Q&A | Ian Pace

The organiser of a 1,000-strong petition on why there must be an inquiry into the culture of British music schools and colleges.

Pianist and musicologist Ian Pace lectures at City University’s Centre for Music Studies. In a personal capacity, he and fellow Chetham’s piano graduates Paul Lewis and Tim Horton have organised a petition which calls for an inquiry into ‘sexual and other abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and other specialist music institutions’ following the conviction of the school’s former director of music, Michael Brewer, on sexual abuse charges. The petition closed on 24 February with more than 1,000 signatories and Pace will be sending it to government ministers, shadows and the heads of all the UK’s specialist music schools and colleges.

Q: Your petition calling for an official inquiry into abuse at Chetham’s and other specialist music institutions has amassed more than 1,000 signatures, many from people with no links to Chet’s. How widespread do you think the problem was decades ago?

I would say unfortunately it was extremely widespread, probably to be found in most music schools and not just in Britain ‒ which is not saying it’s a case of most teachers, of course. But on the basis of what I have heard from many people who have contacted me with private information, I’d say cases of this were  probably occurring in most of the major specialist music schools at the time.

Q: That’s why you’re calling for an inquiry. On what scale would you like that to take place?

I would like an inquiry to look at all the specialist music schools and music colleges both historically and in the present. It should look into the values behind the pedagogy, the teaching methods, how they deal with students who may be less likely to go on to musical careers, and the whole structural working of the institutions. If these types of things ‒ sexual and other types of abuse ‒ could happen, then we need to know whether those institutions were either unaware of them or, if they did know, did nothing to stop them, or possibly even put pressure on students to keep quiet. I don’t want to presume a result there ‒ but if at least some of the allegations are true all the institutions have a lot of difficult questions to answer.

Q: Do you make a distinction between abuse which took place at music schools and at music colleges?

Well it’s obviously a different situation when one is dealing with minors and current laws, since the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, have cleared up that grey area of 16-17 year-olds in a legal sense. But I think in terms of psychological abuse, physical abuse and anything sexual which involves coercion or lack of consent, then no, I definitely don’t make a distinction.

Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
Photo: David Dixon

Q: You call senior members of staff to account for ‘what appears to be a severe failure of the system’. What do you expect to hear from them?

I think an inquiry should have the power to call senior and not-so senior staff. If so much was going on, in lots of schools ‒ and lots of the accounts at least allege that there were processes of cover-up and collusion at the schools ‒ then this needs to be addressed. This is important not least in order to be sure that this is not something endemic in the way that such institutions work.

Q: To what extent is one-to-one engagement required in high-level music teaching?

I know some people think that the one-to-one relationship is essential; speaking purely personally, I am a little more agnostic on this subject. I think there is a lot of value in group teaching and I think we make a bit of a fetish of the one-to-one relationship ‒ when group teaching is handled well it can be extremely productive. But I think a lot of the problems involved when teaching young people stem from the notion that one is not merely teaching musicians, but trying to form whole personalities ‒ I think exactly how this works and is assumed to be the case is something that needs serious scrutiny. Whilst an educator, I am in no sense an educational psychologist and do not pretend to know easy solutions, but I do believe the subject needs to be addressed seriously and publicly by experts.

Q: Rumours have circulated for decades that abuse has been endemic in the system. Why do you think it’s taken so long for there to be a high-profile conviction and calls for an inquiry like this?

I think it’s too raw for people. A lot of these cases took place during young people’s formative years. In the case of Michael Brewer, anyone who was at Chet’s had a lot of contact with him, whether doing his aural classes or through his conducting of the choir and the orchestra ‒ we all knew him and he played a big part in our musical formation. The conviction, on such serious charges, of someone like that , who one knew at an age when you look to such people not just as musicians but also as role models ‒ is very deeply unsettling. So the idea that there might be some whole wider level of corruption and exploitation going on in a range of institutions was perhaps too much to take on until something happened to light the fuse, which the Michael and Hilary Kay Brewer trial, and especially Frances Andrade’s suicide, really did.

Q: Can we be sure that the culture of abuse which is now coming to light has been eradicated from today’s music schools?

Certainly various institutions would insist that it has, and point to new policies on pastoral care and so on. I am prepared to believe that this could be accurate. But if the schools are so confident that things are fine now, then I think they should want to cooperate fully with this sort of inquiry, if only for the sake of taking some responsibility for so many ruined lives, if the allegations prove to be true. They should not have anything to hide and so can be transparent about things now ‒ and it would strengthen all of them to address what went wrong in the past. Any of these institutions will take credit for whoever has gone on to do great things. I think that if they do that, they also have some responsibility for other people whose lives have gone very badly wrong in ways that may be related to the school.

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