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Cultural Historian Earns High Praise for New Book


Opera star Jenny Lind, a key figure in Daniel Cavicchi's new book, performs for a packed auditorium in NYC.

Long before music fans in the US listened to songs on iPods, they listened to music while also seeing it performed in concert halls and makeshift coliseums. A century before Jennifer Lopez cemented her music stardom as J. Lo, there was Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who rocketed to icon status in Europe before raking in $350,000 a performance in the US for legendary circus founder P.T. Barnum.

In his new book Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum, associate professor of American Studies Daniel Cavicchi draws a historic and cultural arc from the antebellum period to the 21st century, exploring the role that industrialization and commercialization played in shaping music fandom in America. The book, which was released in late 2011, has since gone on to earn a 2012 Deems Taylor Award from the American Society of Composers and the 2012 Peter C. Rollins Book Award from the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association (NEPCA). 

When the Los Angeles Review of Books first covered the book, it praised Cavicchi – who also heads RISD’s department of History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences – for a compelling study that connects “modern conceptions of fame, fandom and self-consciously specialized forms of ‘audiencing’ to their 19th-century roots.”

“As enjoyable as Listening and Longing is . . . there is serious scholarly work going on here as well,” notes critic Franklin Bruno. “Cavicchi’s project is part of an important turn within musicology . . . away from its traditional concern with the analysis of ostensibly autonomous masterpieces, and the genius and skill of their creators and performers, toward the placement of music and musicians, including amateur players, into their social context.”

“It was an honor to receive such a high-profile nod,” noted Cavicchi, who writes regularly about the history of fandom on his blog The Ardent Audience. With the awards announced in fall 2012, he’s gratified to see the book get as positive a response from jurors as from critics.

Cavicchi’s first book, Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans, examined the phenomenon of fandom and audience through the lens of rock legend Bruce Springsteen and his legendary following. Like Listening and Longing, it was also well received and was selected as a finalist for the 1999 Woody Guthrie Book Award.

related links:
Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum
The Ardent Audience blog

tags: faculty, History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences, research

In the Painting studios students and faculty pause to consider works in progress.