The flood of people speaking up about sexual assault and sexual harassment has been troubling me. I grew up with so much of it. I was such a trusting, naive child. Even into young adulthood. It was a joke. I was a classical guitarist – more or less accidentally. I was singing in coffee houses when I was in college and heard there was a guitar teacher at Mount Holyoke College. It was classical – and I had just started learning to play folk and blue grass. But what the hell, I signed up.
Something clicked. Having to practice the guitar was a perfect excuse for getting out of awkward social encounters, for blocking out my mother’s suicide threats. It was safe. Two hours of scales and arpeggios every day. So I got good at it fast (for someone who began an instrument at age 18).
It was a win-win for my two paradoxical needs: applause and isolation. So, 18 months after I started to study, I headed to the Aspen Music Festival. It was scary: I only knew about 4 short pieces on the guitar and the place was teeming with world class musicians among both the students and the faculty.
The classical guitar maestro was named Oscar Ghiglia – and we all worshiped him. It seemed the norm within classical music: Great teachers had utterly devoted students.
One afternoon, the third summer I was in Oscar Ghiglia’s master class, I was sick in bed and the entire class came to the place I was renting in Aspen Square. We hung out for a while, and when people left, Oscar stayed behind and literally jumped me. I was shocked, confused. I resisted at first but eventually gave in. But after that, when he would come banging on my door, I would bolt the door, lock myself in the bathroom and wait for him to go away.
Why didn’t I stop studying with him? Reasonable question. I wanted to get good. I wanted the approval. I went to Italy for another master class and competition. We had fist fights when I refused him, so he took away my scholarship.
Finally, the last straw came when he burst into my little room in Gargnano and forcibly raped me. “There, don’t you feel better?” he smirked as he rolled off me. It was September, 1980. My mother was dying of cancer – and his wife was visiting my mother. I told him if he ever touched me again, I would tell his wife, and I left town the next day.
I never talked about it with the other women who studied with him, but I can’t imagine that my experience was unique.