Pointer has investigated transgressional behavior in classical music since the spring. Based on our findings, we reported that the Amsterdam Conservatory terminated its collaboration with two instructors last year, while a third instructor had recently retired when allegations about his behavior came to light. In this article, we explain our approach in conducting this investigation. 


Why investigate classical music?

This story began with Anneke Romeijn. She has been playing the trumpet since she was 8 years old, studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory, and performed on major stages in the Netherlands and abroad as a freelance musician. She also worked in the NPO Klassiek studio, producing the morning program for 12 years, presented by Margriet Vroomans on behalf of KRO-NCRV. Margriet was one of the first people Anneke told about her decision to leave the professional music world, tired of sexism, inequality, and other forms of misconduct.

This raised alarms for Margriet Vroomans, prompting her to dig deeper. Was Anneke the only musician with such experiences? After Margriet spoke with fifteen musicians, Pointer joined the effort. During this investigation, we established contact with a total of 51 people from across the Netherlands and beyond, representing various segments of the classical music world. We received stories from conservatory students and employees, orchestral musicians, opera singers, and counselors. Some responded to our call posted on our website in late June, while others were introduced to us through third-party connections. One of the individuals we interviewed was Eline Cote from Belgium, who conducted international research with an additional 250 female musicians, 20 percent of whom experienced sexual boundary-crossing behavior. Her investigation served as an important source for us as well. Eline is both a researcher and the founder of the Virago Symphonic Orchestra, consisting entirely of female musicians performing works by female composers.

Klassiek grensoverschrijdend gedrag

Sexual misconduct at the Amsterdam Conservatory: 3 teachers depart

Deze vrouwen werden seksueel belaagd in de klassieke muziekwereld

These women experienced sexual harassment in classical music: ‘I was prey’

Did musicians speak openly about their experiences?

A common issue among the contacts we made during the investigation was the fear of repercussions for speaking about their experiences, even when these experiences were clearly boundary-crossing. Therefore, we initially spoke to everyone on a background basis, ensuring their anonymity. This approach allowed sources to speak freely. For us, these conversations were crucial for not only documenting their experiences but also gaining a comprehensive understanding of the environment in which these incidents occurred. The world of classical music is not excessively large. The Netherlands has nine conservatories, eight of which offer programs in classical music. There are ten symphonic orchestras that rely on government funding to sustain themselves. The Radio Filharmonisch Orkest is funded through broadcasting fees, while the others receive subsidies from the Ministry of Culture.

Consequently, job opportunities and financial resources are scarce, and full-time positions are even scarcer. This early ingrained fear of speaking openly is a result of these challenging circumstances. In conservatories, it's common for lessons to be conducted in one-on-one settings, with a principal instructor who remains with the student throughout their course of study. This level of attention is rare in higher education but, as our research revealed, also makes students vulnerable. Of the stories we gathered, 31 related to incidents at conservatories in cities like Maastricht, The Hague, Tilburg, Utrecht, and Rotterdam.

Share your story

Our investigation into transgressive behavior in classical music continues. All tips, suggestions, and comments are welcome. Please fill in the form or reach out directly to Justus Cooiman or David van Unen. We guarantee discretion.

Why does the episode focus on the Amsterdam Conservatory?

A significant number of stories came from (former) students of the Amsterdam Conservatory. At the beginning of the summer, we decided to investigate the situation at the largest and most renowned conservatory in the Netherlands. The abundance of tips received from the capital played a key role in this decision: after all, one source is not enough.

Several former students from a specific department there tell us, there was a lot of collective drinking in bars, where specifically two teachers would make crude and sexist jokes. Students reported unwanted touching, and there were even cases of sexual relations between instructors and students.

The period during which -the former students we spoke with- experienced these incidents spanned at least 18 years. Furthermore, we learned that multiple reports of this behavior were made within the same timeframe, but consequences were lacking. Although consequences have been enforced since then (both men no longer work at the Amsterdam Conservatory as of last year), we decided to highlight this case because the situation in this department persisted for a long time, and earlier reports were not immediately acted upon. Several reliable sources confirmed that instructors had engaged in sexual relations with a student, but due to the sensitive nature of this matter, those sources did not elaborate on this aspect in the broadcast.

Why not disclose the names of the former instructors?

Two former students from this department were willing to share their experiences on camera, provided they didn't have to name the teachers. We agreed to this condition, considering the privacy of these former instructors and because the issue we wanted to address extends beyond these specific cases. The accounts of these two former students were corroborated on a background basis by other former students and the administration of the Amsterdam Conservatory. Last year, the conservatory terminated its collaboration with these two men.

The same applies to the second case in our investigation. At a later stage, two former students from another department of the Amsterdam Conservatory came forward. They described a culture of frequent drinking and partying within their department. One of their instructors regularly crossed verbal boundaries and sent sexually suggestive messages through Facebook and WhatsApp. Unlike the students from the other department, these two women only agreed to share their stories anonymously in our broadcast.

We agreed to this condition after reviewing message exchanges between the instructor, the two women, and a third student. The text messages on both WhatsApp and Facebook supported the former students' stories. In this case too, we learned that an initial report made by the affected students was not addressed within the conservatory's organization. Here too, the conservatory's administration confirmed that the instructor's behavior warranted termination.

What is the instructors' response?

All three former instructors were informed about our investigation more than 2 weeks ahead of the broadcast. One of the instructors declined to comment right away. Extensive conversations were held with the other two men, and both were given the opportunity to respond in the broadcast. One of them chose to do so. Regarding teaching at home, he wrote:

"This is a completely incorrect representation of the situation and reflects a lack of understanding of the culture within a conservatory! It is true that I occasionally held regular main subject lessons at my home (...) Careful consideration was given to the most convenient location for both parties. Occasionally, due to limited space at the conservatory, a lesson at my home was preferred. This was the case with multiple departments, and my students never expressed any objections. Yes, on occasion, when a lesson ended late in the afternoon, I did offer a drink if the circumstances allowed, without any distinction between male and female students."

And concerning post-recital visits to cafes:

"After such events it has been and still is customary for everyone to go to a nearby public venue for a drink or a meal, including students with their partners and instructors. The atmosphere can generally be described as very relaxed due to the sense of relief after a performance (...) Perhaps certain students were annoyed by the informal atmosphere that existed between students and instructors at those times and the comments made back and forth. I regret that! In most cases, we, as instructors, covered the cost of all consumptions used by students and left in a timely manner. None of the instructors ever observed any irregularities."

After an initial meeting in June, Pointer has kept the Amsterdam Conservatory in the know about the progress of the investigation. The same goes for the women who shared their story. Days before the broadcast, they were shown the program and agreed to it's content.


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