Fanfare for a City: Music and the Urban Imagination in Haussmann’s Paris invites us to listen to the sounds of Paris during the Second Empire (1852–1870), a regime that oversaw dramatic social change in the French capital. By exploring the sonic worlds of exhibitions, cafés, streets, and markets, Jacek Blaszkiewicz shows how the city’s musical life shaped urban narratives about le nouveau Paris: a metropolis at a crossroads between its classical, Roman past and its capitalist, imperial future.
Author and FirstGen scholar Jacek Blaskiewicz tells us about his academic journey, what led to his research exploring music in 19th century France, and what advice he has for fellow first-generation scholars.
Tell us about your journey to your current position as an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University. What motivated you to become an academic, and to focus on music with an eye towards 19th-century French music?
I started off studying classical piano. Growing up in a Polish-speaking family in Brooklyn, Fryderyk Chopin was a household name. Neither of my parents were musical, but Chopin and classical music held a lot of clout for them, and so his music played in the home. I played Chopin as my audition piece for the LaGuardia High School of the Arts, his Waltz in E flat, op. 18. It was at LaGuardia that I was first exposed to music history. LaGuardia’s curriculum balances typical high school academic courses with those of your “major.” I got to study music history and theory, play piano for opera rehearsals, and so on. It was a formative time for me.
Although I majored in piano in college, I soon began asking myself how I would rather spend my day, practicing/rehearsing/performing, or reading/researching/writing. It was an easy decision. The socioeconomic contexts of music fascinated me. In graduate school, my primary interest was in nineteenth-century French music (probably thanks to that early exposure to Chopin). When it was time to choose a dissertation topic, I wanted to know more about how the rise of industrial capitalism led to the flourishing of musical genres like operetta and cabaret song. Two books, both outside of music studies, really shaped my thinking early on: T. J. Clark’s The Painting of Modern Life and David Harvey’s Paris, Capital of Modernity. I highly recommend both if you happen to enjoy my book!
My interest in urban identity, which is a major theme in Fanfare for a City, came a bit later, especially once I dug deeper into Harvey’s work. Musicological work on nineteenth-century France has paid a lot of attention to issues of national identity. I became curious how the material conditions of city life determined how and why music was made. I also wanted to know if the political, economic, and cultural emphasis placed on the city of Paris forged an urban, Parisian identity, distinct from broader notions of Frenchness. These inquiries led to a Fulbright fellowship. I was able to spend a year in Paris researching music in salons, exhibitions halls, cafés, and boulevards.
In retrospect, I think my own upbringing in a working-class, immigrant family played a role in the kinds of stories I tell in Fanfare for a City. I identified with many of those Second-Empire citizens who not only experienced massive urban change, but also were victimized by it. Look at Greenpoint, Brooklyn today. It hardly resembles the neighborhood I grew up in. Or look at Detroit, where I currently work. Not all change is bad, of course, but the issues that city residents face today, like gentrification, homelessness, and deregulation, were also present in nineteenth-century cities. Fanfare for a City is therefore not just about nineteenth-century music or Paris, but about who gets to decide on change, and how different communities are impacted by that change. At the same time, those very communities can also shape that city’s identity. After all, who doesn’t think of a café when they think of Paris, or Motown when they think of Detroit?
What was the process like to publish your book, Fanfare for a City? What helped you the most along the way?
Fanfare for City is my first book, so I had a lot of imposter syndrome! I approached University of California Press because of their rich history of publishing titles in nineteenth-century music. When I first pitched my project to UC Press acquisitions editor Raina Polivka, I was justifiably terrified. But she listened and responded and asked questions, and it soon became clear that this would be a great fit. I was also lucky with my peer reviewers, who understood Fanfare for a City’s goals and helped me achieve them. I would say that a supportive and communicative editorial team is essential. Writing a book is always a team effort, and having good chemistry with your team makes the process all the more manageable.
Having gone through the process yourself, what advice do you have for other first-generation scholars who may still be starting out?
The first thing is that “first-generation” encompasses an incredibly broad coalition of experiences. A common thread, however, is what is often called a “hidden curriculum.” There are many implicit professional and social cues that are prerequisites to success in American academia. The one that was hardest for me to adjust to is the expectation to self-promote or “speak up.” There is a lot of good writing on that one in particular; I’m thinking of Wendy Brown’s essays in Edgework. I think it’s important to ask lots of questions at every step of the academic journey, from job applications to book proposals. In turn, be generous with your time, especially with students who may be navigating a “hidden curriculum” of their own.
What does supporting first-gen scholars mean to you?
There are so many intersecting ways that “first-generation” identity is configured. Race, gender, ethnicity, language, and class all play a role. For those who identify as “FirstGen,” academia can be a confusing profession. I am grateful for programs like UC Press’s FirstGen, which alleviate some of the social and financial barriers that FirstGen scholars face.