As further allegations surface of sexual abuse at Britain's top music schools, it's becoming clear that we've only seen the beginning. It has taken the suicide of a fine violinist and mother of four to bring to light the scale of exploitation, mismanagement and cover-ups within the various establishments through which she was unlucky enough to pass. As a result, everything that contributed to the death of Frances Andrade is under scrutiny: the legal system that she felt accused her in court of lying, the police that allegedly advised her not to seek psychological help during the arduous two-year trial of Michael and Kay Brewer, and, of course, the educational institutions in which it all happened in the first place.
The wider domino effect began with the publication the other day of Martin Roscoe's correspondence with the then head of the Royal Northern College of Music, Edward Gregson (who has since retired), pertaining to the appointment of Malcolm Layfield as head of strings - an appointment over which Martin and some other professors in his keyboard department resigned their posts, after expressing concerns about the nature of the violinist's relationships with some of his students. It appears that the college was more eager to defend its decision than to retain the services of some of the best-respected pianists in the country.
Martin has now claimed that after he chose to make a stand over Malcolm Layfield's appointment, he was subjected to a vicious smear campaign against his own (unimpeachable) character that has had long-term repercussions on his health. "For the next 2 years I had panic attacks, agoraphobia, claustrophobia and heightened performance anxiety. I have been on medication for high blood pressure ever since," he has stated.
Expect more about this soon in The Guardian. It's a clasic case of "shoot the messenger" and, unbelievably, it has taken nearly 11 years for the truth to be publicly revealed, even though many of us could see exactly what was going on back in 2002.
Now ten women have come forward to allege that they suffered sexual abuse by yet another teacher at Chetham's around the same time, this time a violinist named Chris Ling. More on this here. Rumblings offstage suggest that there is yet more to come, involving other top music schools in the UK.
Amid this disgraceful state of things, people are inevitably asking: what is wrong with these musical establishments that such events could take place there?
I think that isn't quite the right question - at least, not completely. And while the inevitable witch-hunt commences - there'll be finger-pointing, hysteria, 'lists of shame' and so forth - we should appeal for calm and look beyond that at the underlying problems of culture, attitude and atmosphere if any of this is to be healed in the long term.
First of all, the combination of the intensive one-to-one relationship necessary between a music student and his/her teacher and a boarding situation in which the student is far from home and, in certain cases, in an isolated setting, is undoubtedly noxious. But the vital question is not only about ths music: it's about the boarding. After all, sexual abuse of the young and vulnerable is anything but confined to the music world.
Britain. as you know, is famous for its boarding schools. I can think of no other country in which the finest education is supposedly achieved in places which families pay through the nose for the privilege of sending their children away from home into the "care" of strangers. I don't need to remind you of the number of people at the top of British establishments of all kinds that have been through these places. When I was preparing the ground for Hungarian Dances, I decided, in order to give the heroine's husband a measure of verisimilitude, to interview a few people who'd been sent away to boarding school as young boys, in some cases aged only five. What was the worst thing about it, I asked. The sense of abandonment, entrapment, betrayal? "Being buggered," said my first interviewee, loud and clear. But this strand never quite made it into the book: apparently being buggered at boarding school is so common that to include it in a novel would be "a cliche".
But why are UK music schools, on the whole, boarding schools too? Other countries around Europe don't have this situation. We have very, very few music schools. In France there's a structured national system of local conservatoires. In Russia, local specialist music schools cater for gifted youngsters. Supposing Britain were to encourage more music schools, spread around the country to take in the local gifted children without necessitating boarding?
In a country where the boarding school culture is ingrained at the very top of society, along with other organisations that have been exposed for their cover-ups of sexual abuse, notably certain branches of the Catholic Church, it's perhaps no wonder that a sense of entitlement pervaded the decades of permissive atmospheres that preceded the advent of AIDS. It's about power; it's about corruption; it's about celebrity, adulation, talent, charisma, woolly ideals and structural failure.
There are no easy answers, of course.; only many, many questions to ask. And many of these remain about why the abusers were so often protected instead of the vulnerable young people around them, why some individuals at the RNCM - apparently fearing that its name would be "brought into disrepute" if the situation was discussed - preferred to exercise power over good sense. It's that other endemic matter in Britain: bad management. Beware those mealy-mouthed words "bring into disrepute" and "moving on" - they are often employed by organisations that are afraid of the former (rather than actually suffering it) and unable to do the latter. Several motivations are possible in such cases: a) headless chicken syndrome, where a management simply has no clue how to handle the situation; b) cover-ups and scapegoating that mask deeper, still more sinister issues; c) as Schiller wrote, "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
But it shouldn't take a death to make society listen. It shouldn't take a death to make us wonder why it is easier for establishments to accuse women of lying rather than to investigate properly. It shouldn't take a death to bring so much iniquity out of woodwork in which it's been gnawing away for the better part of 30 years. If Frances Andrade is not to have spoken and died in vain, we need to keep calm, ask the right questions and make sure it never, ever happens again.