One woman shares the impact that a secret relationship with her music teacher had on the rest of her life. He was in his 50s, she was 16.
Content warning: This feature contains distressing descriptions of a sexual and emotional nature, along with their mental health implications. Please take care.
This story was made possible by the generosity of The Spinoff Members.
When Eva* walks onto the stage of the town hall to play with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the fear comes in waves. New Zealand is a small place, but the world of classical music is even smaller. Nestled in the middle of the orchestra with the woodwind section and flooded by the bright stage lights, it can be hard to see who she is playing for. “I’d be constantly terrified that he might be out there in the audience, listening and watching,” she says.
Although over a decade has passed since they last spoke, her relationship with her private clarinet teacher as a teenager is never far from her mind, especially because she is still practising, playing and teaching the instrument every day. “There’s so much of me that has wanted to quit clarinet so many times, but I just can’t, because then he wins.” She takes a drag on her vape and exhales, momentarily disappearing on the Zoom camera behind the white fog.
“He will not win. Me continuing to play is the only way that he doesn’t win.”
‘I knew clarinet was for me’
Eva was handed her first clarinet at 10 years old, the newest and youngest member of the marching band in a small English town. The clarinet was green with mould and she would have much preferred a saxophone, but everything changed the moment she started to play. “It all came really naturally, and I knew clarinet was for me,” she says. “I made a nice sound from the very beginning and my playing progressed very, very quickly – something I couldn’t manage with other instruments.”
Music tuition was expensive however, and Eva quickly ascended beyond the cheap group lessons available through her school. “We didn’t have a lot of money and it quickly became a bit of a financial burden,” she says. “It was something that was spoken about at home fairly often, but my parents knew I was really talented, so they worked hard for me to have that opportunity.” Solo lessons were the only way she was going to keep improving, and a scholarship to the local private music school helped to alleviate money stress for a while.
When her family decided to move to New Zealand in 2004, 15-year-old Eva protested. “I didn’t want to be in New Zealand, I was really pissed off that I had to be here,” she recalls. “I had a few culture shock problems because I am extremely sarcastic, bordering on rude at times.” In England she had been one of the cool girls, in New Zealand she felt like she was cast aside “with the band geeks” at her school. “I kind of lost a bit of my identity,” she says.
But she still had the clarinet. The head of music at her school noticed her talents almost immediately, and encouraged her to pursue clarinet outside of school hours. “Gradually, it became the only thing I was doing any more,” she says. Despite being in a new country and not having a lot of money, her family agreed to pay for private lessons until she passed grade eight. But finding a tutor was tricky – neither of her parents came from musical backgrounds – so her mum rang the University of Auckland and asked for a list of recommendations.
One of the names put forward was David Adlam.
‘I found him charming and clever’
David Adlam is a highly-regarded clarinettist, conductor and composer, both in New Zealand and internationally. According to his SOUNZ profile, he played principal clarinet with the Symphonia of Auckland from 1976 until 1981 and performed regularly on Radio New Zealand during this time. With diplomas from Trinity College of London in both piano and clarinet and a Master of Philosophy in music composition from the University of Auckland, he began teaching music in schools after his time in the Symphonia, including at Epsom Girls Grammar School.
In the early 2000s, Adlam returned to freelancing and became a member of the New Zealand Institute of Registered Music Teachers. An organisation established under the Music Teachers Act 1981, the IRMTNZ provides “high-quality service to the community” under the “highest professional and ethical standards”. The same year he met Eva, he had received an inaugural scholarship from Trinity College in London to further his clarinet studies. He was in his 50s when he took Eva for her first lesson. She was 16.
Eva remembers being immediately impressed by her new teacher and his extensive experience in the classical music scene. She had a trial lesson with a different teacher prior, but had found that they didn’t “click” with her the way that Adlam did. “I found him charming and clever. I remember he was quite direct, which is something that I really respond to, and also very encouraging.” His weekly clarinet lessons cost $48 for 45 minutes. It was a steep price, but she knew she would improve under his tutelage. “He would tell me I was very talented, and that he was able to fix things and help me. I actually felt very special.”
