Faculty of Music

Photo by Ian Wallman


Since the 1980s, influenced by developments in ethnomusicology, feminism and sociology/cultural studies, musicology has sought ways to unpick the legacy of a focus on (and privileging of) the ‘high art’ music of ‘dead, white men’. At Oxford, as elsewhere, this has led to significant curricular changes and disciplinary broadening, over the past decade in particular. While we retain an interest in traditional analytical and historiographical study of notated Western art music, our syllabus has seen the introduction of courses such as Women Composers, Music Ethnography, Dance Music, and Global Hip Hop, and an expansion of opportunities within the curriculum for students to engage critically with the affective and cultural value of music of all kinds. Overview courses in all years teach students to think critically about the legacy of the way we study music, exploring the creation of our musical canon, why we place such value on score analysis (and attendant notions of composer genius), orientalism in music, the representation of gender and sexuality in music in the first year, and other critical issues in contemporary global musicology in the second and third years.

While Music Faculty staff continue to research the notated music of the European past, they also study Western art music of the present, and popular music and non-Western musics across the historical continuum. In so doing, they place value not simply on the historically privileged notated art work and its composer, but also on the performative and social agencies that contribute vitally to the production of music, and to its creation of meaning. Our academic and studio staff further broaden the field by exploring sound as well as music in their research and in its compositional and performative applications, and by studying the psychological and sociological impact of music and sound in the present and the (mostly recent) past. Our undergraduate degree now includes research-led courses such as: Acoustic Cities, Psychological Perspectives on Performance, Recording and Producing Music, The Social and Cultural Study of Music, and Music, Mind, Behaviour. At graduate level, our M.St. includes seminars on Electronic Dance Music, Music and Ethics, and Music and Global History. Since the Faculty acknowledges that there is always more we can do to decolonise our curriculum, in 2018 we held a day-long seminar on Decolonising and Diversifying the Curriculum (organised by Professors Gascia Ouzounian and Jason Stanyek) with contributions from 18 speakers from within the Faculty (students and staff), across the UK and from the US. 

Recognising that the value of music is not only determined by its status as art, and our Faculty’s and students’ desire to bring music’s positive impact to people in all walks of life, we now also run courses in Music Education and community music (working with disadvantaged children, and those with dementia and autism). We aspire to increase the extent and reach of these programmes, and are actively seeking funds to allow us to do so. Acknowledging the importance and value of studying popular music, we intend to make an appointment explicitly in this area to commence in October 2020. The Faculty and its members also run an array of concerts, seminar series, and other outward-facing activities which attest to our interest in diversification. These include seminar series in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies, the Sounds of South Asia concert series, concerts of popular and electronic music, and guest concerts in 2019 alone by organisations such as the (local) Young Women’s Music Project, the Afghan Women’s Orchestra, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.


playing flute