Stephanie Pitts - research case study

image of Stephanie PittsStephanie Pitts’ research activities explore the intersections between social psychology of music and music education, including a strong interest in the lifelong impact of formative musical experiences. Her research approach is largely qualitative, as she is interested in the stories people tell about their musical engagement and identities: how they became interested in music, where their strongest memories of musical participation were formed, and what value and enjoyment they gain from musical activities. She has asked these questions in setting as diverse as jazz clubs and primary schools, and with people ranging from first-time opera-goers to lifelong chamber music enthusiasts.

Recent projects include Stephanie’s book on musical life histories, Chances and Choices (OUP, 2012), in which over a hundred amateur musicians and musical enthusiasts offered their autobiographical reflections on what music had contributed to their lives. These narratives were analysed thematically to consider the range of opportunities, attitudes and outcomes that had resulted from musical education across the generations – and Stephanie has particularly enjoyed presenting this research at music education conferences, and talking with teachers about the long-term impact of their work. She is currently forming a network of music education researchers in five European countries, with the aim of replicating the study in different contexts to see how national cultures of music education and amateur music-making shape people’s musical lives in a variety of ways.

Stephanie is also continuing to do research with audiences, moving beyond her existing work with classical and jazz listeners to explore experiences across art-forms and particularly in the contemporary arts. In 2014 she embarked on a collaboration with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, who approached her seeking support to understand their audiences and their relationships with other arts across the city. We hope that this too will become a wider network, incorporating different art forms and organisations across the country, and resulting in a handbook of audience development strategies for promoters, drawing on evidence and evaluations from the project.

This interest in musical participation is balanced by a recognition that not everyone who could make music chooses to do so, and in 2013-14 Stephanie completed an AHRC Cultural Value project on ‘lapsed and partial participation in the arts’. This involved working with local amateur music groups and – more challengingly – tracking down their former members to investigate the pressures and disappointments that lead people to cease their involvement in music. And so Stephanie’s research interests come full circle, considering the routes from school music into adult musical engagement, and providing evidence and advocacy for how these could be better supported in education and cultural policy.

Stephanie directs the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre and you can read more about her recent and ongoing projects – including Coughing and Clapping, a new edited book on audiences – on the SPARC website (