Clarinet continued to provide a welcome escape for Eva, who was struggling to fit in with her peers in New Zealand. One of her high school teachers at the time remembers that she was a bit of an outsider in the classroom at a particularly challenging point in adolescence. “She had a strong English accent so was really easily identifiable as being from elsewhere,” the teacher recalls. “She found it very challenging to be a teenager here.” Eva enjoyed her lessons with Adlam as a chance to work on her skills as well as an opportunity to discuss music. “I still didn’t really have any friends at school,” she remembers, “so I craved talking to people.”
Mostly, she just thought it was “cool” that her teacher was taking an interest in her. She thought they were becoming friends.
‘He was trusting me with grown-up stuff’
As the weeks passed, their conversations became more personal in nature than teacher and student. “It got much more familiar between us, more like I was a friend or confidante, as opposed to a student.” Eva says Adlam began sharing details with her about his romantic relationships, including his sadness over a recent breakup. “I think that’s the first step where I realised things were getting next-level intimate,” she says. “I guess I felt like he was trusting me with grown-up stuff.”
After her move to New Zealand, Eva began emailing a friend from school back in the UK about what was happening between her and Adlam. “I wasn’t in her close circle of friends at school,” the friend told The Spinoff, “but in some ways we became closer when she moved to New Zealand, as I was the one person from England who really kept in touch.” The pair emailed regularly about their lives, and the friend said they knew about Adlam “right from the get go”.
Their lessons became longer, with Eva always scheduled at the end of the day. Afterwards, they would then talk – about music, movies, life. Eventually, their after-lesson chats rolled into the evening. One night, Adlam rang Eva’s parents to tell them that he’d cook for her and then drop her home. “He was extremely charming,” she recalls. “My parents thought he was extremely generous and that he was investing all this extra time in me because I was talented and he was the mentor that I actually wanted and needed.”
As their conversations deepened in emotional intimacy, Eva recalls how Adlam began to discuss relationships between teachers and students, and how people judged them too harshly. “He used to explain to me that you fall in love with the people you meet and that as a teacher, the only people he meets are his students.” At the time, the logic made sense to a teenage Eva. “I guess it didn’t feel dangerous because he hadn’t tried anything with me yet,” she says, but in hindsight sees that it was the first indication of where their relationship was going.
Eventually, that “personal relationship” started to become physical. One night, as Eva was working on her homework at Adlam’s computer, she felt a hand on her back, moving inch by inch. “I know I felt uncomfortable, but I don’t think I was uncomfortable in a way that I wanted to make a scene.” She’d flinch and shuffle away in the early instances, but remembers feeling like a bad sport. “So the next time it would happen I would feel like I shouldn’t make him uncomfortable, so I would deal with it for a little bit longer. It was step by step, little by little.”
The post-lesson activities continued to stretch further into the night. Adlam began introducing Eva to romantic movies she hadn’t seen, including Wimbledon and The Notebook, which they would watch on his couch. At times, his adult flatmate would walk into the room and see them sitting together, before leaving to give them space. “It was definitely transitioning into this weird date hang out. Once I got comfortable being at the computer, we’d move to the couch and then the couch became a comfortable place to be, then it turned into watching movies.”
All the while, she was still getting her clarinet lessons – half paid by her parents, half paid by Eva through part-time work at the local Caltex station. “He would always give me a clarinet lesson for 45 minutes, and then he would receive the money from me, and then it would turn into something different,” she recalls. “He always mentioned that it was to keep things professional.” Her clarinet playing continued to improve, which added to her feeling of obligation. “That was part of his power,” she says. “I had to keep coming back because I had to keep getting better.”
‘I’m not having sex with you’
Their relationship escalated when Adlam kissed Eva on the couch after a lesson. “That was uncomfortable,” says Eva, “but I just sort of didn’t go in again and he would stop, for that evening, and it would revert back to normal.” She says there was a feeling of discomfort, but “also a level of what I felt like I could trust, that I was somehow safe and there was still a boundary.” Eva continued to detail her time with Adlam in emails to her friend back in the UK.
