A Little Night Music

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Neil Lerner

Associate Professor of Music Neil Lerner

Why—and how—does music makes us scream?

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By John Syme

The so und of fear is the sound of music for Associate Professor of Music Neil Lerner. His new book, Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear, is the first in Routledge’s “Music and Screen Media” series, for which Lerner is the series editor.

Lerner specializes in the study of music in the cinema, and was first drawn to the horror genre at (drum roll, please) Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky.—when he started thinking about vampires. His doctoral dissertation at Duke University was one of the first in the nation to explore music in film. So why horror? Call it a gut feeling.

“Horror films’ repetitious drones, clashing dissonances, and stingers (those assaultive blasts that coincide with shock or revelation) affect us at a primal level,” Lerner writes in the preface to Listening to Fear. He also avers his attraction to horror films as a film genre that has been time-tested as “one of the most disreputable and profitable.”

Listening to Fear contains chapters by former Lerner students Ross J. Fenimore ’02 and Claire Sisco King ’99. King teaches in the Communication Studies department at Vanderbilt University, while Fenimore is writing a musicology dissertation at UCLA.

“Both Ross and Claire were thorough researchers and interesting, thoughtful writers when they were Davidson students, and their skills have only improved as they’ve pursued their own academic paths,” said Lerner.

Photo: Bill Giduz

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