No one can claim that Timothy Melbinger isn't ambitious.
The composer, a lecturer of music at Penn State Altoona, has created 27 songs for his upcoming concert "Beauty Prevails on Its Own Terms," which features lyrics by four Penn State Altoona poets and the musical talents of a host of area residents.
"Beauty Prevails on Its Own Terms" will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts on the Penn State Altoona campus. The 27 songs will be broken down into song cycles for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices with musical accompaniment by Ginger Reinhardt from the Grier School in Birmingham, Penn State Altoona faculty members Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber and James White and Penn State Altoona staff member Jonathan O'Harrow. Music will be provided by the Juniata College Wind Symphony, members of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra and members of the Penn State Altoona faculty and student body.
Composer Timothy Melbinger, lecturer in music at Penn State Altoona, will present the song cycle “Beauty Prevails on Its Own Terms” at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts on the Penn State Altoona campus. The production will feature 27 versatile songs, with lyrics by a quartet of Penn State Altoona poets.
The spark behind the concert was the poetry of four PSU Altoona writers - associate professor of English and Integrative Arts Steven Sherrill, associate professor of English Erin Murphy, professor of English Todd Davis and instructor of English Lee Peterson.
"One of the faculty members in the English department at Penn State Altoona - Steven Sherrill - handed me his book of poetry and I loved it," Melbinger said. "I thought about bulding a concert around it and he said, 'There are three other poets on the staff at Penn State Altoona, so why don't you include them, too?'
"I was blown away by the quality of the work from our own staff here at Penn State Altoona. ... What's so great is that it's all different but all very good."
If you go
What: "Beauty Prevails on Its Own Terms," featuring singers Ginger Reinhardt, Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber, James White and Jonathan O'Harrow and music by the Juniata College Wind Symphony, members of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra and members of the Penn State Altoona faculty and student body
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts, Penn State Altoona campus
According to the composer, who has a doctorate in music from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, he knew right away that he wanted to do more than just write a simple song or two.
"From the beginning, once I had all the poetry, I said, 'OK, I want to write over an hour of music,'" he explained. "I wrote more, actually; I withheld some of it. From the beginning, I designed it to be different. There are four different singers - one bass, one soprano, one alto and one tenor - as well as ensembles to go with them."
But such a large project - which Melbinger said he wrote from May to December of 2013 - wasn't as daunting as might be expected.
"I must admit it came together very easily," he said. "I had a stack of poetry to sift through, so I could pick and choose from all of them. No problems whatsoever."
The diversity present in the poems of the four writers has led to a diverse group of songs in "Beauty Prevails."
"As a contemporary classical composer, I will use any harmony I can dream up," Melbinger said. "But it's not all avant-garde. Every song, somehow, is based in the individual poems. So if there is a scene in the country, there is a feeling of bluegrass."
The diversity is necessary in such a long concert, he said.
"I wouldn't want anyone to listen to the same thing for an hour. It's stylistically diverse by design."
Part of that diverse lineup is the poetry of Sherrill, whose work got the ball rolling on the entire project. A novelist whose works include the acclaimed 2000 book "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break," Sherrill said he's not currently writing poetry anymore.
He said he isn't surprised to see Melbinger turn the poems he was provided into something more.
"I work in several mediums myself, [but] I'm primarily a writer," Sherrill said. "I think that the creative impulse can take any number of avenues.
"I knew Tim for a while before he had this idea, so I knew he was ambitious as a composer."
Sherrill is married to Peterson, one of the other poets represented, and they've only heard the songs dealing with her poetry so far.
"We actually heard Lee's portion yesterday at Juniata College," he said. "One of their ensembles is doing the music. It was a powerful experience, especially for Lee. She had never heard her work expressed like this."
As for his part in the concert, Sherrill has no problem with his work being reinterpreted.
"I'm very able to let go of possession of a work," he said. "Ultimately, once it leaves me, it's gone. The words are mine, but it's going to go places that I never dreamed of."
Still, he's anxious to hear what Melbinger has done with his work.
"He didn't come to me about any decisions for anything, but Tim knows my musical tastes," Sherrill said. "I'm happy to see what direction he goes in. I'm very excited. I'm going to take my daughter and as many friends as I can get together."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.