Thomas Kernan was recognized as a national fellow recently

Thomas J. Kernan, assistant professor of music history at Roosevelt University, is the recipient of the Newberry Library’s prestigious Rudolph Ganz Long-Term Fellowship.

Already recognized nationally for his research and scholarship on the music of Abraham Lincoln, Kernan will spend the 2019-20 academic year examining writings by the late Rudolph Ganz (1877-1972).

A leading 19th century piano virtuoso, composer, conductor and educator, Ganz settled in Chicago and became the founding dean of the Chicago Musical College when it merged with Roosevelt University in 1954. He prophetically questioned before its time how music and performance can better engage audiences — a problem that struggling music venues and performers themselves increasingly confront today.

“Ganz recognized early on the importance of understanding and reaching audiences,” said Kernan, who will look at dozens of essays, lectures and speeches, primarily from the post-World War II period, as the prestigious Rudolph Ganz Fellow in American Music.

The writings are expected to provide historical context for a comprehensive, groundbreaking study, classroom lectures, journal articles and book-length project by Kernan, who will, as part of his work, observe and test real live audience behavior in order to get at what truly motivates today’s audiences.

“If we are to be successful as artists, we need to fully understand why people today come to concerts in the first place,” said Kernan, who aims to develop an empirical methodology that can be used by musical venues, performance artists and Roosevelt’s own performing arts students as they try to understand what makes the audiences they serve really tick.

Kernan will spend approximately nine months starting in September at the Newberry Library studying Ganz’s writings in a project called, “Concert Activity, Experience, and Identity: Rudolph Ganz and the Midwestern Concert Hall, from the Postwar to the Present,” before moving on to the social-science observation and data collection phase of the project.

“I will be looking at the complete audience experience: How early do people arrive for a show? Do they come by themselves? Do they come with groups? Do they look at programs? Do they talk with their neighbors? Do they prefer only one genre or do they like many genres, and why?” Kernan said.

Rudy Marcozzi, dean of Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA), called the monumental project a “unique amalgamation of reception studies and empirical sociological methodology.”

“I believe that this unique approach promises to provide insightful answers to vexing problems — in programming, audience cultivation, access and cultural relevance, to name but a few — which must be solved if rich and diverse musical traditions are to be passed on to future generations,” Marcozzi said. “These answers will be of vital interest to professional and amateur ensembles, music educators, and those of us who shape and deliver music curricula in American higher education.”

Marcozzi also predicts a special benefit to Kernan’s colleagues and students at CCPA.

“This research will give us needed insight into how our society actually relates to music today and that will add to the CCPA learning experience,” Marcozzi said, “including the way our students are trained to understand performance and their role as 21st century artist citizens and leaders.”

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