Ben Zander – A Disappointing End to a Brilliant Career at the New England Conservatory

In December of 2011, I was fortunate to see Ben Zander talk about classical music, passion, and human potential.  During his talk, he utilized many of the examples and parables in his inspiring book The Art of Possibility, which he co-wrote with his wife, psychotherapist Rosamund Stone Zander.   You can see an exert of his presentation in the Ted Talk “On Music and Passion”  which was filmed in 2008.

During the talk Zander gave to my company in December, he demonstrated how an early student of music plays a Chopin prelude.

Ben Zander in a teaching moment

He dives into the meaning of the notes and composition, and transcends the piece to an interpretation infused with passion.  The piano playing evolves from lifeless elevator music to a soulful interpretation of everything Chopin had to say in that piece.

“The job of the C is to make the B sad”

Zander says, “My job is to awaken possibility in other people”.  Ben is a brilliant teacher who gets fulfillment from being surrounded by the shining eyes of his students. He leads them on their journey to find the best in themselves.  Anyone who has the opportunity to be engaged in his teaching style will most likely be inspired to open the door to the possibility of being everything they ever dreamed of.

From his bio:  “Ben Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world.  In 1967 Mr. Zander joined the faculty at New England Conservatory (NEC), where he teaches an interpretation class, conducts the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and regularly conducts the conservatory orchestras.”

I was dismayed to learn on January 13th, NEC fired Zander for knowingly hiring a sex offender as a videographer for the school’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.   On the surface, it seems unbelievable.  Why would someone like Ben Zander hire a known sex offender, whose victims where young boys, in the role of videographer?   Being behind a camera, photographing people, requires a mutual bond of trust in order to not evoke  feelings of voyeurism.  It seemed incredulous, another institution engaged in covering up the illegal, despicable behavior of someone under their employ.

Peter Benjamin, the videographer, was hired 20 years ago by Zander.  Not only has Peter been employed by NEC, he has also been shooting video for the Boston Red Sox, Boston Ballet, the Opera Company of Boston, the American Repertory Theater.  In the early 1990’s, he served 5 years in state prison and has been a registered sex offender since.  At the time of sentencing, creative luminaries around Boston, including Zander, wrote shining letters to the judge in Peter’s case to influence a lessor sentence.  After serving his sentence, Peter completed a four-year therapy program whose “graduates have only a 5 percent recidivism rate”.

I applaud Peter’s commitment to rehabilitation, but I think it’s foolish to have a registered sex offender, whose victims were children, working in an educational institution.   NEC did the right thing letting him go, but made a huge mistake letting Zander go.  His current and future students suffer, Zander and his family suffer, and the administrators at NEC look foolish for over reacting, probably fearing the loss of alumni donations if they didn’t fire somebody besides the videographer.  The decision to hire Peter was made long before the profusion of sex crimes in trusted institutions like Higher Ed (Penn State) and the Catholic Church came into the limelight.  Ben Zander believed Peter could be healed from the experience of being sexually abused as a child, and also had to believe through rehab that Peter could be stopped from sexually abusing children as an adult.  Being healed certainly is a possibility, as is the success of rehabilitation.  I question Zander’s judgement to hire Peter to film a youth orchestra, but given that Peter’s crime was 20 years ago and there has not been another incident, letting Zander go is not fixing anything.

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5 thoughts on “Ben Zander – A Disappointing End to a Brilliant Career at the New England Conservatory

  1. Debra,
    You make interesting points and as a mother of young boys I too question Zander’s judgement. I am a master’s degree student at Full Sail University, and I am blogging about “The Art of Possibility” by Zander. Your photographs are exquisite, you have quite a talent. Would you consider giving me permission to use your photos above in my blog with your copyright noted? Thanks for a great perspective!

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