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 10:59 AM
Updated: Feb 17, 2018 10:59 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 666516

Reported Deaths: 12726
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion912711659
Lake48687890
Allen36102644
Hamilton32445398
St. Joseph30306514
Elkhart25510420
Vanderburgh21326382
Tippecanoe20220205
Johnson16466363
Porter16068281
Hendricks15944302
Clark12060182
Madison11799323
Vigo11685234
Monroe10419164
Delaware9891179
LaPorte9831199
Howard9112201
Kosciusko8597111
Bartholomew7522147
Hancock7462134
Warrick7451153
Floyd7263173
Wayne6661192
Grant6462158
Boone616691
Morgan6129128
Dubois5936112
Dearborn551270
Cass5485100
Marshall5451105
Henry542995
Noble513178
Jackson465567
Shelby463391
Lawrence4195113
Gibson405185
Harrison403265
Clinton397553
Montgomery391684
DeKalb387478
Miami358263
Knox357885
Whitley351238
Huntington349477
Steuben340055
Putnam333960
Wabash333176
Ripley327962
Adams325449
Jasper319143
White298152
Jefferson296274
Daviess285996
Fayette272756
Decatur271688
Greene262680
Posey261432
Wells259075
Scott251850
LaGrange242470
Clay241644
Randolph226077
Spencer219430
Jennings216744
Washington213027
Sullivan203739
Fountain202842
Starke189951
Owen183654
Fulton179737
Jay178728
Carroll176919
Perry174036
Orange171451
Rush165622
Vermillion161543
Franklin159935
Tipton149541
Parke140216
Pike128533
Blackford120627
Pulaski107644
Newton96832
Brown95340
Benton92413
Crawford92213
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54211
Unassigned0427

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 977736

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1129551251
Cuyahoga968561881
Hamilton738821067
Montgomery47506923
Summit40668831
Butler35827531
Lucas35779720
Stark29581826
Warren22574275
Lorain22190424
Mahoning19578551
Lake18545332
Clermont18519205
Delaware16597121
Licking15089194
Fairfield14644188
Trumbull14423424
Greene13659221
Medina13517237
Clark12376256
Wood11656170
Portage11127172
Allen10820216
Richland10372188
Miami10059194
Muskingum8238117
Columbiana8168210
Pickaway8094111
Tuscarawas8075232
Marion8020127
Wayne7933199
Erie6961146
Ross6173132
Geauga6114142
Hancock6030121
Scioto600488
Ashtabula5998154
Lawrence527586
Union516341
Darke5052116
Belmont4999137
Huron4859108
Jefferson4836137
Sandusky4798112
Washington474396
Seneca4734111
Athens466149
Mercer459781
Auglaize456582
Shelby442679
Knox4054105
Putnam400593
Madison395455
Fulton383161
Ashland382683
Brown374852
Defiance373788
Crawford360098
Logan357373
Preble353987
Clinton342455
Highland328451
Ottawa325371
Williams303568
Jackson291846
Champaign290949
Guernsey288845
Perry271148
Fayette269943
Morrow261437
Henry247861
Hardin247359
Holmes244497
Coshocton240756
Van Wert230157
Gallia223938
Adams218239
Pike217228
Wyandot212450
Hocking195054
Carroll182143
Paulding161034
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117237
Morgan102120
Harrison100731
Vinton76613
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 26°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 27°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 33°
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 26°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
31° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 23°
Warmer, breezy on Monday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events