Former Member of Singing Boys of PA Speaks Out

Members of an all-boys choir are speaking out, one day after its director and founder was charged with rape.

Newswatch 16 talked with a member of the Singing Boys of Pennsylvania Thursday afternoon, and he said he quit the choir because the director made him feel uncomfortable.

“But to me when I was eleven, it was weird, different creepy, very secretive, why did it need to be so secret,” said Leonard French.

French was 11-years-old when he joined the singing boys choir of Pennsylvania back in 1991.

He quit just one year later because he had an uncomfortable encounter with the director, Dr. Bernard Schade.

“He grabbed me, someone, it turned out to be Schade, he grabbed be from behind, from the shoulder and gave me a spanking so hard that it lifted me off the ground,” said French.

On Wednesday, state police in Monroe County arrested and charged Dr. Schade with rape and sexual assault. Investigators said Schade sexually abused a 15-year-old choir member at his home on Marshalls Creek Road in East Stroudsburg in 1996.

According to the Singing Boys website, the choir is based mostly in Monroe and Northampton counties but has members from several other counties. The choir has traveled all over the world.

According to French, things were kept private. On tour, the boys were not allowed to call home, only on their birthdays, and letters were screened by Schade before they were sent home.

It was not uncommon for the boys to sleep with either a chaperone or with Schade himself.

“Every night it was assignments. It wasn’t the same people in the room every night, so Dr. Scahde could at will chose who could be in his bed each night,” explained French.

French is also an attorney. He said that he plans to represent another boy who claims he was sexually assaulted by Schade.

So far, the boy’s choir director is only charged with assaulting one victim.

Schade is locked up on $250,000 bail in Monroe County.

23 comments

  • Banjalouun

    Dear friends,last Tuesday 29 Jan 2013 Elisabeth rptroeed in our club about her year. It was a very touching speech, and she still misses Portland a lot: the Laurents, Topelmanns and Williamses, her school, and your club. But it was also an upbeat speech, since she was full of optimism and positive about her life and her future, which at the moment she sees more in the tourism industry than in academia. All friends were very impressed, and so were our guests which inluded all members of our Rotaract club, our current inbound exchange students Owen from Taiwan and Anna from Brazil, and our outgoing exchange student Niklas who is going to Finnland. Also on behalf of the President, HaJo Schulz, and all members, I want to thank you very much for your warm hospitality, and all the wonderful experiences you made possible for Elisabeth. Best wishes,Jf6rg.Dr. Jf6rg Hansen, Past Secretary RC Eisenach, District 1950, and acting secretary for the meeting on 1/29/13.

  • A. Nonymous

    I was in the Singing Boys of PA from 1979-1981 (roughly). I can say with absolute certainty that the accusations are not only plausible, but highly probable.

    I have lived for all these years hoping that one day Dr. Schade would be brought to justice. He used to do these stupid fundraisers at the Palmer Park Mall where he would be locked in jail and need someone to bail him out. Many times I walked by him, dreaming that he might one day be behind bars. I comforted myself with the knowledge that time would flesh out the truth. Unfortunately, people enjoying walking through life blind. So it took a very long time. But he is finally where he belongs.

    The comments of “Bob” are most disturbing because they demonstrate how we rationalize certain behaviors and think of them as appropriate when they are not. Yes, Dr. Schade is a gifted music instructor and yes the performances of his choir show an ability to maintain discipline among 10- to 14-year-old boys. But for God’s sake, just think about it for a minute.

    No matter what the financial situation of the organization, is it really ever acceptable for an adult to sleep with a child in the same bed in some random hotel room? In my experiences, the older more veteran kids would rush into the hotel room first and claim the bed by the window, knowing that Dr. Shade preferred the other bed. That would leave the 3rd kid in the room stuck with no choice. I remember lying next to that creep waiting for him to fall asleep, and then would slide onto the floor to sleep between the two beds. He never made any direct attempts to touch me inappropriately (at least that I can recall), but as a young kid I was scared to death of going on tour and having my number come up.

