Classical Music

Classical Music is Colonialist

Professors consider plans to shift focus away from a classical repertoire to embrace diversity

MUSICAL notation has been branded “colonialist” by Oxford professors who are hoping to reform their courses to focus less on white European culture, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose. Academics are deconstructing the university’s music profile after facing pressure to “decolonise” the curriculum following Black Lives Matter protests.

They are considering changing undergraduate courses after some staff questioned the curriculum’s “complicity in white supremacy”.

Professors stated that the classical repertoire taught at Oxford, which includes works by Mozart and Beethoven, focuses too much on “white European music from the slave period”.

Documents reveal that faculty members have proposed reforms to address this “white hegemony”, including rethinking the study of musical notation because it is a “colonialist representational system”.

Teaching notation that has not “shaken off its connection to its colonial past” would be a “slap in the face” for some students, documents state, and music writing studies have been earmarked for rebranding to be more inclusive.

Academics have also proposed that musical skills, such as learning to play keyboards or conducting orchestras, should no longer be compulsory because the repertoire “structurally centres white European music”, which causes “students of colour great distress”. It is also noted that the “vast bulk of tutors for techniques are white men”.

A faculty checklist devised to tick off student demands notes that hip hop and jazz are on the curriculum at Oxford, providing “non-Eurocentric” topics of study. Professors also highlighted the issue of an “almost all-white faculty” giving “privilege to white musics”. As a proposed change, the list of “special topics” open to students would be relabelled as “an introduction to sociocultural and historical studies” to reflect the faculty’s new focus.

The suggestions – seen by The Telegraph – were put forward at a faculty “away day” where staff discussed “enhancing the diversity of courses”.

However, there was dissent from some faculty members, with one stating that it was unfair for colleagues focusing on music from before 1900 to be accused of being concerned exclusively with music that is “Western” and ‘white’”. The development of Western classical music and its notation predate the establishment of the trade in African slaves, both having their roots in medieval liturgical music such as Gregorian chanting.

Major figures in the development of classical music including JS Bach, Mozart, Beethoven emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries at the peak of the slave trade.

The University of Oxford has been approached for comment.

First published in The Sunday Telegraph.

Categories: Classical Music

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