I’ve written on this blog before about how much Johannes Somary meant to me growing up. It’s hard to put words to how strongly I felt about the New York Times piece today calling him a serial sexual predator.
As much as I hate to say it, I don’t doubt the article’s truth. I remember the occasional whispers that “Johannes had a bit of a thing for boys”. I’m ashamed to say that I never took them seriously. His wife was right there by his side every day. His kids were our classmates. The cycle of classes and rehearsals rolled on. Everything seemed so normal. The idea that beneath the surface was something else entirely didn’t fit into reality as I knew it, and it certainly never crossed my mind that anybody was being raped.
How could it? We were just kids, in a time when nobody was talking about things like sexual abuse or inappropriate touching. It wasn’t a part of that reality to think that it could be true.
I can hardly wrap my head around the idea that two very different realities existed side by side – the black and the white of one person’s life. Does knowing more about the dark side of a man erase the good he did? Should I throw all out the recordings I own that he conducted? The music is still as glorious now as it was yesterday. It’s just my perception that has changed.
The hell of it is, that both are true. The beauty and the despicable acts both came from the same person. I got a great education from the same institution that was blind to or possibly even condoned despicable behavior. That complexity is what makes it so hard to understand or explain. Another HM-er described his experiences like this:
[The teacher] signed my yearbook as “Your teacher, advisor and friend.” He was all of those things. He just took advantage of the relationship.
I feel great sadness that so many people were hurt who didn’t have to be. I feel ashamed that none of us ever said anything, never questioned whether the status quo was right. Never helped the ones who were being hurt.
Horace Mann’s motto is: “Great is the truth and it prevails”. This is a time to let that truth, however painful, prevail.
UPDATE June 7
Driving home tonight, the first track from “Israel in Egypt” came up on the iPod. I’ve loved that piece ever since I sang it, in my first year of Glee Club.
But tonight I flashed on Johannes conducting that concert, and instead of it being a happy memory, I felt revolted. Ill. Angry.
Pretty much every piece of choral music that I love, I learned in his choir. And I feel sick thinking about any of them now.
I’m so angry. Why did nobody do anything? Why did the adults who were there to protect students instead chose to protect the abuser and the institution, even when presented with a direct accusation that a child had been raped? Where were they?