    Dr. Schade and several chaperones would take us for a few weeks in summer to Erie, PA to “practice”. This experience was wrought with inappropriate behaviors. And yes, the chaperones were in on it too. Well, at least one, whose name I can only recall was “Andy” or “Andrew”. After this many years I can’t recall all of the specifics, but I just remember Dr. Schade and Andrew being way too friendly during bedtime and in the bathrooms, and I counted down the days until I was home. As a kid you just know in your heart when something is fundamentally wrong.

    The part about pre-screening incoming mail is also true. The chaperones would collect any letters and mail them out in bundles. I don’t know for sure whether or not they screened our outgoing mail. But I do recall that they pre-screened all of our incoming mail, as all letters from my parents were always opened and read together with the chaperone.

    Lastly, the public spankings were a constant ritual. If a kid was acting up at practice, then Dr. Schade would call him down in front of the choir during practice and spank him right there next to the piano. It was a very public display of discipline. Then he would go back the piano and everyone would start up again right where they left off. Looking back now it was ridiculous.

    In hindsight we should have all been raising flags and somebody should have triggered an investigation into Dr. Schade decades ago. But we were all so young. I was in 5th grade. I’m not sure why we didn’t all go home and tell our parents about everything. In fact, to this day I’ve never spoken about the experience, and have just swept it all under the rug and have kept it inside. I thank Mr. French for bringing this out into the open. I keep my fingers crossed that more will come forward and justice will win out in the end.

  • Dan P.

    Maybe WNEP will step up and report the amount of support
    Dr Schade and the Choir members give him.
    It is obvious by their own comment blog that Dr, Schade
    is highly respected by his past members as an Educator.
    It is only the truth.
    This support can be seen on other comment blog’s.as well

    • Educator

      I wonder, Dan P., if you will still support this abuser Schade, now that he has been found with over 1,100 images of child pornography. Dr. Schade was abusive to children both physically and sexually. For over 40 years this man has been under scrutiny and it was just a matter of time before he was caught. Are the choirboys the boys in the photos? How many young boys did Schade abuse over the years? The investigators have a tough job ahead. To try to rationalize that the choir made good music or that he is a good musician is irrelevant now. The facts are that one area school district after another was forbidding Schade from recruiting, the Episcopal churches banned him from ever performing their again, and there were many, many red flags with this choir program that people ignored for too long. Schade and the other involved “chaperone” abusers should have been stopped much sooner, and they all should be brought to justice. I suspect many more boys (now grown men) will come forward with horror stories of abuse.

  • Dennis

    Channel 16 is treading on some thin ice here with their reportage of this story. If this turns out to be baseless, I think WNEP, French, and the “alleged” victim should be sued for defamation of character and face hefty punitive damages. If I am the news director at Channel 16, I’d tighten up their reporting. This specific story and the original piece from the other day are sketchy at best as was their story on Dr. Pelicci earlier in the week. Definitely not the award winning journalism we expect from the market leader. I agree with one of the posters above, something smelled about this story from the beginning and French’s conflict of interest wreaks and Channel 16 should be a little more balanced in its reporting.

    • Educator

      Yes, Dennis, if anything smelled it was that Dr. Schade was hiding something…in this case, two suitcases full of naked child photos and a 40 year history of fishy behavior with boys. For you to make light that perhaps the “abused” boy is somehow lying is reprehensible. If perhaps this were a catholic priest and the accuser and his attorney were after the deep pockets of the Vatican for a pay out, your comment might have validity. But Schade is not wealthy, there is no money to go after, and Schade has been suspect for years about his physical abuse of both boys and girls. The man is a sick individual and he and any cohorts in all this should be brought to justice. Where is your concern that the accuser who was a child at the time may have been sexually assaulted?

  • Thomas S.

