Alumnus Profile

John Vergin '78

Active Voice

By Chris Lydgate ’90
John Vergin

You could almost feel the snow melting in February when baritone John Vergin ’78 and pianist Denise VanLeuven performed a spellbinding rendition of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise in the Eliot Hall chapel. Based on poems by Wilhelm Müller, the song cycle features some of Schubert’s most breathtaking wizardry.

John has long been fascinated by Winterreise, which Schubert completed in the final weeks of his short life. “It’s famously dark, even grim,” he says, sitting in a room in Prexy where he once took voice lessons—and now gives them. “Artistically, I like that. In modern culture we tend to gloss over those sorts of themes. People want entertainment. This cycle depicts unrequited love and the dissolution of self—a person who is falling apart from the inside out. Such things do sometimes happen in life, and that’s what Schubert wanted to explore. He also knew he was dying, so he pulled out all the stops.”

John had a musical childhood growing up in Seattle, Spokane, and the Yakima Valley, but didn’t really develop his vocal technique until he got to Reed, where he concentrated in both music and theatre. Professor Herb Gladstone [music 1946–80] helped him get his first job as organist and choir director at All Saints Episcopal Church, up the hill on Woodstock Boulevard.

With his ginger mane, lightning blue eyes, jaunty fedora, and fabulous ’64 Oldsmobile, John cuts a striking figure on the Portland music scene. He has been a soloist with the Choral Arts Ensemble, Bravo Vancouver, Cappella Romana, and the Portland Baroque Orchestra; plays continuo for the Bach Cantata Choir; and is the organist at St. Rose of Lima church. But it’s not all Sturm und Drang. John also performs with the Mocks Crest Gilbert and Sullivan Troupe, and is currently composing an absurdist opera based on a libretto by playwright Sandra Stone.