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Oxford University is not scrapping sheet music

March 30, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The U.K.’s University of Oxford is considering removing sheet music from its music curriculum as part of sweeping changes intended to “decolonize” the program.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There are no plans under consideration to remove sheet music or western musical notation from the music curriculum at Oxford University. The music faculty are planning to add new offerings to the curriculum to be announced in the coming months, a representative from the university said.

THE FACTS: Social media users this week are falsely claiming one of the oldest and highest-ranked universities in the world is ditching sheet music as part of an overhaul to combat racism and white supremacy.

“Attack of the woke: Oxford University is considering removing sheet music from its curriculum over claims that musical notation has roots in “colonialism” and “complicity in white supremacy,” one Facebook user wrote on Monday.

“Oxford University may stop teaching sheet music because of its ‘complicity in white supremacy,’” read the headline of an article published Monday in the Canadian outlet The Post Millennial.

The bogus claims, shared thousands of times, have roots in an article published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on Saturday. 

The article reported that documents showed some faculty members had proposed reforms to address the music program’s focus on white European culture.

“The Telegraph has seen proposals for changes to undergraduate courses, in which some staff question the current curriculum’s ‘complicity in white supremacy,’” the outlet reported. “Professors said the classical repertoire taught at Oxford, which spans works by Mozart and Beethoven, focuses too much on ‘white European music from the slave period.’”

The Telegraph article reported that faculty members had proposed reforms “rethinking the study of musical notation,” but it did not report that the complaints meant the university was considering ditching sheet music. Tabloids and right-wing media outlets, such as Breitbart and Blaze Media, made that false assumption in their coverage of the article.

Stephen Rouse, head of university communications at Oxford, told The Associated Press that while the music faculty is planning to expand its music curriculum to broaden offerings, cutting sheet music is not part of the plan.

He added that many of the views the Telegraph article attributed to “professors” came from a single individual.

Rouse shared a statement from the university’s music faculty, outlining that the program has been planning changes to its curriculum “for the past couple of years” to be published in the summer.

“While retaining (and in no way diminishing) our traditional excellence in the critical analysis, history and performance of the broad range of western art music, we are exploring ways to enhance our students’ opportunities to study a wider range of non-western and popular music from across the world than is currently on offer, as well as music composition, the psychology and sociology of music, music education, conducting, and much more,” the statement read.

The music faculty said claims that the university is considering removing sheet music from its curriculum are “completely incorrect.”

“No such proposal or suggestion has been made about sheet music or western musical notation,” the statement read.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.


Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: