The University of Oxford itself denied that the idea of eliminating or reducing teaching on European music was considered. The story, presented with polemical and divisive tones, actually tells a wider discussion on the opportunity to adapt university courses so that they take note of the renewed sensibilities – mainly coming from Anglo-Saxon countries – on non-white cultures and arts, introducing or by devoting more attention to topics such as, for example, the history of African and Asian music.
The history of Mozart and the University of Oxford began with an article in the British newspaper Telegraph who, having seen some confidential documents, wrote that a university professor had argued that current music history programs were too focused on “European white music of the slave period.” In particular, a professor who has expertise in the choice of courses at Oxford proposed to rethink the attention paid to the system of musical notation – that is, the way in which music is put into writing – Western, judging it “a system of colonialist representation” which might annoy some students, implicitly referring to those of non-European origins. This type of criticism refers to the fact that the musical notation system taught and commonly used in the West is not the same as other musical traditions of the world which use tempos, harmonizations and instruments which require other types of notation, and which are not compatible. with the western one.
The documents cited by Telegraph they are about a discussion among Oxford academics, and do not present decisions made by the university. Other opinions that emerged in the debate and cited by the newspaper speak of the possibility of making the study of the piano and orchestral conducting optional, for the same reasons as to detach teachings from the European musical tradition. “Taking inspiration from international events for Black Lives Matter, the faculty committee has proposed some changes to increase the diversity of the university program,” says the document according to the Telegraph.
The proposal of some teachers, who in some cases obviously welcome requests from students, is in short to ensure that certain elements of the courses are no longer mandatory, that others are rethought, and that in general they are accompanied by more teachings on traditions and productions. non-European music. Some of the courses offered would be for example “African and African Diaspora Music”, “Global Music” and “Pop Music”.
But as he says the same Telegraph, some teachers did not agree with the arguments of their colleagues, objecting for example to the idea that the expression “classical music” should be replaced with “Western music”, and protesting with the implicit accusations of racism towards professors who devote to music prior to the twentieth century.
The university, once the documents emerged, denied that changes in the program were decided to eliminate some composers of the European musical tradition. A university representative told the specialist site Classic FM:
Understanding that we will maintain (and in no way diminish) our traditional excellence in the critical analysis, history and performance of the great variety of Western music, we are investigating ways to give our students the opportunity to study a wider range. of non-western and pop music from around the world, compared to the current offering, and the same goes for music composition, psychology and sociology of music, music education, orchestral conducting and so on.
Also an Oxford spokesman told the American newspaper Washington Examiner that “there is no truth in the history of ‘musical notation’ and the reports on it have been based only on one professor”.
The article of Telegraph it mixes concrete proposals, opinions apparently shared by several professors and criticisms that appear instead of individual members of the university, in some passages with little expository clarity. The confusion actually increased when other media, British and international, reprized the article giving particular prominence to the most radical and uncompromising, and apparently more isolated, arguments, such as the one accusing Western music notation of being colonial and the current program. of Oxford to be “complicit in white supremacism”.
For several years, groups and movements of university students, especially Americans, have been questioning the teaching programs of many faculties, identifying and criticizing approaches and elements considered problematic, outdated or offensive towards ethnic, cultural, gender or orientation minorities. sexual. It is a manifestation of the great contemporary debate on the need to change certain aspects of society and culture that are discriminatory towards certain categories of people who have suffered injustices over time. Depending on the specific case, these can be women, African Americans, transgender people and many others.
The history of the University of Oxford is particularly representative, because it is similar to others that are periodically talked about on social networks and in newspapers. A complex discussion, which in this case had mostly developed internally and not publicly, has been simplified and polarized by partial or inaccurate reconstructions, with the result of generating widespread indignation and general confusion on an issue that for many people is relatively recent, and therefore in some respects still difficult to frame and evaluate.
The mechanism that shifted attention from the more general debate to particularly intransigent individual positions, judged by many to be spurious or at least questionable, quickly exasperated the tone and modalities of the discussion in particular on social networks. This made it more difficult for those with different opinions to confront each other in a discussion which, on its own, probably required more attention to nuance and context.
Get the latest news delivered to your inbox
Follow us on social media networks