One way of exploring musical identity, as a phenomenon, is to listen to the life stories of musicians. This research interpreted the narratives of undergraduate students of Western Art Music at a South African tertiary institution and described the experiences and the lives of these music students, and the meanings that they attribute to their identities. The participating music students described what they perceive as real-life experiences and defined their views on human self-definition with reference to their chosen study field.
The research approach entails a philosophical framework of hermeneutic interpretivism. Such a non-positivist approach sees the lived experiences of the music students not on their own, but as depending on interpretation by the researcher to establish the meanings these students gave to musical identity. The methodology includes a qualitative approach which was done from a narrative perspective through personal storytelling and a thematic analysis of the data. Data triangulation ensures verification of findings by the author and individual participants agreed upon the interpretations of the researcher of their narrations.
Participating music students confirmed that personal storytelling assisted them in understanding their musicianship in a better way, as well as gave them a clearer perspective on personal musical experiences.
The influence of practising and performing on musical identity was described, but the interaction with music teachers was found to be a significant influential factor on musical identity. The perceptions of South African society in general, with reference to Western Art Music, were found to be detrimental to the musical identities of these students. Musical identities were found to be interwoven in relationships, embedded in the realities of the field of music education and existing deep in the inner selves of these music students.