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Music school abuse: are students at elite schools more vulnerable to abuse by adults?

When Philip Pickett was convicted of sexual abuse in February of this year he became the latest in a line of prominent musicians and music teachers to be found guilty of abuse against his pupils.

Perhaps the most infamous case of sexual abuse in a music school relates to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, where Frances Andrade, who later took her own life through the distress caused by the case, was abused by Michael and Hilary Brewer.

These are only two of the numerous examples of pupils being abused by their teachers in the setting of elite music schools. A trawl of the news turns up a large number of examples of noted musicians and teachers taking advantage of their young charges. A question that must be asked is whether elite music teaching leaves young people more vulnerable to abuse.

On the face of it, the answer is that young people being taught at one educational institution are no more open to abuse than those being taught elsewhere. However, this is far too simplistic an approach to follow. The problem comes from the relationships between pupil and teacher being far more intimate and intense than in a regular classroom situation.

Most perpetrators of abuse are arrogant and manipulative in the extreme. In the case of music school abuse, this is reinforced. Pickett, on conviction, asked for his sentencing to be delayed to enable him to go on a musical tour – a request which the judge rejected by sentencing him on the day of his conviction. Writing in the Telegraph, pianist, music teacher and anti-abuse campaigner Ian Pace stated that most abusers are convinced of their superiority to other human beings. It’s a difficult assessment to argue with.

When this arrogance and superiority complex is placed into a one-on-one tutorial situation, a dangerous scenario arises, as has been shown by an almost endless stream of convictions.

Music school pupils often look up to their tutors – who are often internationally-renowned musicians in their own right – with a kind of hero-worship that leaves then wanting to please their hero. Even without an exploitative individual around, this renders the pupil vulnerable. When their hero is someone who is exploitative and convinced of their superiority, as has happened all too often in the past, the situation can quickly become abusive.

With additional safeguards in place, abusive situations are hopefully becoming less and less common, which can be no consolation to those who have been abused by men like Philip Pickett.

Switalskis Solicitors act on behalf of a number of survivors of abuse at elite music schools. To speak to a member of our specialist team in confidence, call 01709 890400.

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