“She did recognise that the relationship wasn’t right but she was under his spell,” the friend told The Spinoff. “It caused changes in her mood and behaviours early on – she was battling against her better judgement.” In hindsight, Eva recognises a pattern of behaviour. She says Adlam would test the boundaries, she would signal her discomfort, and the next time they were together things would go slightly further.
Eventually, the kissing progressed to greater physical intimacy. “When we were starting to lie down on the sofa I made it very clear that we were not going to get to test the waters with sex.”
On multiple occassions she told him she was not interested in having sex with him, she says. During one evening together, Adlam asked Eva to go to the bedroom with him after they had been lying on the couch. She repeated that she would not have sex with him – she was a virgin at the time, and didn’t feel ready. “It happened step by step, a piece of clothing would come off, I would say ‘I am not having sex with you’, another piece of clothing would come off, I would say ‘I’m not having sex with you’,” she recalls.
“At a certain point, it sort of appeared that was not going to help me any more.”
Eva distinctly remembers the feeling of “leaving her own body” as Adlam penetrated her. “That’s the only way I can describe it. I just left the room emotionally and mentally.” In the aftermath, she was in a state of shock. “I don’t think I realised the magnitude of the situation at all. I was so desperate to convince myself that he wouldn’t have hurt me, because it was too hard to fully accept what had happened. I remember spending a lot of time convincing myself that he loved me, because it was so much easier to believe that he loved me than that he would hurt me.”
Adlam confirmed to The Spinoff that he had a sexual relationship with Eva while he was her private teacher, but denied any allegations of manipulation and non-consensual sex.
‘I wanted him to tell me that I was a good girl’
Eva didn’t want to tell anyone around her about what happened because she had been over the legal age of consent at the time, and also she didn’t think anyone would believe her. Over the course of their relationship, she says Adlam mentioned repeatedly that he had kept all their online correspondence. “That was what stopped me from going to the police the night that it happened, because I was convinced that nobody would believe me and he would have all the records to show that I willingly turned up to his house. And it fucking worked.”
There was also a large part of her that was still convinced Adlam cared deeply for her. “I didn’t have a physical fear of him, I had this kind of craving, like I was constantly after his approval. I felt very much like I needed him and I wanted him to tell me that I was a good girl and that I was extremely talented. I remember at the time just thinking that he must really like me, he must really love me, in fact.” In the emails seen by The Spinoff from the time, Eva oscillates between deep distress and giddy affection – even love – when describing their relationship.
The clarinet lessons continued, and so did their secret sexual relationship. “I would go to his house, have my lesson, have dinner. I remember him buying me mudshakes, those chocolatey sort of alco-pops, and then we’d hang out, we’d watch movies, we’d go to the bedroom, I would sneak out the back door. Rinse and repeat basically.” Other times, she would sneak out of her family home and he would pick her up at night.
During the course of their relationship he gifted her small diamante studs from Pascoes, flowers with blue gem petals and a white stone in the middle. “He told me they were very, very expensive and that I was very, very special,” she recalls. Eva made sure she wore them to every lesson, even though she “fucking loathed” the style. “It delighted me that he had purchased them for me. Everything he wanted to achieve with those earrings absolutely worked.”
Adlam denied collating his online conversations with Eva, or that there was anything “secretive” about their relationship. However, he did confirm that she would enter his house through the back door because he didn’t want to leave the front door open for “obvious security reasons”.
In August 2005, a month before her 17th birthday, Eva underwent a medical procedure in relation to a gynaecological issue she had since birth. She had stitches, and was told she would have to refrain from sex for five weeks. She emailed her friend recounting what happened next:
When asked about the contents of this correspondence by The Spinoff, Adlam again rejected any characterisation of his sexual relations with Eva as non-consensual, stating that he was unaware of the procedure at the time, and later questioning the authenticity of the emails. In his response, he also posited a hypothetical question: “If she didn’t think it was consensual, why did she keep coming back to see me?”
The answer, Eva says, isn’t black and white.
“Of course sometimes I wanted to go over there,” she says. “I’m not saying he kept me chained up in his basement for two years or anything like that, the truth is much more subtle and complicated than that. It’s about the psychological side, how I ended up so isolated from my friends and how he managed to find me at a time where I was very vulnerable.”
