Opera Industry & Music Education Professionals Speak Out Against Those Supporting Sex Offender David DanielsBy David Salazar
Just a few weeks after sex offender David Daniels pled guilty to sexually assaulting Samuel Schultz, he took to social media to post about his potential return to the stage.
“Over the last week, I’ve received not one but two singing engagement offers. Both in Europe: shocking right? With approval, I am going to accept. I better start vocalizing when I get home cause I sound like an 90 year old fog horn right now. Details later!! We have our passports back now,” Daniels wrote in a post that has since been taken down.
But before he deleted, the post was littered with messages of support from not only fans, but also several professors of institutions of high learning, as well as artists, managers, and other industry professionals, all ready to forget that Daniels, following his guilty plea to a second-degree felony, is now, for the rest of his life, required to register as a sex offender (he also has eight years of probation and must refrain from all contact with Schultz).
Since Daniels’ post, OperaWire has been contacted by numerous numerous artists and classical music industry professionals, including a Met Opera employee, about their own reactions to seeing colleagues throw their support behind Daniels. OperaWire has allowed them an opportunity to express their views in this piece. Many of the respondents preferred to remain unnamed for this article, for fear of professional repercussions from people in positions of power and influence who announced their support for Daniels and have been mentioned as anonymous (though some included their positions). Others came forward with their names and are also included as such. The statements provided are preserved in full.
***Note: Many of the statements below mention Daniels as “convicted.” However, per Texas Law, “When a defendant receives deferred adjudication, he “is placed on community supervision without a finding of guilt and without being convicted of any offense.” Ex parte Smith, 296 S.W.3d 78 (Tex.Crim.App. 2009) (quoting George E. Dix & Robert O. Dawson, Texas Practice–Criminal Practice and Procedure § 39.51 (2001)).
Daniels gets “deferred adjucation” because “Deferred adjudication is granted without a formal conviction. The offender pleads guilty and gets a “test period.” The conviction is deferred and finally dismissed. Any violation leads to conviction and announcement of the punishment.”
“Growing up, I heard my grandmothers story. She was a student at a prestigious music school in the Northeast. A faculty member there got her pregnant. And while he did the “honorable thing” by marrying her, she was forced to leave the school and her career. He walked out after a year of marriage, at which point she had to fend for herself as a young, divorced mother of twins in the 1940’s. More than one person has commented on my grandmother’s story over the years, making it about her first husband, instead. He was “a brilliant musician” and “needed an outlet.” What about my grandmother? She was a brilliant musician too. My mother was abused by her private teacher when she was in high school. As far as I know, there were no consequences for that man. My mother still doesn’t talk about it much, 60 years later. But I do remember her making a feeble attempt once to excuse his behavior, because he was a “brilliant man and teacher.” When I enrolled at a music school in the Midwest in 1990, I heard rumors about the choral director. Everyone seemed to accept that this “brilliant man” and “gifted conductor” openly flirted with every good-looking female in the chorus. I suspect he did more than that. My father was also faculty member there, so the conductor did not try anything with me. However, I distinctly remember my father and his colleagues joking about the conductor’s behavior over dinner. Students have been groomed for decades to accept this kind of behavior, and even to excuse it. But the current generation of college students, my children’s generation, does not have to accept it. They shouldn’t. They don’t. Faculty and administrators must lead the way. They need to show support for the students under their care, not for convicted rapists. The actions of several music professors this week are despicable.”
“A teacher’s primary responsibility is to protect students. Faculty must do better. Stop making excuses for rapists. You cannot post about your school being a source of support and growth when you openly support a convicted sex offender who was also fired from his teaching position for sexually harassing students. You cannot say “I wasn’t there,” as if there is any doubt about his guilt. There is no gray area. No doubt. David Daniels pleaded guilty. He is a registered offender. He was fired from his job. These are facts. Professors who make excuses and show public support for sexual offenders have failed their students in every way. How can a student speak up, knowing that his professor publicly supports a rapist? How can a student feel safe when the people who are supposed to protect her make excuses for sexual offenders? A professor must put her students first.”
