The Music Faculty offered an explanation to students about curriculum reforms on 6 April 2021, following media coverage in The Telegraph and Daily Mail. They believe communications between Faculty Board members have been “represented in misleading fashion” by the Daily Mail.
The Telegraph published an article on 27 March which details efforts to “’decolonise’ the curriculum”. It discloses the wishes of staff “to address this ‘white hegemony’, including rethinking the study of musical notation because it is a ‘colonialist representational system’”.
The Daily Mail also covered, and have now altered, the story. The initial article detailed Faculty proposals for “scrapping” sheet music, which has now been removed. This article has been condemned by the Oxford University Music Faculty for representing the curriculum changes “in [a] misleading fashion”. The Faculty holds that the coverage follows “a Freedom of Information request to the Music Faculty in mid-January” by The Telegraph.
In a statement released on 31 March 2021, the Faculty explained that they “are also enhancing our students’ opportunities to study a range of non-western and popular music from across the world” whilst “retaining — and in no way diminishing — the Faculty’s traditional excellence in the critical analysis, history, and performance of a broad range of western art music.”
An open letter has been written by students to the faculty about the media coverage and statement. The letter seeks greater communication to students following the media coverage of course changes. It states that “the Faculty’s job is to its members, not the press or the public”. The letter also argues the statement put out by the faculty shows “no intention of changing the very cultures that have continued their exclusionary practices for so long.”
The Faculty has said that “the changes to [their] curriculum contribute to that process; undoubtedly, there will be more work to do, and we will look forward to continuing to engage with students in that ongoing process.” The Faculty has proposed changes to the undergraduate curriculum which follows consultations about the course since the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020. The faculty have communicated that “over the past few years [it] has sought to diversify its curriculum”.
Ella Marshall-Shepherd, a postgraduate music student at Oxford University, told Cherwell: “The need to decolonise Oxford’s music curriculum is long overdue. Many students (as well as several staff members) are consequently baffled at the culture of wilful ignorance and indignant resistance to suggestions of change.”
The Music Faculty have taken action by seeking to “appoint an associate professor in popular music” as well as making curriculum changes, yet to receive approval from the University. The Faculty’s proposed “structural changes” to the curriculum includes making the Keyboard Skills an “opt-out” module for Prelims students. It also would make Foundations in the Study of Music compulsory in “a significant contribution to the decolonising and the rebalancing of the curriculum.”
The Daily Mail have been contacted for comment.