Toward decolonial landscape analysis
: addressing paradigmatic issues in music composition

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The aim of this dissertation is to consider basic ontological and epistemological questions about music composition that can easily go unexamined or escape critique by the literature. What ‘counts’ as composition? Who gets to be ‘a composer’? What does this mean for how ‘composition’ is taught, practiced, and understood? This qualitative study uses three approaches—musical analysis, curriculum analysis, and thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews—to provide a decolonial reading of music composition within the UK context.

First, I present works by composers Hannah Catherine Jones and Elaine Mitchener to theorize elements of decolonial compositional praxis (DCP), individual theories of practice that composers use to confront and resist aspects of coloniality within music or society more broadly. Then, informed by this analysis, I present two case studies of music departments in English universities: City, University of London and the University of York. In much of the Global North, the university is a significant repository of compositional knowledge and a site of knowledge acquisition for composers, and it is thus an important locus for epistemological questions about composition as a practice. In this context, I find that while composer-teachers were generally positive toward decolonization, and some individuals are earnestly doing decolonial compositional work within their institutions, structures of coloniality nevertheless remain at all levels of the university. While the results are not wholly generalizable to the entire UK, they provide a compelling basis for further research.

This dissertation is a philosophy of composition in the vein of past treatises like those of Schoenberg and Hindemith. However, unlike these (whose texts tend to be largely pedagogical), this text is not intended as a roadmap for how composition ‘should’ specifically be taught to student-composers and is not presented as a dissertation on music education.
Date of Award23 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJustin A Williams (Supervisor) & Michael P Ellison (Supervisor)

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