SPARC was founded in 2010 by Professor Stephanie Pitts as part of the strong profile of music psychology research at the University of Sheffield.

From the outset, SPARC has been committed to investigating interdisciplinary perspectives on audience engagement, and to collaborating with external arts organisations.


  • to explore the purposes and practicalities of empirical research with audiences and performers;

  • to consider the roles of audience members as musical participants;

  • to illustrate the musical, social and personal richness of audience experience in different contexts;

  • to investigate the perceived relationships between audiences and performers;

  • to explore musicians’ perspectives on live performance;

  • to consider the relevance of our research for arts organisations, musicians, educators and researchers.

Founding members

Stephanie Pitts and Chris Spencer and jointly supervised PhD students Melissa Dobson and Kate Gee formed SPARC upon Melissa and Kate's graduation.

Together they completed a research and knowledge exchange project with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Pitts, Dobson, Gee and Spencer, 2013). Melissa and Kate then left Sheffield for other academic roles.

The University of Sheffield, UK

Christopher Spencer

The University of Sheffield, UK

Guildhall School of Music and Drama, UK

Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

Former members

A variety of valued academic colleagues have contributed to SPARC projects since its establishment, including those funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the University of Sheffield Impact, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (IIKE), and the University of Sheffield Arts Enterprise Fund.

Katy Robinson

Lucy Dearn


Members of the SPARC team have conducted research with organisations including:

  • Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

  • Buxton Festival

  • CAST, Doncaster

  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)

  • Classical Sheffield

  • Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs (CoMA)

  • Derbyshire County Council

  • Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

  • the Firebird Trust

  • the London Chamber Orchestra

  • Making Music

  • Music in the Round

  • Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

  • Sheffield City Council

  • the Spin Jazz Club, Oxford