an unsophisticated country person—poet-singer, or instrumentalist—associated with the remote regions of the Appalachians, who writes and recites the text of an opera, poem, or ballad, often set to music.
J.T. Temchack is a self-proclaimed hillbillibrettist-bard. Proudly embracing that definition and using his wide range of interests and influences have led to the creation of Rumble & Scream—the name of both Temchack’s band and the rock opera he’s got in the works.
Temchack came to Penn State Altoona with an armful of business credits from another university and a desire to write. But his passions were broad, and he wasn’t sure how to tie them together. Letters, Arts, and Sciences—now known as the Multidisciplinary Studies program—was the perfect fit for him. His personalized degree was made up of business, communications, and English.
“I don't really know what I expected. I just knew I had this interest in writing, and I wanted to chase that. I was more than surprised with the English department at Penn State Altoona. The amount of faculty who are doing creative work is amazing. To see your professors walking the walk, talking the talk, and being successful is really inspiring.”
Temchack says that not only did they energize his own imagination, but his professors also exposed him to guest speakers, writers and performers, research opportunities, and multiple aspects of literature. They encouraged and supported him and guided him on how to combine his experiences and passions, turn them into ideas, then go about making them real.
Temchack graduated in 2019 and has been putting what he’s learned and all his energy into both aspects of Rumble & Scream.
“As a band, Rumble & Scream is a collaboration. I'm the center of it as a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. I play and record most of the instruments myself and work with other instrumentalists where I need them. I perform mostly as a solo act right now, but it’s an evolving thing.”
Born in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania's Appalachia region, Temchack is heavily influenced by its sonics along with its mining and subsistence farming history. He also pulls from his Ukrainian ancestry to create, record, and perform a unique style of post-industrial folk mountain music.
Growing up, his parents took him to see productions like Peter and the Wolf and Where the Wild Things Are. These formative experiences impacted the way he listens to and interprets theatre and storytelling.
As Temchack explored ways to combine the music and theatre worlds in his own work, he felt something was still missing in how he wanted to create and tell his stories.
“When I started at Penn State Altoona, I wanted to write a novel, but then I got really interested in poetry. One day, I just let myself try to tell stories that way, and it suddenly made sense to me how poetry can propel a story along while balancing out the music.”
With that, Temchack had figured out a way to blend his love of music, theatre, and literature—then he found a way to bring it all to life.
With a head full of ideas, Temchack happened upon information about funding available through Appalshop’s Appal Seed Grant.
Appalshop is an organization based in Kentucky dedicated to using film, theatre, radio, and other art forms to revitalize the traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia. The Appal Seed Fund supports new and original arts and cultural projects in the early stages of development that advance the mission of Appalshop.
Temchack applied for and received a grant to help get one of his concepts off the ground.
As a rock opera, Rumble & Scream is made up of songs and narrative poems. Set in Central Pennsylkrainia—a remote scattering of former coal mining villages in Pennsylvania’s Appalachian region—it follows the story of Jeremiah Scream as he negotiates layoffs, repossession, eviction, trauma, environmental collapse, mental illness, violence, substance abuse, grief, faith, and love.
“It’s based on a combination of personal experiences and the writings of poets and bards from Appalachia and Ukraine. It addresses these different issues that have existed basically forever across space and time.”
The musical compositions were primarily created with Temchack’s parlor-sized Gretsch acoustic guitar he’s named Ishmael. There are pieces composed for acoustic guitar, banjo, and ukulele, as well as old-time style ballads with harmonica, drymba, which is a Ukrainian jaw harp, and the spoons, all of which Temchack plays along with various types of drums and percussion. Longtime friend and musical collaborator Justin Kasubick records bass, guitar, and melodica. Award-winning poets, writers, and editors, including Rebecca Faulkner, Megan Rilkoff, and Zac Furlough, were brought on board to help fine-tune things. Grant Gochnaur, owner of Secondary Press in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, does the visual art and graphic design work for the production.
Temchack says the project is scheduled for completion in late 2023. It will debut on WMMT 88.7 FM, Appalshop’s community radio station, as a cross between a concept album and an audiobook.
“I'm simultaneously terrified and excited. It’s just so overwhelming. I never saw myself fitting into any kind of box when it comes to music. It didn’t feel right to me to be a touring band, and the music industry doesn’t click with me. But now I have this opportunity to tell these stories in a way that is authentic to who I am.”
In the meantime, Temchack continues to play live shows and create new art. Several of his poems, book reviews, and other writings have been published in Northern Appalachia Review, Prime Number Magazine, and Passengers Journal, among others.
“My Penn State Altoona experience taught me how to open myself up, and that’s played a huge role in where I am today. Once I really let myself hear what my professors were saying, once I opened my eyes to what they were showing me, it changed everything.”
Always wide-eyed, Temchack takes in his surroundings, looking for the sacred in the ordinary. His ears are piqued, always listening to the vibrations of life and land, each one holding the potential to elicit mythical, primitive emotional experiences.
“To our ancestors, this was known as existence. But we may still tap into this energy—if only for a moment, we can feel a sense of relief, peace, connectedness, or perhaps just content. Let us all together rumble and scream.”
Temchack is seeking string musicians to record and perform violin, cello, and bowed bass for Rumble & Scream. Those interested can email [email protected].