-Sarah Kendall, Singer and Educator
“It is indisputable that if opera is to survive that change is required, and not just in artistic approach for increase in ticket sales. Generational divide is ever present in America right now and the opera industry is no exception. I think we are all beginning to realize that if we want safety and equity in our respective fields that it is going to include holding our mentors and idols accountable for their words and actions, as uncomfortable as that may be. The arts should be used to call out power imbalances and injustices, yet we have only seen them enforced within our own community.”
–Meg Graves, Opera Singer
“Many in influential positions of the opera world continue to be completely tone deaf when it comes to victims’ voices. If they cannot seem to learn that these things will not just get swept under the rug anymore, it’s time for a new guard.”
“To see so many professors who work with students every single day (and who have a duty to PROTECT students) show their public and enthusiastic support of a convicted sex offender who admitted his own guilt in court is BEYOND disheartening and quite frankly disgusting. My heart hurts to see it. At the same time, it’s not surprising to see the folks who’ve benefitted from a toxic system making sure to support that system. We can all see who liked and
commented on that latest public post. In case no one has said it to you yet – shame on you. Just because someone has a charming personality doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of horrific things. Most offenders are well liked.”
“As Educators it is our job to listen to our students when they are hurting. Seeing so many industry professionals “like” and comment on a Facebook status by a convicted criminal hurts our students. It also hurts our industry as a whole because it continues the loud message that if you are talented then you can get away with truly horrible things. It does however keep the conversation going about how can we support good art made by not so good people. (For example wow could Wagner write beautiful music but also he was very very flawed as a person). I don’t have the answer to this… but I also know that hitting the like button and cheering someone on who has such a notorious reputation in our industry is not the answer.”
– Stacey Sands, Singer, Pianist, Educator
“By publicly supporting the successes of a convicted rapist and registered sex offender, educators and industry professionals are causing irreparable mental and emotional harm to the students, colleagues, and employees that they lead. With status comes responsibility, and if your responsibility is not leading the next generation of artists into an industry that values safety and respect as much as talent, then your priorities are not aligned with what is needed to lead and educate in 2023. The days are long gone that young and upcoming singers want to live in a world where abuse is allowed by those who possess “talent” or hold arbitrary success. Our world today recognizes that “talent” doesn’t trump all, and in an industry with fewer and fewer opportunities, supporting those who have proven to have done harm, most especially in a Court of Law is frankly unfair and a toxic practice. We don’t live in a world where you build voices to break them or ignore them. We live in a world where voices resonate beyond the opera house and are empowered to express their beliefs. Today’s voices want change, and they want to break free from antiquated practices and mindsets. Ultimately, the continuation of these practices do nothing to help an art form already in immense trouble.”
-Anonymous, Professional and Teacher
“As someone working with undergraduate students, I know how important it is for them to have mentors and role models. But how can I, in good conscience, suggest that they aspire to be like this or that famous singer (who, by the way, publicly supports their rapist former colleague)? And how can we ask these fiercely talented, passionate, hard-working students to want to enter an art form where they know they’ll be entering into this abominable dynamic of excusing assault and abuse?
– Ben Malkevitch, Professional and Educator
“I am grateful to the community for sharing the PDF screenshots of the post. I’m grateful that I was able to disseminate it so quickly with such a far reach. I’ve worked with fellow survivors in the past and the work never stops. The swiftness in which people contacted schools/ companies that employed those who publicly supported David – a convicted rapist and registered sex offender – was lucky. My heart is so heavy; these are professionals that I’ve trusted with my instrument and artistry. The betrayal runs deep and it is not limited to here. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training in school and professionally (actually $1 million, according to Zach Finkelstein’s “Million Dollar Voice.” article). And we are entirely reliant on teachers, coaches, conductors and singers to help us attempt to have careers. I’ve heard that 1-2 percent of opera singers make their full time living performing. The odds are against us and we cling to those with knowledge and experience to with the hopes that we will become a part of that small fraction of singers. We cannot see a large portion of our instrument, nor can we accurately hear our sound the way audiences do, which makes us entirely reliant on others to teach us our craft.”