‘I didn’t want to betray him’
At school, Eva began to alienate herself even further from her peers. She wasn’t focusing in class, lashing out at her teachers and, with her mental health spiralling, didn’t feel like she had anyone to turn to. “I felt very ashamed of what I had done, like I had dug myself into a hole that was far too big for me to ever get out of.” One of her school teachers remembers it was obvious “something was troubling her in quite an emotional way”.
As the relationship weighed more heavily on her, Eva reached a point where she could no longer keep the secret from the people around her. She made two of her close friends at school swear to secrecy before she told them about Adlam. “It was very much me feeling like, if I told an adult, he would then tell them it was all me and then I would be in trouble. I also didn’t want to betray him. He had done such a good job of convincing me that I couldn’t tell anybody.”
Eva also felt like her education and career options were narrowing due to her plummeting grades, and that she couldn’t afford to throw away his musical mentorship. “I really felt like I couldn’t be the clarinet player I needed to be without him. He’d manage to convince me that my career really hinged on him being there. I genuinely believed that he was the only person who could teach me to be the absolute best.”
Around the same time, a rumour quickly began to spread around her school that Eva was having sex with her much older clarinet teacher. “I don’t know how far its gone and I don’t know how long its been going around,” she wrote to her friend in the UK at the time. She describes feeling betrayed by the breach in trust and that she was “in a state of confusion” about her entire situation with Adlam.
‘She was a broken kid’
One of Eva’s school friends says that after being made aware of the relationship, she convinced Eva to tell a trusted adult. “I really wanted her to confide in someone else and get help for the situation that she was in. I didn’t think she was ready to have the conversation with her parents at that time, so we talked to my mum about it.” That adult was Beth*, who could tell something was wrong with her daughter’s school friend immediately.
“She was a broken kid,” says Beth. “Very confused, not knowing where to go or what was right.” Having welcomed Eva over after school with her daughter, Beth remembers sitting around the dining table and speaking with Eva about her relationship with Adlam for hours. “I remember I didn’t have any dinner, there was no stopping, nothing but talking,” she recalls. “There were these tormented emotions of the fact that at times it felt right, yet she knew it wasn’t.”
A new clarinet teacher was arranged for Eva – the lessons were to be held on school grounds, with plenty of visibility and safety measures put in place. Eva began spending a lot of time at Beth’s house, leaning on her for emotional support. “I knew I couldn’t do anything about him, but I knew that I could be there for her in whatever capacity or support she needed,” says Beth. “If that meant being with her if she wanted to share with her parents, or going to the police, even just having a safe place to work through her emotions, that’s what it was about.”
Beth also made the decision to notify the police, who were waiting at Beth’s house one afternoon after school. It was a confronting situation for Eva, who was still torn about her feelings towards her music teacher. A part of her still wanted to protect him. “I was very much still under his spell and petrified, all of the time, that nobody would believe me. I hadn’t told my parents, it was terrifying that they were going to find out. I just wasn’t ready.”
The police sat with her and explained that if she wanted to pursue anything further, she would have to go down to the station and make a formal complaint. Eva couldn’t muster the energy to do it. “She was clearly vulnerable, she was hurting, and she was clearly confused and definitely, definitely heading into a bad mental state,” recalls Beth. “Was I worried about her harming herself? Absolutely.”
After being visited by the police, Eva was able to access free counselling services through ACC. It wasn’t long before she was prescribed antidepressants. “I was not dealing very well at all, I was basically hard-wired to believe that telling anything to anyone was wrong, and at the same time it was key to my survival.” She began to have suicidal thoughts and, after an unsuccessful overdose attempt, began habitually cutting herself.
“It was really just a way of releasing pain,” she says. “I never got that bad, but I definitely scarred.” She flashes her forearm into the webcam, stroking a delicate floral tattoo sprawling across her wrist. “Now all my tattoos cover my scars.”
As she entered her final year of high school, Eva shared her experience with Adlam with the teacher who had previously encouraged her to get counselling. “My mouth dropped open,” the teacher told The Spinoff, who remembers Eva showing her printouts of email correspondence from Adlam. “I wanted to make sure she knew she was in no way to blame for this evolving into a relationship,” she says. “Because if the power imbalance is wrong, how can the person with less power actually have the strength to say no?”
