Following revelations of historic sexual abuse at Chetham’s School of Music, a Channel 4 News investigation hears reports of inappropriate behaviour at all five of the UK’s specialist music schools.
Photo credit: Nicholas Fisk
The allegations span four decades, and include claims the founding music director of the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey (Marcel Gazelle: above bottom left) sexually abused pupils as young as ten years old in the 1960s.
Channel 4 News has also spoken to a teacher at two other music schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s who said sexual relationships between instrumental teachers and their pupils were “common”.
The investigation found one case in which three pupils at the same school say they were sexually involved with the same teacher during the 1990s.
Nigel Kennedy (above top left), who is among the world’s most recognisable violinists and a former pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School, said he was “shook up and appalled” to hear of the allegations.
The school was founded in 1963 by Yehudi Menuhin, one of the twentieth century’s greatest virtuosos, with the help of his friend, the pianist Marcel Gazelle.
Channel 4 News has heard allegations that Gazelle, who performed and recorded prolifically with Menuhin, sexually abused girls in the school’s bedrooms.
I felt he was a very powerful person… I just remember feeling like I was sort of like his property – former pupil of Gazelle
Irita Kutchmy (pictured above, top right), who studied with Gazelle from the age of nine to twelve, says his behaviour had a “very detrimental” effect on her childhood.
“I felt he was a very powerful person… I just remember feeling like I was sort of like his property, his pupil and therefore what he said went,” she said. “It didn’t appear to me to be weird that he came up to wake us up in the morning. It was just the way it was at the school… He would tickle me under the sheets… His hands were on my bare skin where they shouldn’t be.”
“He was quite scary, that’s what I remember, being frightened.”
Channel 4 News has spoken to two more women who also claim Marcel Gazelle sexually abused them at the Yehudi Menuhin School.
One of them says she reported his behaviour to the school at the time and was told to avoid being on her own with him.
Mr Kennedy, who attended the school in the 1960s, says he feels “very sad and sympathetic” towards his former classmates.
“I just know that Marcel Gazelle was a repeat offender and it wasn’t a one off thing,” he said. “It’s a disgrace really that people’s trust has been abused in such a way… The children themselves, their trust, the parents’ trust, people’s belief in music as being a pure form of art, [that] this whole ethos can be abused by one sick selfish person is very, very disturbing.”
Marcel Gazelle died in 1969. His family said he was a good man and they were surprised by the allegations, which they contest. They said they do not see how he would have had the opportunity to sexually abuse some of his pupils. One of his sons said he even spent time with his father at the school in the 1960s and saw nothing of concern.
Enough people were doing it for it to be more of a norm than should ever be even contemplated Former music teacher
The Yehudi Menuhin School said it was “shocked and saddened to learn of the allegations.”
“We have checked the records which survive from 50 years ago and can find nothing about any concerns expressed at the time,” it said.
“In accordance with our policies we have reported these serious allegations to Surrey Police. The school attaches the utmost importance to the safety and welfare of our students… as recent inspection reports show.”
There are five elite music schools in the UK, attracting pupils as young as eight, many backed by significant tax-payer subsidy.
A teacher who worked at two of the schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s, told Channel 4 News sexual relationships between teachers and pupils were “common”.
“It felt to me completely wrong. As a team of teachers, enough people were doing it for it to be more of a norm than should ever be even contemplated,” she said.
“I thought they were absolutely gross. I mean you’ve got to ask questions about somebody whose ego is being propped up by seducing girls of that age and abusing that trust.”
“It felt like the biggest sort of betrayal that you can possibly imagine.”
The teacher still works in music schools and does not wish to be identified. She said one-to-one lessons in music schools were open to exploitation, and claimed that some tutors, often revered musicians, were treated like “objects of worship” with a “cultish” and “quite frenzied” atmosphere around them.
“I saw children who were being influenced and led,” she said. “I saw children who were becoming far too close to the people that were teaching them and they were enjoying what they saw as special attention… entering into relationships that were beyond professional.
“Not just the fact that they were sexual relationships but kind of affairs based on obsession.”
One woman who was a pupil at a music school in the 1990s told Channel 4 News her teacher flirted with her frequently, before making a pass at her after a lesson at his home.
“I can remember it very vividly. The lesson was over, I was leaving. He then shut the blinds in the front room, which I thought – well you know, that’s a very odd thing to do – why would he do that? And his words were, ‘I’m going to kick myself if I don’t do this,’ and proceeded to kiss me.”
She said she lost her virginity to her teacher when she was just 17-years-old.
“I know I didn’t want it to happen. I remember being led up the stairs and I remember specifically saying, ‘If this is what I think it’s going to be, then I’m not ready’.”
At least three pupils at the same school say they were sexually involved with the same teacher, Channel 4 News understands. Two of them suffered mental breakdowns shortly afterwards, from which they’ve never truly recovered. The teacher later left the school, though he still works with young people.
The allegations date from before 2001, when it became illegal for teachers to enter into relationships with pupils, even if they were over the age of consent.
Chetham’s School is now the focus of a major police investigation, following the conviction of its former music director, Michael Brewer, for sexually assaulting a pupil in the 1980s.
Dozens more victims have come forward with allegations against a number of teachers at the school over many decades.
Responding to details of the Channel 4 News investigation, the music schools said the welfare of their pupils was their overriding priority and that where necessary they’ve contacted the police and the relevant authorities.
The schools said the majority of the allegations were historic, that recent allegations have been dealt with appropriately and that they have confidence in their safeguarding procedures, which they say are under constant review.
Victim Support has a helpline for victims of child sex abuse. Call 020 7740 8281.