Getting education, any education whatsoever, is a hangover from distant past, several British reformers say. The worst part: the hallowed Oxford academe seems to be in full agreement.
Joseph II, the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was delighted on Tuesday, July 16, 1782. He attended the premiere of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera (Singspiel), named Abduction from Seraglio (original title: Die Entführung aus dem Serail). After all, the Emperor did commission it.
But His Majesty had this to remark, much to Mozart’s displeasure bordering on disgust: “That is too fine for my ears – there are too many notes, dear Mozart.” (Scholars steeped in the elegant intricacies of the German language use this form: Zu schön für unsere Ohren, und gewaltig viel Noten, lieber Mozart! That leaves space for different interpretations, but that’s another issue.)
But: today’s educational modernisers would applaud His Majesty with gusto, if only they knew of his existence. Well, perhaps they would stop clapping upon learning that he was a Royal, but let’s leave this question to conjecture.
Writing notation is too white
Lessons on writing notation and how to conduct orchestras stink of colonialism and white supremacy, a few undergraduate students and teachers at the most venerable Oxford University said, and the school seems to be in agreement.
They describe musical notation as a “colonialist representational system.”
Classical repertoire taught at Oxford includes works by Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. That, some professors said, focuses too much on what they described as white European music from the slave period.
And they meant it.
There are quite a few problems with this. One of them is facts of history.
The trade in African slaves, not by white men but by Muslim Arabs who had been ruling Africa at the time, had nothing to do with western classical music notation. It is based on medieval liturgical music and Georgian chants.
Yes, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. But they had nothing to do with any slave trade.
So, Black Lives Matter, a racist organisation if there ever was one, found another approach: the classical musical notation started at the height of colonialism.
Playing the keyboard or conducting orchestras ended up in the same boat. The reason is tragically idiotic: the repertoire used in the process “structurally centres white European music.” And that, the activists insist, causes “students of colour great distress.”
Throw Mozart and Beethoven out, give us a “decolonized’ curriculum.”
That means musical diversity, whatever that is.
Besides, why not introduce such topics like signature pop culture events, including ”Dua Lipa’s Record Breaking Livestream” and ”Artists Demanding Trump Stop Using Their Songs” instead?
This is what happens when you give an inch to the fundamentalists.
Oxford University bid a symbolic farewell to what Black Lives Matter and the school in unison described the university’s colonialist past. Gone is the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the Oriel College campus.
Black Lives Matter described the Victorian-era diamond magnate and prime minister of the Cape Colony as the “father of apartheid” in South Africa.
Not to be left behind, Oxford’s All Souls College’s library no longer bears the name of Christopher Codrington, a Barbados-born 17th century colonial governor and slave-owner.
Not that far!
In an unexpected show of courage, the school refused to remove Codrington’s statue. He used to be an All Souls fellow and generous donor. It was his money that helped build the library in the first place.
In another scandal, Black Lives Matter stated, and Oxford faculty agreed, that “vast bulk of tutors for techniques are white men.”
And, while they are at it, the school is looking at a student’s proposal that no tutors should speak disparagingly to students about any element of the curriculum.
Meaning: how dare you criticize? Not only are the tutors banned from criticizing anything students love, they are not allowed to criticize anything other than white privilege.
Including hip hop and jazz on Oxford’s curriculum will provide “non-Eurocentric” topics of study.
In a scary case of self-flagellation, professors started asking whether the “structure of our curriculum supports white supremacy.” There should be a law about this, they suggested, adding another concern: an “almost all-white faculty” gives (how natural) “privilege to white musics.”
Here’s what they want to do: introduce “special topics” such as “Introduction to Sociocultural and Historical Studies.”
Who gives a hoot about Guillaume de Machaut, a French poet and composer of late medieval music, or Franz Peter Schubert, an Austrian composer of the late classical and early romantic eras?
Give us “African and African Diasporic Musics”, “Global Musics”, and “Popular Musics!”
Truth to be told, several faculty members had the gall to beg to differ. One, according to a British Telegraph newspaper story, went so far as to suggest that her/his (not identified) colleagues focussed on music from before 1900 “are often implicitly accused of being concerned exclusively with music that is ‘Western’ and ‘white’.”
No word yet on those particular teachers’ fates.
But if they are allowed to teach yet another hour, it would be a shock.