The pair sat outside the classroom and burned his printed emails, with Eva vowing that she would not contact Adlam again and would instead focus on getting into university.
‘I broke down in one of my lessons one day’
For the next few years, Eva worked hard at clarinet, moving to Wellington to start fresh. She had concerns about the ongoing role that Adlam continued to have as a teacher and remembers writing to the Institute of Registered Music Teachers New Zealand, explaining anonymously that she had a bad experience with one of their members. She remembers being told that she would have to put her name on the complaint before they could go any further.
“At that stage I wasn’t willing to go public with it. It was just super disappointing and I gave up.”
When contacted by The Spinoff, the IRMTNZ was unable to trace any correspondence from Eva at the time in relation to the complaint, citing that “the people who may have had information about this at the time are either deceased or have retired”. In regards to misconduct complaints, a spokesperson said, “The IRMTNZ has a published Code of Ethics and Student Safety Policy and the Ethics Committee takes any misconduct allegations seriously, but does require documentary evidence of such misconduct before it is able to act.”
Eva moved back to Auckland to pursue her postgraduate studies in clarinet in her early 20s, and quickly found that being back in the same city as Adlam dredged up old hurt. She struggled working with new teachers and found herself testing boundaries with them. One day, it all came to a head. “I broke down in one of my lessons one day and told my teacher the whole history with David.” That teacher confirmed to The Spinoff that they were informed of an “inappropriate relationship” at the time “of a sexual nature”.
“I thought it was completely unacceptable, horrendous actually,” the teacher said. “I just wanted her to continue being a fantastic clarinettist and work through the trauma.”
The teacher rang a sexual abuse helpline for advice. “She needed to confront the situation head on, she tried pretending it didn’t happen but that wasn’t working that well – it’s hard to get your clarinet teacher out of your head when you are playing clarinet all day.” Over several months, Eva worked with a counsellor who talked her through the process if she chose to speak again to the police. “She helped me understand what would happen in the interview, that it would be quite gruelling to describe his house, right down to where his sock drawer was.”
‘It was dismissed so fucking quickly’
After months of preparation, and now several years since her relationship with Adlam, Eva travelled to the central city police station, accompanied by her university teacher, for her interview. She remembers a video camera, a female officer, and taking plenty of smoke breaks.
“I had to go through what happened in really graphic detail. Including what I could smell, what I could see… very sensory descriptions of his house, his bed, his curtains. This is what is traumatic about it, because they need as much information as they can.” Although the interview was difficult, she felt that she had been taken seriously. “It felt empowering, actually, to decide to go to the police and to have support and the systems in place for afterwards.”
The next week, Eva got a call to come back into the station. This time, the tone was different, she says. A male officer escorted her into a small room to tell her the news – the police had had a chat with Adlam and they would not be able to move forward with her case. He asked if there was anything else she needed to know. She said no and left the room.
“I just felt ashamed,” Eva recalls. “Ashamed and embarrassed that I had gone to the police in the first place, because it was dismissed so fucking quickly. I was grappling with my own guilt for such a long time and this really kind of knocked me back into this idea that this was all my fault, that he had done nothing wrong.” Her partner at the time remembers the impact it had on her. “She was just absolutely stumped, she’d retraumatised herself again to try and do something but it was just the same situation, nothing was going to happen,” they told the Spinoff.
Adlam confirmed to The Spinoff that he had been interviewed by the police in relation to allegations of grooming and non-consensual sex, but said that no further action was taken due to the conflicting nature of their accounts. In 2021, Eva requested to be sent a copy of her police interview from the time, but the police declined on privacy grounds.
‘People don’t know how this can happen’
Eva is now a successful professional clarinettist and clarinet teacher. She lives on the other side of the world, and has only returned to New Zealand for short contracts with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in recent years. “He may well have gone to one of the concerts that I played in, I have no idea. Let’s just say I’m glad that I’m not living in New Zealand any more and working in the music scene, because there’s always that part of me that fears him.”
