Born in 1941 in Whitehall, Wisconsin, John Melby was brought up in Pulaski, Tennessee, where he began his musical studies as a trombonist/violinist/violist while still a child. He attended the Curtis Institute of Music, from which he earned the Diploma (1964) and B.Mus. (1966); the University of Pennsylvania (M.A. in composition, 1967), where he studied composition with Henry Weinberg and George Crumb; and the Music Department of Princeton University (M.F.A., 1971; Ph.D.,1972--both in composition); his composition teachers there were Peter Westergaard, J. K. Randall, and Milton Babbitt. He taught from 1971 until 1973 at West Chester State College (now West Chester University) in Pennsylvania. In 1973 he was appointed to the Composition/Theory faculty in the School of Music of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was Professor of Music until his retirement in August of 1997 and where he now holds the title of Professor Emeritus. John Melby lives in Salem, Massachusetts.
He is best known for his music written for computer-synthesized sounds, either in combination with live performers or for computer alone. He is also the composer of a number of orchestral works; his Symphony No. 1 (1993) was given its premiere performance at the University of Illinois in March of 1994 by the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Paul Martin Zonn.
Melby's compositions have won numerous awards and have been widely performed both in the United States and abroad. He was the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in 1977, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1984, and an associateship in the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study in 1989-90. His awards include several at the International Electroacoustic Music Awards (Bourges, France), where he received First Prize in 1979 for his Chor der Steine for computer-synthesized sounds.
In recent years, he has composed a series of concerti for various instruments and computer, including two violin concerti; two flute concerti; two violoncello concerti; two concerti for piano; two clarinet concerti; two viola concerti; concert for contrabass, English horn; two double concerto, one for violin and English horn with computer and a new concerto for violin, piano, and computer; and a concerto for computer and orchestra in which (reversing the usual situation) the computer is the soloist instead of the accompaniment. He has also composed many works for the voice.
Other compositions in his catalog include two piano sonatas, three string quartets (the most recent of which includes computer), songs for voice and piano, pieces for larger ensembles, both with and without computer, numerous compositions for computer alone, an unpublished opera, and a second symphony. In 1999 he finished a large work for lyric baritone, chorus (SATB) and large orchestra based upon William Cullen Bryant's poem “Thanatopsis”. Other recent works include Three Wordsworth Songs, In Darkness, and Aftermath, all for soprano and computer; Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Computer; Concerto No. 2 for Clarinet and Computer; Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Computer; Aftermath for soprano and computer; Concerto No. 2 for Viola and Computer; Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra; Concerto No. 3 for Violin and Orchestra; and Concerto No. 3 for Cello and Orchestra.
His music is published by Associated Music Publishers, Merion Music, Inc. (Theodore Presser Co.), and American Composers Alliance, and recorded on the Albany, New World, Centaur, CRI, and Zuma labels, and on a CD issued by the Institute International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges / IMEB in Bourges, France.
John Melby is a member of Broadcast Music, Inc. and American Composers Alliance.