Sarah Callis is a researcher and supervisor interested in the contexts and processes that inform performance, and in artistic research in education

Sarah’s research involves working collaboratively with performers on the aesthetic and analytical questions that emerge from rehearsal and performance. She works with doctoral and master’s students on their practice-driven research, both supervising projects and overseeing seminars, and she also has a research interest in the relationship between artistic research and the educational environment. She is a member of the steering committee for ‘Doctors in Performance’, an organisation that champions the work of student and newly graduated performer-researchers across Europe through biennial conferences. She also has extensive experience as a programme external examiner within the Conservatoire sector across the UK.

Sarah has developed a range of research projects with colleagues in recent years, including an exploration of the idea of ‘creative resistance’ in performance, investigating the instinct of composers and performers to work ‘against’ their materials and how difficulties can become tools for invention. This project emerged initially from seminars for Doctoral students and staff at the Academy, which Sarah oversees, an environment which brings composers and performers together to work on practice-led research. The project also encompassed materials developed with the Kreutzer Quartet on Brahms’ string quartets.

Sarah is also involved in a project with pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar, examining the impact of focussed programming strategies on preparation and performance. For example, they have explored how the programming of cycles of works can shape the process of rehearsal and delivery, including how experiencing cycles of works might relate to that of an art exhibition. Sarah has explored programming from a number of perspectives, a feature of her supervisory work as well as her research.

As well as projects on performance processes, Sarah is interested in the place of artistic research in education at both master's and doctoral levels, an issue which is important in her teaching. She has explored the relationship between the demands of traditional research and those of artistry and how the two can combine in practice-led PhDs as well as within a masters-level environment. Her work on practice-led PhDs has focused particularly on the role of personal experience and how the self can be positioned within the research process.

Sarah’s doctoral thesis (1994) was funded by the British Academy and explored Brahms’s middle-period works, borrowing methodology from semiotic analysis in order to explore the nature of theme and structure in his music. Since then, her interests have become increasingly filtered through her engagement with the performance-led research environment at the Academy, although she retains a special interest in the music of Brahms.


Sarah has supervised multiple doctorates to completion, both as primary supervisor (performers) and secondary supervisor (composers). A particular area of interest has been the nature and execution of live concerts, including an exploration (conceptual and practical) of performance space and the untapped potential of empty spaces; an exploration of the nature of a performer’s relationship with their audiences, focusing on programme design and spoken materials; and an investigation of violin miniatures and their potential within mainstream programming, both live and recorded.

She has also supervised projects on undocumented performing traditions, including an exploration of the Israeli pianist and pedagogue Pnina Salzman, who was a pupil of Alfred Cortot; an exploration of Chopin’s verbal markings in his works for/with piano, including a complete catalogue; and a study of the concept of Zwischenfach, its role in vocal categorisation and its potential impact on the experience of young singers. As a secondary supervisor, Sarah has worked with many composers on a wide range of projects, helping them to develop the conceptual framing of their work and assisting with their written submissions. She welcomes project proposals from performers on all aspects of programming and concert-giving and on undocumented performance traditions.

Selected Publications

Callis, Sarah and Neil Heyde. “’Mind the gaps’: Exploring models for positioning the researcher in doctorates in music performance.” In The Routledge Companion to Music, Autoethnography and Reflexivity, edited by Peter Gouzouasis and Christopher Wiley. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2024

Callis, Sarah and David Gorton. “Combining Artistic Practice with Professional Practice: Developing Artistic Research Projects within 2nd Cycle Studies in Music.” Paper presented at the European Platform for Artistic Research in Music, Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, April 2023.

Callis, Sarah and Daniel-Ben Pienaar. “Preparing cycles as a creative strategy.” Paper presented at the European Platform for Artistic Research in Music, Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, Belgium, April 2017.

Callis, Sarah and Daniel-Ben Pienaar. “Anti-Programming: the cycle as Creative Catalyst.” Paper presented at the Performance Studies Network Conference, Bath Spa University, UK, July 2016.

Callis, Sarah et al. “Creative Resistance as a Performance Tool.” Music + Practice 2 (2015)

Callis, Sarah, Neil Heyde, and Olivia Sham. “Creative resistance: towards a performative understanding of ‘distributed creativity.’” Paper presented at the Performance Studies Network Conference, University of Cambridge, Cambridge UK, 2013.

Callis, Sarah. “Brahms op.51: a private or public pairing?” Paper presented at the “Brahms in the Home” Conference, Royal College of Music, London, October 2011.