    I just posted, but one other thing: I was a chaperone on one of the national tours, in the late 80s, right after I started college. I’m really becoming irritated by the statement in many of these stories that only former choirboys acted as chaperones. Is that a veiled inference that there was some kind of conspiracy, either to share in the abuse of kids or to somehow cover for Dr. Schade? Nonsense, and insulting, disgusting nonsense. I admired Dr. Schade, but I’d have been the first to tell authorities if I knew of him doing anything like this, and if I even suspected it I certainly would have told others. I saw Dr. Schade physically disciplining kids, but never to the level of abuse, and never, ever, did I see, or even suspect, any kind of sexual contact.

  • Thomas S.

    Dan P. is right on the money. Mr. French has a deeper interest in this case than he would like people to believe– and for that matter, he purports to have a lot of expertise about the choir after being a member of all of one year. Child abusers are the worst of the worst– and if Dr. Schade is one, he should rot with the rest of them– but something about this case doesn’t pass the smell test. Just not right. And of course, even if charges are dropped at the preliminary hearing or there’s a verdict of not guilty at trial, Dr. Schade’s life, and his life’s work, the choir, are ruined anyway– which is just how “some people” want it.

  • K

    I was in the Keystone Girls choir from 92-94 when practices were held at the old school in Stockertown. The girls never traveled abroad and most our concerts were held locally, so I can’t speak to what it was like to travel with Dr. Schade, but I can tell you that he certainly was both physically and verbally abusive. I’ll never forget getting a good wack on the head by him for talking in practice–but I was too fearful, shocked, and frankly too young to know I should tell my parents. I also remember him calling us stupid and dumb if we missed notes, and yelling right in our faces. He was very creepy–and always showed a “fondness” for the boys. He had a way of keeping us in fear, and while I can’t say for sure whether or not the accusation was true, I can say that if it was I could see exactly how that child could be too afraid to say anything at the time.

    • Chorus Teacher

      1. I know one of the boys who is now 45 years old that was made to sleep with him and was always picked as a room mate of Dr. Schade’s on tour. 2. I know that East Bangor church got rid of him because he was cussing boys out using the “F” word in the church because they were not hitting notes correct. 3. My cousin was a singing boy, and did not talk badly about Dr. Schade. He is now 34 years old. 4. Dr. Schade was known to lie and cover up a lot of things over the years. He held one on one rehearsals with boys late at night. 5. His choirs used to be about 75 boys strong. When he was arrested, he was down to 11 students left. This shows how he was acting towards them. He is very sick and needs help.

  • Dan P.

    I was a member of the Pocono Boy Choir from 1970 to 1976.
    Dr Schade was just Mister then,not Dr. I am the first to agree that
    Dr Schade is a strange man. He was a very strict professional
    that sometimes forgot he was dealing with children. I saw him
    spank, nuckle the top of the head, hit with books and more,
    but always when a boy was acting out of line.
    I did over 400 concerts,went to Europe twice and traveled
    extensively throughout the U S and spent many hundreds of
    days with Dr Schade. There was never at any time any signs
    of Dr, Schade touching children inappropriately.
    I, and other Member’s I’ve talked to will be stepping forward
    to say our thoughts and educational dealings with Dr. Schade.
    I have no doubt Mr French was spanked,I fail to see what that has
    to do with a child rape. Why in the ‘AIRED” STORY did WNEP not
    disclose Attorney French would be representing a Complaintant.
    I pray that this is not a true complaint FOR ALL THOSE INVOLVED.
    Give the man a fair trial,Don’t execute him in the media.

