Founding Member Christopher Spencer

Photo of Christopher Spencer. One of SPARC’s founding members, Professor Chris Spencer, died on 13th June 2018, aged 75.

His love of live music listening and his contribution to audience research featured in his funeral, where Stephanie Pitts gave the following tribute:

I first got to know Chris when he was a very willing research participant in my study of the Music in the Round audience. He kept a diary during the week of the May festival in 2003, writing with his usual enthusiasm and insight on the pleasures of live classical music listening. He also wrote very honestly of the dip in energy experienced halfway through the festival, and of the need for a Peak District walk on the Sunday following a week of intense indoor listening.

A few years later, when the Lindsay String Quartet retired, Chris proposed that we undertake some research together to understand how that loyal audience – himself included – would adjust to a new ensemble in residence. He, of course, adjusted very well, and remained a fervent supporter of Music in the Round, and of the wider cultural life of the city.

A thirty year age gap meant that at the time of our collaboration, Chris was senior and well-established in his career, and I rather more green in mine. I never felt like the junior partner though, or even explicitly mentored: he would simply share his passions and enthusiasms, and always leave room for mine. He took the same approach to our joint supervision of two PhD students, and gave generously of his time for lively and wide-ranging discussions, long after his official retirement.

Once we had seen Melissa and Kate through to the successful completion of their doctoral research, it seemed a shame to stop our joint endeavours.  There was funding around at the time that enabled us to set up a research centre, and so we wrestled with the acronym risks inherent in a Centre for Researching Audiences and Performers … With the addition of the important word Sheffield, SPARC was born, and continues to thrive, thanks to Chris’s founding influence.

He withdrew gracefully from active participation in SPARC a few years ago, but remained a source of delightfully unexpected emails, usually with a link to a blog or radio programme that I might find interesting. His recommendations ranged across classical music, education, art, architecture, landscape – and sometimes there would just be a photograph of a view he had enjoyed on a recent walk.  All helpful reminders of life beyond the desk, from an academic whose genuine values and love of life were intertwined with his work.

Chris inspired and supported me, and so many others, and I am honoured to be able to express my gratitude for that today.

Professor Stephanie Pitts, June 2018