Classical Music #MeToo: Part 1. Churches

Various media, including blogs like this one, are beginning to enumerate the different fields of endeavour being included in the #MeToo movement.

Wherever ambition, talent, beauty and youth are combined with a suitably isolated venue, it seems to attract sexual predators. So far #MeToo has included the entertainment, sport, popular music and education industries. It is time for more attention to be paid to sexual harassment and abuse in the field of classical music. I am not the first writer to comment on the fact that classical music is a perfect hunting ground for predators. For a start, music lessons are normally one-on-one, with little opportunity for surveillance by authority. This isolation can be exacerbated by geographic, situational factors such as being suspended from a cathedral ceiling in an organ loft.

A recent post asks WhoKnew about James Levine and suggests #WhoKnew as a new hashtag. Anyone who Tweets is welcome to use it. I am not on Twitter.

The Toronto Star has an excellent article on the prevalence of bad behaviour in the classical music world, not just today, but over the ages. I’m not sure if I will ever again want to play music by Schubert or Debussy, much as I love it.

Nobody should be surprised, now that churches have been outed as the home of priestly predation, that church musicians are over-represented in the ranks of sex offenders. We Music students were taught that the Church has been the birthplace of great music, and the Patron of great musicians. Sadly, creativity has at times been accompanied by narcissism and psychopathy. Today’s post surveys the problem of sexual abuse by church musicians.

Joanne McCarthy’s live blog on August 29, 2016, Day 10 of the Royal Commission’s inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the Newcastle Anglican Diocese, mentions “allegations about an organist believed to be a serial paedophile, who obtained a diocese clearance to work, despite allegations”. A world renowned organist, David Sanger, was found deceased in May, 2010, while awaiting trial on child sex abuse charges. He had been President of the Royal College of Organists, whose Patron is the Queen. Another case was reported to me by a Registered Psychologist in 2005. Knowing of my interest in the connections between Anglican Church Music and Royalty (think Charles and Di’s wedding, Zadok the Priest, choirboys), she mentioned that one of the Queen’s own organists, Jonathan Rees-Williams, had been jailed for child sex abuse in 2004.

Ian Pace’s excellent blog Desiring Progress has an account of the Sanger case, as well as many others. He asks:

“why it always has to be music teachers, and why so often in Britain. Is it because music, like sport, has tactile teaching elements that attract perverts? Or does music grant a license to perverts to act out their fantasies?

Pace then quotes from another article speculating about the same thing. Why are so many sadists found among the ranks of music teachers?  “I have no statistics to hand, but it’s Don Giovanni to a string quartet that there are ten times as many music teachers who are caught molesting pupils as chemistry or geography beaks. Now why is that? Does music, in some obscure way, attract sadists and corrupters?” ( Norman Lebrecht, ‘Why is it always music teachers’, Slipped Disc, 22/12/10

Add to that the respect and reverence associated with learning music in a church, as a budding church musician, and you begin to understand how such behaviour could be hidden for a long time. Child abuse by church musicians has been the subject of whispered conversations, sniggering behind hands, and raised eyebrows for far too long. A “gross breach of trust” is how one judge described it, when sentencing organist Michael Mytton in April, 2013.

Anglican choirmaster John Gallienne, who had already served a jail sentence after being found guilty in 1990, was further charged in 2010 in connection with molesting choirboys several decades earlier. I have never been sure why choirboys are so vulnerable to abuse. I know that dating back to the Middle Ages, castrati singers were in demand as choirboys. But when did choirboys turn into sex objects?

Andrew Wilson is another UK choirmaster charged with sexual offences against boys. Over in the States, Gary Mabry was indicted for failing to register as a sex offender while a choirmaster at three churches in D.C.

The list goes on and on. If you Google the name of cathedrals in a city close to you, then add the appropriate search terms, you can discover stories like this one.  Queensland Anglicans really know how to appreciate good music. They revere its practitioners and fiercely defend those who are subject to pesky allegations.

Many links can be found between Anglicans and the Law in Queensland, where the separation of powers can only be described as flimsy.

De Jersey at Cathedral

Image Source: Courier Mail
Chief Justice of Queensland Catherine Holmes with the Governor at the annual opening of the law year’s church service at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane.

In what passes for democracy in this State, many victims of abuse in the churches and associated bodies are still patiently waiting for justice.

Let’s hope that more victims of sex offenders in the classical music field will join the #MeToo movement.

























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