“When academics, administrators of YAPs, and others in a position of power in our industry turn a blind eye to abusers, those predators continue to thrive in a field that gives them access to young, aspiring artists and shields them from reproach. They get shuffled around, institution to institution, festival to festival, YAP to YAP, and no one speaks up to defend the students. Almost like other powerful religious Institutions that have shielded and shuffled those that preyed on access to the young and naive. DD is a product of a cancer in our industry, but let’s not pretend that our institutions are so high and mighty that this predator is an anomaly or that the support he enjoys is anomalous. This is systemic. What do we need to do to change our industry from the top down so that it isn’t a haven for predators? It’s only a matter of time before this happens again, until we confront the ugly truth: the Arts, and Opera, harbor and attract predators. And Academia needs to start standing up for the students and reporting their colleagues to Title IX as federal law requires. As faculty and admin who have to sit through their yearly PD, they know this all too well. When we see those faculty and admin, coaches, managers, agents, conductors, directors, icons of our craft, and our peers supporting a sex offender, it is not only profoundly disillusioning and disappointing, it is also traumatizing to the many of us who are survivors of SA, and we are left with hopelessness that our art form can ever change for the better. Who can we trust? How do we go forward from here?”
– Anonymous, Professional Opera Singer and Educator, SA survivor
“I was heartbroken when I saw my first voice teacher, and professionals in the field that I look up to and whose validation I’ve sought/I seek, liking and commenting positively on David Daniels’ post. These are people who I know have spoken the platitudes and talking points about safe spaces and protection for the most vulnerable in our field, sometimes in response to me voicing my own insecurities and concerns. However, it is clear that they do not put these sound bites into actual practice when confronted by the behavior of those in their circle. Supporting victims and equitable treatment in the abstract is easy, but we know who our reliable support systems and forces for good truly are when we see who is willing to act in line with the words that they have spoken. I get it – standing up to those you know and have a relationship with is hard. However, if you are in a position of power, influence, and/or mentorship, it is an absolutely necessary thing to do.”
-Working vocal freelancer and attorney
“I’ve been fortunate (and it is so telling that I consider this fortunate) that when I was sexually harassed at work as a young up-and-coming artist in my first gig at an A-list opera house, I had colleagues that believed me and were willing to help run interference to protect me from further harassment, because my harassers were the person who ran the company and my conductor, so I had nowhere official that was safe to report it or call it out. I was terrified of rocking the boat and destroying my chances of further work. With Sam’s actions, and other #metoo operatic abusers finally being exposed, I held out hope that perhaps the winds were changing sufficiently to make our workplaces safe enough where we could just get on with our work without stressing about being harassed or abused as well. I hoped that maybe I wouldn’t be sending my students into an industry where they would be devalued and disrespected like I was. But my heart has sunk over and over again seeing the overwhelming numbers of famous and influential colleagues who continue to support David Daniels. Evidence against him was compelling enough that Daniels feared having the trial play out, and settled for a plea deal, compelling enough to get him fired from a TENURED professorship. To say nothing of the fact that his accusers had so much condemnation and harassment brought down on them, lost their livelihoods, suffered from suicidal levels of depression, and still perservered. Why else would anyone choose to risk doing that to themselves, to open themselves to such scrutiny and scorn, let alone SO MANY someones? And what possible evidence WOULD convince his supporters? One claimed they didn’t believe Sam because he had brought up the fact, years later, that he had met them that night (of the assault) and he seemed happy at the memory and only mentioned that it was an amazing night. WHY ON EARTH WOULD HE SAY OTHERWISE, WHEN THIS DISBELIEF AND CONDEMNATION IS INEVITABLY THE RESULT AND HE KNEW IT? We are EXPERTS in this industry at pushing down trauma and pretending everything’s fine and successful for us, for fear of being seen as the “problem” or as “oversensitive” and not getting hired again. It stuns me that people can know very well what this industry is like, claim to be against sexual harassment and assault and yet toss it all out the window the minute a friend lies to them.”
