How music saved his life

When James Rhodes was 7 years old, music saved his life.Thirty-five years later, sitting at a piano -- the ins...

Posted: Feb 17, 2018 9:59 AM
Updated: Feb 17, 2018 9:59 AM

When James Rhodes was 7 years old, music saved his life.

Thirty-five years later, sitting at a piano -- the instrument at which he makes his living -- Rhodes smiles at the notion.

"It sounds very melodramatic, doesn't it? To say music saved my life."

But it did, rescuing him from a horrific reality.

Rhodes is now a world-renowned, best-selling British concert pianist. But he says that from 6 years old, he was repeatedly sexually abused by a gym teacher at his private school.

Now in his 40s, he recounts the ordeal with a mixture of resignation and bafflement that it went on so long.

"Looking back now, it's so crystal clear that there was grooming involved," he tells CNN's Christiane Amanpour in London.

"I find (it) quite difficult to get my head around, because there were times when I was found by other teachers with, you know, blood coming down my legs and hysterical and just sobbing. And yet nothing happened. Like, nothing happened."

It "was allowed to continue and continue and continue, to the point where, ... it literally broke my back."

The constant abuse eventually shattered the base of Rhodes' spine, he says. That led to multiple operations, a spiral of drugs, self-harm and severe depression.The teacher was arrested, but died in 2011, before he could be brought to trial.

In the midst of all that darkness and abuse, something broke through: music.

"I was 7. I heard a piece of music by Bach and literally everything changed. It was like, for the first time in my life, two things happened: Firstly, I had a way of expressing things that I couldn't find the words to express -- because that's what music does, it goes underneath words," he says. "And secondly, I realized that if something that beautiful exists in the world, it can't be a hundred-percent awful."

Since that moment, when Bach's Chaconne in D Minor shone through to him like sunlight through clouds, Rhodes clung to music like a life raft.

"I was dead. There was nothing. It was just -- I was -- I mean, now we know all the terms, like, I was dissociated, PTSD, and dissociative identity disorder, all of that."

"I would disappear for hours, lose track of time, lose days. I didn't know what was happening, everything was just shades of gray," Rhodes says.

"And then you hear music. And it wasn't just pieces like that. It was other pieces of Bach and Beethoven and Chopin, and it just, it ignited this kind of passion."

As the years went by, Rhodes carved out a highly successful career as a classical pianist, selling out concert halls around the world.

With his wiry frame, a mop of messy graying hair and casual outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, his performances are unusual in the classical world, and he has found a loyal following.

Yet almost as captivating as his music is his writing; he has authored three books and describes his latest, "Fire On All Sides: Insanity, insomnia and the incredible inconvenience of life," as an anti-self-help book. Before that, he detailed his abusive childhood and subsequent struggles in harrowing detail in his memoir, "Instrumental."

Soon after publication, Rhodes started hearing from people who had survived similar experiences, grateful to hear his story told with such honesty. Since then, the world has seen a flood of stories of abuse through the #MeToo movement.

"There will always be shame. In fact, the Me Too movement is even more powerful because, despite the shame, people are talking. It is not easy to talk about this. I feel permanent shame talking about it."

"Even though rationally I know it wasn't my fault, I still in my mind colluded in it. I was his partner in it. I protected him, I was flirty, I was a very beautiful child, I mean, whatever, pick your reason."

"And that's why we feel ashamed. And so, the Me Too movement is in my eyes even more powerful."

Rhodes still struggles with his own demons and has good days and bad. When asked how he is now, he's honest.

"I haven't slept for four nights," he says. "Flashbacks, too much noise. It's just been a bad week. The week before that was fine. It changes."

"Some days, I just want to eviscerate myself, other days are OK. I've got concerts at the moment, and that keeps me focused, I have a lovely girlfriend, I have an apartment in Madrid with a little Steinway, I have an apartment in London. I have a really extraordinary life."

"But of course, as we all know, it makes absolutely no difference what it's like on the outside. When it's four o'clock in the morning, we're all the same. When the wolves are at the door and the voices are just -- they don't stop."

For him, this honesty is key.

"Actually, what's wrong with feeling sad? What's wrong with feeling a bit messy and having pretty awful Instagram selfies. I mean, we have this idea that everyone else's life is perfect, and God forbid we feel a bit fragile or a bit down."

Music may not solve everything, but it is something of a saving grace and something we all share, Rhodes says. "I think that's something that is almost part of the human condition, that life without music would be inconceivable."

Amid life's struggles, he acknowledges, "there's a lot of joy out there."

