Listeners, Entertainments, and the Origins of
Music Fandom in Nineteenth-Century America
After having attended the opera four nights in a row in 1884, 24-year-old Lucy Lowell chastised herself by writing in her diary, “I suppose it can't be good for a person to go to things that excite her so that she can't fix her mind on anything for days afterwards” (Lowell 1884: April 19).1 Lowell was the daughter of Judge John Lowell and a member of one of the first families of Boston. While many young women of her social standing spent their time attracting appropriate male suitors by acquiring rudimentary skills in singing and piano playing or self-consciously showing themselves off in the boxes of the city's growing number of concert halls and theaters, Lucy eschewed such social intrigue and instead became truly obsessed with onstage sound and spectacle. She attended performances by almost every touring opera and symphonic star that passed through Boston, every rehearsal and concert of the new Boston Symphony Orchestra, and many local festivals, band concerts, and musical theater productions. In the seven volumes of her diary, which she wrote between 1880 and 1888, she wrote page after page of description about her experiences of hearing music. She only mechanically mentioned attending singing lessons on Mondays and Thursdays; she sometimes referred to expectations about her own socially mandated performances with disdain. “Had a dinner party for Miss Tweedy. Mabel + Hattie were the other girls, John Howard Messers, G. D. Chapin, L. Pierce + R. Loug, gentlemen,” she wrote in 1880. “I had to sing in eve'g. Bah!” (Lowell 1880: January 28).