She hopes that in speaking out about her experience, other people might gain a deeper understanding of how the power dynamics between teacher and student can be exploited. “There are so many people who don’t know how this can happen – the intimacies of it, the intelligence behind it – they kind of just think ‘oh well, the girl must have wanted it or was gaining something for her career’.” Particularly in the classical music world, Eva says, the intimate relationship formed between teacher and student can be dangerous.
“You have all this creativity and self-expression, and you have this student who has so much adoration for their teacher. You worship them, you idolise them, they are your mentor and you bond over this thing that you are both so passionate about.”
The IRMTNZ told The Spinoff that “any reported instance of inappropriate sexual behaviour between a member teacher and a pupil” is taken seriously. Despite being informed that Adlam had confirmed their sexual relationship to The Spinoff, they refused to comment on the circumstances. “We have insufficient evidence about what took place and are unable to take action based on hearsay,” a spokesperson said. “Every member is required to provide a Ministry of Justice criminal convictions history report every three years, and the member mentioned by yourself has no convictions noted as at the latest report provided.”
They also added that every member is expected to adhere to the organisation’s code of ethics. This includes the following rule under the “student safety” section, which reads “as music teachers, IRMTNZ members are adults being placed in a position of trust and need to be committed to providing safe protective practices to those whom they teach”. Although Adlam retired from teaching last year, he still appears in the directory on the IRMTNZ website.
In his correspondence with The Spinoff, Adlam repeatedly rejected any allegations of coercion or manipulation, suggesting that Eva’s experience had been “distorted” and “embellished” over time. He refused to comment on the power dynamics between a teacher and a student, and whether he had romantic relationships with any other students under his tutelage. Regarding his role as an authoritative figure in her life, Adlam said, “I don’t actually think I manipulated her or that kind of thing at all… I felt that, in fact, she was more in control of what was going on than I was.”
When asked about an incident at Epsom Girls Grammar involving a different student that had come up over the course of reporting, Adlam confirmed that he was questioned in regards to impropriety while he was a music teacher at the school in 1999. The investigation found insufficient evidence to proceed.
‘I was not protected by anybody’
The classical music scene in New Zealand has been under examination in recent years, after Stuff’s Ali Mau reported on several prominent figures, including Auckland University teacher James Tibbles and Epsom Girls Grammar teacher Peter Thomas. A woman who alleged harassment by Tibbles told Stuff that the impact of these experiences can be far reaching. “I will play the piano occasionally but it’s tinged with a lot of things,” she said. “I might play a piece that I played when I was 15, and I’ll struggle through it. I feel upset that that was taken from me.”
It’s a feeling that Eva can relate to. Now in her thirties and still playing clarinet, she finds her profession a daily struggle. “I sometimes grieve over how difficult it is for me to keep doing what I do,” she says. “I sometimes think about who I would be, or what my life would be like, if this had never happened to me.” To pursue a career in music is tough enough as it is. For Eva, everything in that world feels so much more personal. “Every success I have, I feel like I had to fight my ass off for it. But it also means every failure I take much, much harder as well.”
In sharing her own experience, Eva says she wants to highlight the lack of accountability and safety she experienced in the private music space. “It really feels like there is a hole in the system somewhere. It feels like because I was 16 and the lessons were private, everyone got to turn a blind eye. If he was my high school music teacher, this would have been a disaster for him. So who is responsible for this? How is it different? I was high school age and I was not protected by anybody. Every channel I turned to I was shut down.”
Although she is now an extremely successful international clarinettist herself, Eva has done stints of private clarinet teaching between contracts. Having found herself in the same role as Adlam was when she was a teenager, Eva describes an “eye opening” reframing of her own experiences. “You cannot miss the power imbalance, I don’t understand how one could,” she says. “You are so aware of your responsibility and that this person is looking up to you for guidance in everything.”
When she has taught students in recent years, she has been sure to keep all of the windows and doors open, have parents sit in on the lessons, and she has been quick to establish boundaries with her young, eager-to-please students.
“I have a responsibility to nurture these students,” she says. “I think children deserve that.”
* Names have been changed to protect their identities.
This story was made possible by the generosity of The Spinoff Members.
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