  • Bob

    The first line of this story says “Members of an all-boys choir are speaking out,” but I only hear one voice here, that of a certain Leonard French, attorney, who is not a disinterested party, since he is apparently representing someone in a lawsuit. Also, Mr. French already spoke out some 20 years ago, so this is nothing new from him, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

    I’m a former choir member. I spent about 4 years in the choir, mostly in the years right before Mr. French. And let me be perfectly clear that if Schade did the things he is accused of, I hope he rots in prison. I disliked the man when I was in the choir, but not because he abused anyone or did anything inappropriate — but because he held high disciplinary standards and kept us in line. How else could you depend on 10 to 14-year-old kids to perform correctly every time on national TV, on tours in front of packed concert halls with thousands of people in Japan and across the U.S.? You need strict discipline, and many of us disliked Schade for it. But in retrospect, I have great respect for him, and I find the present accusations shocking.

    As for Mr. French, there is a history here — if you do a little web search, you’ll discover that Mr. French and his parents led the charge against Schade in a 1992 story in The Morning Call, where they too apparently sought a lawsuit after claiming Schade spanked Mr. French when he was misbehaving. I don’t know whether it happened or not, but it got a lot of publicity (what you won’t find easily in a web search is all the letters the Morning Call got from parents and former choir boys afterward defending Schade), and now Mr. French seems to be ready to be on the attack again.

    Again, if Mr. French has a client who was abused by Schade, I wish him well, and I hope Schade gets what he deserves. But I think the readers of this article deserve to know the Mr. French is not some random choirboy here: he has accused Schade before, and now he has a law practice which serves to benefit from suing him.

    Now, to Mr. French’s specific stories — I really wish that WNEP had actually talked to more than one member of the choir to get different stories and clarifications before publishing this. First, everything was NOT so “secretive” — at least one parent actually went on tour with us (as an interpreter in Japan), and on other occasions parents did come along on shorter concert excursions.

    It’s true that on longer tours, parents did not come, but we were gone for weeks at a time, and there wasn’t room on the buses even if it made sense for them to come. The reason why we couldn’t call home was very simple: a 9-year-old boy is away from his Mom and Dad for 2-3 weeks for the first time, and he is asked to perform concerts in front of hundreds or thousands of people every night. Many of us got homesick. Talking to parents exacerbated this problem. I myself felt a bit of this when one time a host family offered me the opportunity to call home, and I felt a little homesick and depressed for a day. My roommate in the choir that night actually got quite depressed. The policy sounds draconian, and maybe it wasn’t always necessary, but at the time — in an era before cell phones and Skype — it seemed to have a purpose.

    I don’t specifically recall Schade screening our letters. Maybe he did, and if so that would have been inappropriate. But what happened was that we had no mechanism (as little kids) to mail letters ourselves on tour, so Schade would collect them and send them in one big envelope periodically, and parents could pick them up at the choir office. I do remember him and the counselors encouraging us to write frequently, because they knew our parents would miss us. And I specifically remember a counselor once telling me to revise a letter to write MORE details, since they wanted us to make sure our parents heard from us.

    As for the sleeping arrangements, it is true that boys did sleep in the same bed with Schade or one of the chaperones. You couldn’t do that today, but it was no secret back then. It wasn’t hidden from the parents. Basically, it was done for economy purposes. While we would get occasional big gigs in New York or Philadelphia, and for a while we got a lot of attention in Japan, the choir mostly was run on a shoestring budget, funding by a few hundred dollars here and there from small churches where we would perform. There was only one regular secretary beyond Schade, and they depended heavily on parents volunteering to do things like stuff envelopes to send out promotional materials so we could book concerts.

    As for the kids who roomed with Schade, it was generally those kids who misbehaved and needed to be watched closely. There were no rotating assignments where Schade chose a kid to go to bed with — that’s simply ridiculous. The fact is that we couldn’t afford enough chaperones to have an adult in every room, so an older boy (13 or 14 years old) was trusted in most rooms to keep kids in line at the hotels. Those kids who misbehaved and couldn’t be trusted were assigned to a chaperone room or to Schade’s room. And even then, Schade didn’t even generally determine whether or who shared a bed with him — the kids in the room generally decided where they wanted to sleep.

