Orna Raz

#MeToo In Classical Music

When we speak about classical music  the words sexual harassments are  probably not the first ones which come to mind. But if we reflect about the profession: the world of music, that’s a whole different story. On the  way to making great music together, there are sadly many forms of assaults and abuse.

The introduction to the world of music usually happens early in life. In order to achieve a basic mastery of the instrument, young string players, for example,  are required  to devote many hours of daily practice at the price of  childhood plays and activities. 

Once the child is a little older and achieves the necessary level of proficiency s/he usually joins an ensemble/youth orchestra/choir/ and often attends a special arts school. From that stage onward s/he is removed from her natural environment: music becomes her microcosmos, and in this reality there are new and different rules.

In this world,  the teachers/mentors/coaches have enormous power, and their influence often surpasses that of the child’s parents. Many of the youngsters are precocious, and they are eager to please their teachers and seek their approval. So this hierarchy could potentially create an opportunity for abuse and exploitation.

As musicians these youngsters spend long periods of time away from home together with their peers.  Throughout their childhood they attend music camps, and later they participate in different festivals. These activities could be fun, but they are also the source of great stress.  The competition among the young musicians is fierce, and  the ambition and  determination to make it in this competitive field is so strong and infectious that some young people, and perhaps even not so young, feel isolated and depressed.

When these musicians grow up many of them join orchestras and choirs. Here too the situation is not that different. It is a well known secret that within a group of people who play together, work together , and go on tours there are flings and affairs among equals and sexual abuse among those who are not.

Recently we heard horror stories about celebrated musicians. James Levine , for example, systematically abused young talented men who admired him and trusted him. Many people knew about it and kept silent. A few days ago (July 26th) we read in the Washington Post more stories about sexual assaults, threats, and blackmail in the music world. This article focused on William Preucil the celebrated concert master of Cleveland Orchestra, who is considered the best concert master in the US. As early as 2007,  he was accused of sexual harassment. But only now,  probably because of the #MeToo campaign, he was suspended from his position. 

Unlike sport, Music is a sublime form of art, but among those who are making music there are people who had no childhood, suffered abuse, and there are also those, especially men, who were willing to give up important values so they could get to the top and pass on to the next generation of gifted musicians, especially women, the kind of abuse that they had to endure.


About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. .
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