The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 26, 2012

Fears factored: Presentation looks at phobias with music, poetry

By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — Two local university professors are using music and poetry to show a more whimsical side of some of our most deep-seated fears.

Last night, Stacey Barelos, assistant professor of music at Missouri Southern State University, and Christopher Anderson, assistant professor of English at Pittsburg State University, presented the program, “A Night of Fear and Trembling: Phobias in Poetry and Music,” inside MSSU’s Corley Auditorium.

Barelos and selected MSSU students used music, though an assortment of instruments, to “speak” about phobias, while Anderson and a group of his students naturally tackled the subject through prose and poetry.

The same program will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday inside PSU’s McCray Hall.

“I don’t think anything like this has ever been done before,” Barelos said of the program, which is free to the public.

Though just 30 miles separates the two college communities, the collaboration between the two professors came about accidentally. Ironically, both professors had gone about their phobia-related work independently of one another.

“A friend of mine who had read some of my phobia poems happened to see (Barelos) perform some of her phobia music in Joplin, and my friend encouraged us to get in touch with each other,” Anderson said. “Stacey and I started corresponding by email and eventually met up in person to plan a collaboration, which led to the performances. It’s easy to get stuck in our own specialized areas of interest, and I’m thrilled to cross the boundaries between art forms in this way.”

Sound of emotion

Barelos has created eight original works, with each musical piece titled after a specific phobia, of which are there more than 200.

They include pieces about the fear of heat, relatives (“That one was a lot of fun,” she said), a surgeon’s fear of operating (“It’s a big virtuosic piece.”), bees and fog.  She even wrote a musical piece called “Lilapsophobia,” which tackles the fear of tornadoes.

While Barelos is the head of piano studies at Southern, and while many of her pieces are centered on the piano, most of the musical instruments will be utilized, including a three-clarinet piece as well as a couple of all-brass pieces.

Music, particularly orchestra pieces without words, can certainly play on human emotions.

One great example of a piece of music made to play upon a specific fear -- in this case, spiders -- is Howard Shore’s “Shelob’s Lair” from “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” That music was made for a spider hater to grit his or her teeth and cling to the edge of their seats.

Writing the music, which took her months to piece together, “gave me a chance to be as creative as I wanted to be,” she said. She called the project a fun experience.

Finding feelings

Anderson’s poetry pieces include “Hydrosiphobia,” or the fear of sweat, and “Athazagoraphobia,” which is the fear of forgetting. In all, he’s penned 15 pieces. Some of the other pieces include the fear of being touched; the fear of darkness, of snow and of being alone.

“I find the names of phobias to be fascinating and exotic,” Anderson said. “I’m also intrigued by the nature of fear and the fact that it’s something all human beings share, as well as the fact that a phobia is, in a sense, a distillation of fear, an emotion more concentrated and intense than our everyday fears and worries. As unpleasant as a phobia must be, I’m drawn to their power and force.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt probably best summed up phobias when he said back in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”

Anderson said he began to write poems in which he tried to use words and images that evoked the phobia and that pondered the nature of fear -- not necessarily describing the phobia or people with the phobia in a literal way.

“For example, in ‘Haphephobia, The Fear of Being Touched,’ I imagine becoming objects that are touched all the time,” he said. “Teacups, coins, gum ball machines, beer bottles, the pen on a little chain at the bank. Although it’s imaginary, these images represent the worst possible nightmares for people with this particular phobia.”

Besides the two professors, several others will perform, including a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and a couple of former PSU and MSSU students.

“I think we’ll have a mixture of light-hearted pieces and some that are more thoughtful and maybe more frightening,” Anderson said. “I think my poems, in general, are a bit darker and moodier than Stacey’s piano pieces, though I have funny moments in some of the poems, too. We don’t want to make light of people’s genuine fears, but there is some humor in the sheer number of phobias that exist, and there’s something fascinating about how varied and specialized fear can be.”

Font of phobias

These “whimsical” phobias actually exist. For a more complete list of phobias, visit