Dr Margaret Walker is the recipient of a SSHRC Institutional Grant (SIG) for Unravelling Colonial Narratives in University Music History Courses. This project will use bibliographic and ethnographic research to explore music history materials, curricula, and perspectives and opinions of music students and faculty in Canada and the U.S.
Undergraduate postsecondary music programs in North America, the UK, Australia, and Europe largely conform to a standardized curriculum that disseminates a Eurocentric, canonic, and evolutionary narrative focusing on Western elite music composers and their “masterworks.” Reinforced by textbooks and other teaching materials, the content and pedagogy of undergraduate music courses in history, theory, performance and musicianship vary very little between institutions. Built largely on the curricula of 19th century European conservatoires, these standard university music core courses also draw on scholarly work from the last decades of the 19th century when the lives and works of “master” composers began to be canonized. This period also marked the height of imperial colonialism and scientific racism, and it is my contention that the history of European elite music and its pedagogies are inextricable from this context. Thus, if the curriculum we teach in university music programs and the historical canon we follow in all our courses took shape in the context of colonialism, is post-secondary music teaching delivering a narrative (overt or covert) of European cultural superiority?