Musical Epiphanies as Taste Defining Experiences

For the most part the development of personal musical taste has been described as a long-term process of enculturation and socialization. But at the same time, people have repeatedly given accounts of particular, extraordinary events that have changed, expanded, or reoriented their musical taste in a fundamental way.

With this project we aim to formulate a construct of musical epiphanies as aesthetic peak experiences that have a long-term effect on taste development. Furthermore, we examine the explanatory potential of this construct for research on musical taste.

In a qualitative study we obtained autobiographical narratives about such aesthetic peak experiences, coded them, and analyzed them using various methodological approaches: linguistic (for example, repeated formulations, patterns of verbalization, and distribution of different sorts of words), narratological (development of the narratives, emotionally resonant aspects of the experience, the role played by the self), and categorical (the constitutive elements of a key musical experience). 

Our initial analyses have shown that many such experiences take place in early puberty, often involving a haphazard encounter with previously unknown (or else not particularly liked) music, and relatively frequently in a live context. An intensive emotional and aesthetic reaction (in the sense of the “strong experiences with music” described by Alf Gabrielsson) is part of this pattern, together with an aspect of identification and an often highly detailed memory of place, date, and other contextual details.

An additional preliminary finding is that in comparison with musical preferences arrived at through socialization, music that people become familiar with and love as a result of epiphanies is marked by an especially high degree of affection and identification.

As our project proceeds we will refine its central construct and arguments, and explore the underlying mechanisms that are here manifest. Finally, we aim to address the question of how such sudden “falling in love” with unknown music is possible; in other words, how the music involved fits the person.