    I interacted with all of these kids and was very good friends with many of them for years, and I NEVER heard of any reports of any inappropriate physical behavior from Schade. He simply was never alone with any of us for any period of time either, so it just couldn’t happen while we were on tour.

    Mr. French paints a picture made to sound like this was some dark evil organization with Schade doing secretive things and choosing victims. That’s preposterous, and I think most former choir members will tell you that.

    Now, it’s certainly possible that Schade did do inappropriate things with some boys at other times, and as I already said, in that case he should be punished severely under the law. But Mr. French’s portrait is inaccurate and misleading. I didn’t like Schade when I was a kid, but I respect what he tried to do and the training he gave us — so I’m not going to stand by and let Mr. French smear the choir like this. Schade should get what he deserves, if the accusations are true. But the choir experience was very different from what Mr. French says.

    • Dan P.

      Bob, thank you for your voice,I know from your writing
      that you were there and have a firm grasp of the truth.
      I am sure we will meet in the future.

    • Karivel

      Thank you for sharing some light into this matter. My son has been a member of the SBP, for 5 years. I used to travel with the choir in most of the tours, always been there for choir practices, and performances. I have never seen anything close to confirm allegations of sexual misconduct. Yes, I agree Dr. Shade was strict and yet he spectate a lot of the kids., but also I always felt he was a walking conservatory. He knowledge for music is amazing, and in a short time I saw most of the kids singing like angels. Dr. Shade have work very hard for the choir over the years, he has given invaluable knowledge of music to many generation of kids. It is unfair all this negative media portrait of him. Like i said I have been a chaperon for the kids, helping the choir all the time during the 5 years my son has been part of it. They should investigate closely this accusation, who is making them, any medical history of the accuser before they destroyed this men’s works. If the allegations proof to be truth, than, he should be convicted; but no before!

    • Andrew

      I believe I responded to you on another article already but I just wanted to lend my voice as well. I was a member of the choir from 1993-1995 and this whole thing sounds absolutely ridiculous to me and the things this lawyer is saying are absolutely false.

    • Thomas S.

      Very well put indeed, and accurately describes my own experience in the choir and on tour (England at age 10, and then nationwide).

    • Leonard J. French (@leonardjfrench)

      Thank you all for your comments. I thought I might reply and clarify some things.

      My purpose in speaking out is to help others have the courage to share their experiences, whatever those may be. Some of you have already shared yours here.

      My experience with the choir was a memorable and mostly-positive one. Schade is a very gifted musician and I credit my time with the choir for my appreciation of music and performance later in life.

      My experience with Schade, however, left scars that are still present. I want to see Schade brought to whatever justice the truth requires. I am most definitely an interested party.

      I became an attorney in part to advocate for those who have been in positions like mine and need someone to be their voice when they are crumbling.

      When I had my experience in 1992, it seemed like no one could do anything effective. The newspaper article was our last resort so that others could read it and decide for themselves.

      Dan, to your defamation comments. Defamation requires the statements I’ve made to be untrue. The burden is on the plaintiff. I would also have the chance to defend the truth of my statements. And the plaintiff would be required to allow me to question him on the record. I welcome the chance.

      Anyone who wishes to is welcome to contact WNEP, me, or Trooper Osterhout at the Swiftwater PA State Police barracks.

      Sincerely,
      Leonard

  • CCKM

    At our church, ALL children and youth workers are subject to background checks, or you just don’t work with the kids period. It’s not fail-safe, but it’s a step in the right direction. When we work with the kids, we always work in pairs or even threes. Parents are always allowed to be involved, and go on trips whether with the group or at their own expense.

  • Chuck

    It’s hard to understand why groups and schools even today after all the incidents of child abuse still require children to stay overnight away from home. Parents should be allowed to be present during any of these activites involving their kids. I recently heard about a local school reqiring cheerleaders to go away to camp for three days two nights or be disqualified from the team. I guess I would be labeled over protective for not allowing it.

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