The Boston Conservatory at Berklee quietly fired a nationally renowned clarinet player who was its one-time woodwinds department chair earlier this summer in the wake of complaints about inappropriate communications, including allegations that he sent sexually explicit texts to former students.
Michael Norsworthy, who had taught at the conservatory since 2006 and is credited with shepherding a contemporary music program into the classical curriculum, was let go in mid-June. Norsworthy is the second high-profile instructor to leave the conservatory in recent years following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Norsworthy “was terminated for failing to meet our standards of professional and appropriate communications,” Cathy Young, executive director of the conservatory, said in a statement to the Globe.
Young did not describe in detail Norsworthy’s inappropriate communication but said the school was able to establish a pattern of concerns dating back to 2013 and had received anonymous and third-party complaints about his conduct from at least two male former students. Conservatory officials had previously warned Norsworthy about his behavior before he was fired, Young said.
“Because brave individuals did share information, we were able to make attempts to address and stop the behavior,” Young said.
Norsworthy, who has performed in concert halls around the world, is also on the adjunct faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College. He is on a one-year probationary appointment at Longy and isn’t currently providing instruction to students, officials there said.
Norsworthy declined to comment about the allegations against him and dismissal from the conservatory.
“I worked hard, contributed, and enjoyed my time at Boston Conservatory at Berklee,” he said in a statement provided by his agent. “I was given no information before my departure other than being told generally that complaints had been filed. I am considering all my options.”
Former students said Norsworthy, who traveled around the country to regional high school competitions to recruit clarinetists and oboists for the conservatory, could be supportive, took interest in their lives, and maintained ties outside the classroom studio, including having students over to his home for dinner.
But in interviews, former students both male and female said Norsworthy would often instruct students on their playing using sexual terms.
Two former students said Norsworthy crossed the line by texting them sexually explicit messages, sometimes late at night. The students shared the messages with the Globe.
In one case, Norsworthy reached out to a former student in August 2017, just three months after he had graduated from the conservatory, at first it seemed simply to catch up, according to the text messages. Then Norsworthy suggested dinner, drinks, or “straight up porn” and sex. When the former student instead responded that he would prefer that they meet in a public place and remain clothed, Norsworthy insisted that he was just joking and criticized the former student for being too easily offended.
“I’m offended because I have never been okay with you joking around with me like that,” the 2017 conservatory graduate said. “I would respond exactly the same way to any other past/present/future professor of mine. . . . It’s uncomfortable for me, and I’d really appreciate it if you stopped.”
That was the last exchange he had with Norsworthy, said the former student, who declined to give his name.
In the spring of 2018, the student reached out to officials at the conservatory to complain about Norsworthy after hearing that the professor had made critical comments about him to other students at the school. The former student met with school officials in April and August of last year. Conservatory officials confirmed the meetings, but said that they did not specifically see the texts between Norsworthy and the alums, who wanted to remain anonymous in the process.
However, Norsworthy was “given a written directive to immediately stop inappropriate communication and warned that if he did not, he could be terminated,” Young said.
Earlier this year, the conservatory received another, separate report of inappropriate communication by Norsworthy and fired him, Young said.
She declined to say who made the complaint but said that it was “not from a current student.”
The conservatory was aware of at least one other complaint against Norsworthy’s dating back to 2013. That’s when the mother of a then-student called to raise concerns about her son’s interactions with Norsworthy.
In an interview this month, the mother said her son’s unhappiness at the school and with Norsworthy prompted her to call conservatory administrators. She said she was concerned in part that Norsworthy was sharing private information about her son and other students.
The conservatory said there was a meeting in 2013 with Norsworthy, a student, and administrators, about the professor’s “inappropriate communication, but the record does not show it was texting.”
Still, that student continued to work with Norsworthy until he graduated. The day after the student graduated in 2015 and left Massachusetts, he received sexually explicit texts from Norsworthy. In the texts he shared, Norsworthy vacillated between flirting and recommending books on music and assuring the student that he was talented.
The 2015 conservatory graduate said he exchanged text messages with Norsworthy because after he left Boston and his support system, he felt “lonely and scared” and that he was “flattered” by the former professor’s attention. But toward the end of 2015, he texted Norsworthy that he didn’t have the time or the emotional energy to deal with his mentor treating him as a “sexual object.”
The conservatory graduate said he didn’t complain to the school about Norsworthy’s communication after graduation.
The conservatory said it handled the complaints against Norsworthy appropriately.
“These matters are extremely complex,” Young said. “We are confident that we took thoughtful and appropriate actions based on the information we had at the time.”
The conservatory, an 820-student program which was a separate school until its merger with Berklee in 2016, has been rocked by allegations that some former officials turned a blind eye toward sexual misconduct by powerful professors.
In late 2017, the school cut ties with Eric Alexander Hewitt, a saxophonist and also a one-time chair of the conservatory’s woodwind department. Hewitt was placed on leave and then resigned from the school after allegations by several women surfaced that he made unwanted sexual advances on them while many were students at the conservatory.
Diana Rodriguez, a composer who graduated from the conservatory in 2015 and helped organize a women in music group in Boston, said since the Hewitt case the school has been more open to addressing concerns about professors, which should make students less fearful about coming forward. After alumni groups began discussing Norsworthy’s dismissal this summer, Young reached out, Rodriguez said, something that was unusual in the conservatory’s recent history.
“It’s happening, but it’s still too slow,” Rodriguez said. But the bad behavior by instructors, “shouldn’t be an open secret.”