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BPYO values shouldn’t reflect former criminal actions of St. George

The entirety of my summer was spent practicing double bass excerpts for Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, hoping I would earn a place in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) under the baton of Benjamin Zander, a legendary British conductor. After marveling over numerous master-class videos where Zander completely transformed musicians’ interpretations in a mere 30 minutes, I could only think how privileged I would be to continue my musical journey with his wisdom shaping my every note.

When I stepped into his house for the audition, I joked with one of the administrators that “I don’t know why I’m here. I’m terrible. But I’d pay $20 for an Uber ride to have him change my life with his advice.”

The audition, at least from my perspective, had in fact gone terribly. As I glided my bow against the strings playing a transcription of the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, I felt my body throbbing out of anxiety—and every note seemed to drift in and out of pitch.

I forgot where I was in the piece at one point and was told to stop after starting a new phrase. Not only that, but my music was out of order; I had some excerpts played ridiculously under tempo; and my bow even fell out of my hand.

Despite all of my shortcomings, my eyes lit up when he questioned, “How will you get into rehearsal?” I was in.

Having only attended two rehearsals, I can confidently say the BPYO is one of the most phenomenal youth orchestras in the entire world. I intend to keep performing for the rest of my life, and I don’t know if I will ever get a chance to play with instrumentalists of such high caliber ever again.

But my passion for music nor the success of the orchestra is not the reason am I writing this article.

Last Tuesday evening, David St. George, former artistic advisor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) and BPYO, was arrested for possession of child pornography. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was notified back in May that an online storage account was suspected to contain 83 images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children, including a one-year-old girl.

The IP address was assigned to St. George’s home, where thousands of more files were discovered, leading to his arrest. The length of his prison sentence, though currently unconfirmed, may span on the upward of 20 years.

My immediate reaction to this news was of complete disgust. I was so excited to be apart of an ensemble praised worldwide, and now I was plagued with guilt, unsure if I would want to continue being a member of an organization with unprecedented roots in distrust. That said, I never knew the man beyond the staff introductions during the first meeting. Was I really able to make such harsh conclusions about someone I did not know?

Despite the immediate image you might picture of St. George, the man was more valuable than I expected. He was an acquaintance to Zander for 45 years, and his expertise in music included serving as assistant classical music critic for The Boston Globe, writing program notes for various philharmonic orchestras around the country and teaching music history and theory here at Brandeis, as well as being an alumnus of the class of 1968.

Many students in the BPYO who knew St. George were shocked by his betrayal, as he loved engaging in deep one-on-one conversations with the musicians. One student even claimed St. George was his favorite staff member in the BPYO and asked if he can’t trust someone who seemed so genuine and had such high moral character, how can he expect to trust any person ever again?

The majority of students in the orchestra are pursuing performance degrees at prestigious universities such as the New England Conservatory, Harvard and Berklee College of Music, but the aftermath of this event has left them completely immobilized, having not practiced in days. Why then, if St. George was such a respected individual, would he commit such heinous crimes?

That is not an answer we may ever find, but in taking a moment to reflect on my initial reaction of hatred towards St. George and the orchestra, I don’t believe it is fair to hold on to such feelings. He had never committed any crimes beforehand, and he has impacted more people’s lives than I can count.

What are we to make of society if we can never find a way to forgive, and to trust one another, no less? The student who expressed his skepticism for trusting the rest of the staff at BPYO has every right to remain fearful, but for the sake of moving forward, I believe we need to be honest and believe in each other’s pleas of honesty.

St. George was a Brandeis affiliate, and I hope that the reveal of his misconduct opens our community up to the realization that despite our core values, none of us are perfectly civilized. Other universities may have been founded with gender and racial discrimination, but while Brandeis was established to counteract such immoral behavior, that does not mean our community is inherently pure.

We must be in check with ourselves and honest about our faults no matter how personal they may be. Perhaps I am biased on forgiveness because the extent of St. George’s good faith, at least the way I’ve come to see it, outweighs the severity of his crimes. Furthermore, just because he has betrayed us does not mean the rest of the staff should be accused. Is it fair to assume that all Muslims are terrorists just because a select minority of them was involved in the 9/11 attacks? I would think not.

In light of the events that have occurred, I am looking forward to re-joining the orchestra this Saturday for rehearsal. St. George is, and will forever be, removed from communication from the BPYO, but we must not eradicate the image he possessed as a man of good faith.

Likewise, despite the stigmatization of this misconduct, I believe it is wrong to make immediate conclusions about the BPYO, or of any organization in question for something, without taking into consideration all of its parts. BPYO, and Brandeis too for that matter, are filled with amazing people capable of changing the world, but we must be honest and open about our faults if we are to maintain trust and avoid emotional harm.

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