"Sometimes we need to know and be slowly, gently nudged into the right direction where that joy is. It's about noticing those little things and focusing on that, I guess."

But he has no illusions. Before he returns to the piano keys, to get lost in a piece by Gluck, he expresses a hope for a little more honesty in the world.

"I just wish all of us were slightly more transparent about how challenging we find life, because then we don't feel so alone."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 125531

Reported Deaths: 2299
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin32544966
Ramsey13430347
Dakota9321134
Anoka8154148
Stearns544336
Washington530567
Scott320934
Olmsted308929
St. Louis268963
Wright229614
Nobles216416
Clay207343
Blue Earth19717
Carver17077
Rice15819
Kandiyohi15704
Sherburne156621
Mower149113
Winona119918
Lyon9286
Crow Wing91521
Waseca9119
Chisago8792
Benton8575
Beltrami7977
Otter Tail7726
Todd7323
Steele7242
Itasca68417
Nicollet68217
Freeborn6384
Morrison6296
Douglas6123
Martin58916
Le Sueur5855
McLeod5693
Watonwan5684
Goodhue51511
Pine5110
Becker5033
Polk5024
Isanti4953
Chippewa3973
Carlton3861
Dodge3660
Mille Lacs36010
Hubbard3352
Pipestone32816
Wabasha3270
Cass3205
Meeker3113
Rock3011
Brown3003
Yellow Medicine2675
Cottonwood2640
Murray2533
Redwood25011
Fillmore2380
Sibley2383
Renville23011
Faribault2130
Roseau1990
Jackson1981
Wadena1980
Unassigned19553
Swift1921
Kanabec18910
Houston1811
Stevens1681
Lincoln1670
Pennington1651
Koochiching1624
Aitkin1562
Pope1480
Big Stone1280
Wilkin1254
Lac qui Parle1242
Lake1050
Mahnomen971
Norman970
Grant904
Marshall881
Clearwater840
Red Lake592
Traverse530
Lake of the Woods421
Kittson270
Cook110

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 108620

Reported Deaths: 1562
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18087283
Woodbury685392
Johnson566030
Black Hawk526596
Linn5114127
Dubuque476354
Scott410537
Story387418
Dallas331043
Pottawattamie299844
Sioux230414
Buena Vista220412
Marshall193736
Webster172814
Plymouth154426
Wapello147562
Clinton136926
Muscatine136158
Crawford132112
Cerro Gordo126323
Des Moines12409
Warren11596
Carroll10388
Jasper103034
Henry9865
Marion93510
Tama90737
Lee8819
Wright6951
Delaware6898
Dickinson6877
Boone6819
Mahaska63723
Bremer6239
Washington61111
Harrison5868
Jackson5393
Benton5211
Lyon5177
Louisa49415
Clay4884
Hamilton4513
Winneshiek4479
Winnebago44517
Hardin4315
Poweshiek43011
Kossuth4280
Floyd41811
Jones4133
Buchanan4033
Emmet40214
Cedar3935
Iowa3848
Franklin37518
Guthrie37215
Sac3694
Cherokee3682
Page3620
Clayton3533
Shelby3511
Butler3472
Fayette3462
Madison3442
Cass3402
Mills3391
Allamakee3358
Chickasaw3271
Clarke3163
Humboldt2993
Palo Alto2912
Hancock2864
Grundy2834
Calhoun2724
Howard2519
Osceola2480
Monroe24511
Mitchell2360
Monona2311
Taylor2252
Union2164
Pocahontas2112
Appanoose2063
Jefferson2031
Lucas1896
Fremont1821
Ida1792
Greene1740
Van Buren1622
Davis1584
Montgomery1585
Adair1431
Keokuk1421
Audubon1341
Worth1300
Decatur1290
Wayne1123
Ringgold822
Adams700
Unassigned50
Rochester
Clear
31° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 24°
Mason City
Overcast
39° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 32°
Albert Lea
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 30°
Austin
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 27°
Charles City
Overcast
41° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 36°
Tracking more rain before the weekend, then snow returns
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Iowa Lt. Governor speaks to area teen leaders

Image

Share the Warmth coat drive in Rochester

Image

MDH releases initial COVID-19 vaccine plan

Image

KIMT speaks to Rochester School Board candidates

Image

Sara's Evening Forecast - Wednesday

Image

Art program for those with disabilities

Image

Operating Referendum

Image

Rochester Library pauses reopening

Image

Rural Broadband upgrade

Image

Inmate Voting in the election

Community Events