– Anonymous, Professional Opera Singer and University Educator
“In our industry, mentors such as coaches, teachers, pianists, managers, etc. have such a huge impact on singers not only logistically and muscially, but also emotionally, being seen as mentors and sometimes even dear friends. To read dozens upon dozens of people I personally know or have admired as musicians for over a decade when I become interested in opera as a teenager is nauseating, disappointing, and disturbing. As a rape survivor myself by the hands of a musician, and someone who has been seually harassed by higher ups in this business as well, the reactions that Daniels has received in support of him are not even remotely surprising, but that’s part of the big problem: because it’s not surprising, the risk of public complacency in response is present, because we are all exhausted, discouraged, and this is just another facet of how messed up this business is and goes to show how not even the mentors you thought cared about you, would be willing to fight for you or protect you in a case of a legal battle where the aggravator PLEAD GUILTY. This whole situation has been so devastating to me, I have removed very famous singers off playlists I’ve had for years, and will be very cautious about moving forward with who I interact with or attending concerts/operas of people who have vocalized their support for a rapist. Though I completely understand that it is a “normal” response to be in utter disbelief and denial that someone you love could be capable of something so sinister and evil, at least wrestle with that through closed doors and with a professional or people you trust, not online publicly for thousands of vulnerable, young folks just making it in the business to read. It’s tempting to get into the nuances of sexual violence and the different types of trauma responses that cna happen/why someone would report years later/etc. bu I encourage anyone reading this to do some strong research about my prior sentence instead of immediately assuming the victim is lying. As a lesbian woman and member of the queer community, I strongly feel if this case had been a man assaulting a woman, there still would be outrage against the victim, but the aura and responses we’ve seen would be vastly different. A marginalized community (including gay men) that is often discriminated against does not mean the entire community is full of good citizens who aren’t terrible people and don’t commit crimes.
– Anonymous, Professional Opera Singer, rape survivor
The immensely privileged stance I’ve seen from senior members of the opera community has greatly disturbed me. As a survivor of assault, I know all too well how hard it is for survivors to come forward — either from shame or from fear of reprisal in situations where there is an imbalance of power. The people who have reacted positively to Daniels’ posts have shown their hand: they would rather live in denial that they know someone who abused his position in the industry and did something so vile to a vulnerable young artist. Daniels pled guilty, and unreservedly so, to drugging someone and raping them, an act which took planning and preparation. And to clarify, this isn’t the only person who has accused him. To continue to support Daniels or any other person who has taken advantage of his or her position alienates every young artist in our business and tarnishes the reputation of this entire industry. And this industry often hides behind music, the most sensitive of arts, claiming that it couldn’t be discriminatory because music demands honesty. Every young artist today has been told to “be honest” when performing, whether in an audition or on a major stage, by their teachers or major artists/clinicians. And the moment that Sam Schultz came forward honestly, he was vilified. When any of us try to hold the industry accountable and ask for the truth, we are told excuse after excuse. The industry must take its own advice: be honest. I remember all too well my first voice teacher’s warning that, when I made it to a larger platform, I should never be alone with James Levine — that was many years ago, before the public accusations came to light. If only every teacher were that forthcoming and cared more for the young artist in front of them than the reputation of a predator in the arts.”
– Teacher, professional singer, survivor
“I think it’s important to understand that nothing about this situation is “alleged” anymore; David Daniels, in a court of law, admitted to drugging and sexually assaulting Samuel Schultz. David Daniels is guilty, he is a criminal, and he is a sex offender, it’s not up for debate. By liking that post, by cheering for his comeback, you have communicated that these things are not dealbreakers to you; that this man’s “talent” is worth more to you than the lives he’s ruined. The people who have shown their support for Daniels have received a lot of pushback, and rightfully so. I hope it continues until each of them feels some genuine contrition, because there have to be consequences for this kind of behavior, otherwise it’s just going to continue.”
-Grant Jackson, Baritone