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Faculty of Music


Sociocultural enablers and inhibitors of musical creativity: A cross-cultural comparison

A research project by Dr. Juniper Hill (2011-2013)

Why does creativity seem to flourish more in some music scenes than others? What types of social and cultural environments make individuals feel more able to innovate, express themselves, and take artistic risks? What factors make people feel creatively restricted or stifled? Why do some societies restrict musicmaking to a small elite while other societies encourage large portions of the population to create music?

 The goal of this research project is to understand how certain sociocultural factors such as ideology, pedagogy, and community may inhibit or enable creativity in diverse cultural settings. For example, culturally specific beliefs about who has talent and where inspiration comes from may influence how parents, teachers, and musicians themselves perceive the creative potentials and possibilities of musicians and music-learners. These attitudes may shape the provision (or lack thereof) of opportunities to learn skills for musical creativity and to engage in creative musicmaking. Certain pedagogies and learning methods may be more effective for teaching musicians and music students how to improvise and compose (and do other creative activities like arranging, varying, and interpreting). Finally, one’s community, peer group, and various social relationships may inhibit creativity by providing substantial pressure to conform and/or instilling a fear of making mistakes or trying new things, or they may encourage creativity by providing trust and support and fostering the courage and self-esteem necessary for innovating and taking creative risks. Broader political and social conditions may also impact creative possibilities.

 Because many of these practices and beliefs that enable or inhibit creativity are deeply culturally ingrained, it is imperative to examine different musical cultures in order to begin to challenge creativity-restricting conventions and find models that exemplify strategies for enhancing creativity. Thus, this research project comprises comparative fieldwork in three different corners of the world: Helsinki, Finland; Cape Town, South Africa; and Los Angeles, USA. In each of these case studies, personal interviews and questionnaires will be conducted with professional and amateur musicians, music students, and music educators. Data will be collected from different musical idioms, including Western art music, jazz, and contemporary folk/traditional/roots musics.

 This research is supported by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Program, and hosted by the University of Cambridge Faculty of Music. Additional support for field research in Finland was provided by a Fulbright CIES Fellowship and hosted by the Sibelius Academy. Support in the form of visiting researcher affiliations are also provided by the University of Cape Town and the University of California, Los Angeles. Results will appear in a book titled Becoming Creative: Insights from Musicians in a Diverse World, which will be published by Oxford University Press.