have the chops for the job, but they will know several dozen just like you. Often the thing that sets you apart is a personal connection, however small. That can be the difference between you getting a chamber music opportunity, or a substitute gig on an orchestra tour, or even a one-year contract in an orchestra (which can lead to a full-time, tenured gig.) It’s no accident that we don’t have equal representation of women and men in leadership positions in the music world. If we do network, and something like this happens, then plenty of people ask “Why were you going out with him” or “What did you think would happen”. (For reference, just see any comment stream on this article.) If we don’t network, then we are cut off from all the opportunities (and they are vast) that occur because of networking.
After this incident, which I have only recently begun to be able to call an attempted rape (because it was, but I feel sick even typing it out), I realized that a lot of my opportunities would be cut off. The 18 years I had invested to that point in my life studying this instrument and attending elite schools already had a hard stop on any progress I could make because I’d made a powerful enemy, and any audition I took to get in to any of the places he worked would be a futile waste.
I realized that in all likelihood, there were many like him in the business, and this would happen again and again; and I despaired. I realized that I would have to create my own opportunities, if I wanted to perform music and know that I would be safe. I have attempted to do that in my career.
I am very grateful to the Washington Post for writing this story. Obviously they couldn’t include this amount of detail or the story would have been the entire paper, but I think the work they did was excellent. And I don’t just mean this article, but also the respectful way they have treated me over the last 6 months.
I was unable to read the article before it went to print; that’s how real newspapers work. I read the article when I landed in Atlanta after flying in from Milan, sweaty and stressed and exhausted. Over the years, in the course of my career, I have been misquoted dozens of times, and I had a decent amount of stress about this article since I would have no chance to see it before the world did. But I put my trust in the professionalism of the writers, and I’m glad I did.