Martin Roscoe was interviewed in today’s Guardian. He is a splendid fellow, and a splendid pianist, and a sound reminder that it is only a minority of music teachers who behave badly: most are thoroughly principled, but like any other field of work, only a few will put their principles before their job.
The Chet’s scandal has thrown into relief many problems. First is the one-to-one nature of music lessons, and not just for the potential danger to children. Even before this scandal, many music teachers were worried about one-to-ones – largely for their own safety. It is good that a child’s allegations are taken seriously, but a child can be wrong, misreading a situation, being too dogmatic or even, for whatever reason, lying. Three examples: a music teacher had a complaint lodged against her for eating an apple during the lesson. Another was accused of hitting a boy with his bow (a bow which cost thousands: you can see the nonsense of this allegation). Another, of sexual advances to a girl – but this teacher was gay! Two episodes of Rumpole deal with the issue of child evidence, Rumpole and the Course of True Love and Rumpole and Children of the Devil, and should be compulsory viewing for anyone involved in the teaching or social work professions (and everyone else).
Most one-to-one music lessons show a healthy and normal relationship of trust between pupil and teacher (of whatever ages). It’s vital that the pupil get on with the teacher if any real progress is to be made. Like any other teacher, a music teacher is in loco parentis, nurturing the pupil for the pupil’s own benefit (Roscoe noted his teacher saying that “the aim of the teacher is to make himself dispensable to the student”), and having that special bond of trust. This makes Layfield, Brewer and Ling not just dirty old men but committers of a sort of incest.
Roscoe said that the one-to-one music lesson was “one of the easiest situations to abuse, I would have thought.” He added that music is an emotional thing, and that “in a way you have to disturb your students, just by suggesting you can think about things in a different way, emotionally perhaps…especially with someone aged 16 or 17, with hormones going beserk, it’s very easy for the student to have a crush on the teacher, and I’ve experienced it myself,” he says. “It’s very easy for it to happen the other way around, too. But there is a clear boundary.”
Layfield, Brewer and Ling crossed the boundary and deserve to be punished for it. However, there is more to the case than three individual transgressors. First, they were all in an institution in which they could get away with it. Gregson played supreme ostrich: ‘peek-a-boo, it may be true, there’s something in what you’ve said, but we’ve got enough troubles in everyday life: I just bury me head.’ (Flanders and Swann, of course.) Being a decent sort of chap himself, he probably didn’t believe that men could behave like that, even when Layfield ‘fessed up; he readily believed that Layfield wouldn’t do it again (so that’s all right, then). We live in the era of the ostrich. We trust far too much and ask too few questions. We let disasters like Bhopal happen and then buy the products of the firms which caused them because they’ve promised that there have been ‘lessons learned’. Accountability is bandied about so free and fast that it is entirely meaningless. We belong to so many huge corporations that no-one can be found personally responsible – it’s always someone else’s fault.
The second further issue is the place of men and women in society. One of the reasons that these abuses happened was because women are still, if not chattels, sexual objects and inferior to men, and therefore fair game. These men were all in positions of authority; the nature of their jobs suggests some personal charisma. The two combined make for hero-worship from students, an aura too tempting not to be worn – especially when the worshippers are nubile girls. These men are products of a society that still allows Page Three; that buys its little girls pink princess outfits and bears that say ‘let’s go shopping’ and make up. The film Little Miss Sunshine encapsulates beautifully the double standards rife in our attitudes to girls. Even the Guardian, on the day that it reported the Chet’s scandal and the possible success of the No More Page 3 campaign, reported royal fury at Kate’s bikini pictures. That the paparazzi photographed Kate Middleton’s naked bump is one thing; that it was newsworthy is quite another. We can barely chastise these men for overstepping the mark when we all allow artificial differences between men and women – that tend to keep women firmly in second place – to thrive and increase.