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Motivated and passionate: John Eisemann directs In Medio’s delayed ‘hard launch’ two years after pre-pandemic soft opening

About that little Covid break: It's time for the new choir to get down to business and sing for an audience.


Forbes, one of the world’s media leaders in business, published “17 Questions you should ask yourself before starting a business.” (Cole, Bianca Miller. Forbes. July 29, 2020 online issue). Approximately 38,000 people have read those questions. John Eisemann, founder and artistic director of Portland’s newest choral ensemble, In Medio, is not one of them. 

But before he founded In Medio, Eisemann must have channeled Forbes Question #9: “Am I motivated and passionate enough to make this happen?” His answer: yes! 

He does have the training and experience. Mr. Eisemann is the Director of Choirs at Portland’s Grant High School, his own alma mater, where he developed his passion for choral music from former Grant High School director Doree Jarboe. Eisemann was hired in 2012 to revitalize the half-time program. Today, Grant offers five choirs for its students, and his position is full time. He has also sung in and served as interim conductor for Portland Symphonic Choir. 

Conductor, In Medio founder and artistic director John Eisemann.
In Medio founder and artistic director, conductor John Eisemann.

When asked to explain why he decided to launch In Medio right now Eisemann began, with a chuckle, “Yeah, well…” Because this wasn’t their original startup plan. In Medio actually gave their premiere concert in Fall of 2019, anticipating another offering in Spring, 2020. Yeah, well…

So, in business lingo, that concert two years ago was their “soft” opening, and 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, is their hard launch–fully up and singing with a program that In Medio singers are excited to bring to their new audience.

Knowing your target audience is a classic business concept. In this case there are two audiences that need to be targeted, and the first of those is the singers. Volunteer musicians who are going to invest their talent and time at least once a week need to buy into, believe in, the product being sold by the conductor. Golly, even Robert Shaw had to sell his product in 1948 when he founded his famous Chorale and his singers were paid $75 a week (minus food and lodging). But mission accomplished for In Medio: with 28 talented and enthusiastic singers, Eisemann seems to have closed the sale.

In Medio singers in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of the choir.
In Medio singers in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of the choir.

“Almost all of the singers have either a Bachelor of Arts in Music or have studied voice,” says Eisemann. “And many of them are local [K-12] music teachers.” These singers all sought, as did Eisemann, a more intimate ensemble, similar to their collegiate chamber choir experiences, with challenging and inspiring literature. Eisemann believes he has put together a program that has great audience appeal. He thinks they’ll buy it.

“By the end of the concert I want the audience to be leaping to their feet or crying.” He designed the program to have an arc, a structure through which a story unfolds. In this concert of contemporary works, text and music tell a story: what has happened, where we are now and where we hope to be.

The first piece is a choral arrangement of Storm Comin’ by Ruth Moody, released by Canadian music group The Wailin’ Jennys in 2011. It is followed by a work which won the American Choral Directors Association Genesis composition award in 2020, Holding Our Breath. That work’s composer, Carlos Cordero, is originally from Venezuela and is now living in Austin, Texas. Both pieces reflect experiences and feelings, societal and personal, in the past eighteen months.

Eisemann calls “Still in Silence” by Bjørn Bolstad Skjelbred the anchor piece of the program. This wistful opening movement of the choral cycle Bee Madrigals was first recorded by Nordic Voices in 2017. It begins with a four-note vocal mantra (DO-SO-RE-FA), a strong and unceasing mantra resembling the humming of a hive, soon overwhelmed by intensifying dissonance.

Good Night, Dear Heart, from the text of a poem by Robert Richardson, will bring a close to In Medio’s “what has happened” storyline. Garrett Bond, who recent achieved a Master’s Degree in Choral Conducting at Portland State University, wrote this piece to commemorate the life of a friend who had died. Bond worked on the piece with Eisemann’s Grant High School ‘s top group, Royal Blues, in 2019. 

The music of Portland educator and composer Judy Rose can be described as energetic, uplifting and rousing. With Rose’s rendition of Soon Ah Will Be Done (with the troubles of the world) Eisemann says the mood will settle into an “infectious groove.” 

Portland educator and composer Judy Rose.
Portland educator and composer Judy Rose.

Troubles are also expressed, but in a reflective past tense, in Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, arranged for eight parts by Gail Poch. Glory Hallellujah!

The fog is lifting for an Unclouded Day. Composer Shawn Kirchner is also a singer in the LA Master Chorale and a pianist. For the past two decades his catalog of inspirational, full-bodied vocal works with energetic piano accompaniments have brought audiences to their feet. That certainly fits Eisemann’s business plan.

Portland Center Stage Rent Portland Oregon

Competition wise, in a normal Portland choral season there are many concerts from which to choose; but this is not a normal choral season, is it? Sadly and understandably only around 14% of local adult community choirs are offering live performances this fall (based on a survey of adult community choirs on PDX choral calendar). In this market, In Medio could reap the benefits of this void, adjusting their ticket price point to capitalize on the potential demand. 

Well, remember Eisemann didn’t read that Forbes article. But he knows his business, and his product can soothe, encourage, enlighten. It can positively impact our ability to carry on with resilience, serenity and hope. The price point on all that – incalculable. 

So In Medio is offering this season premiere, their 2021 debut, free of charge.

Of course, in the future they will have to charge admission, secure sponsorship, apply for grants. And they will certainly welcome your contribution to that future once you’ve heard what they have to offer. But income from ticket sales is not a metric of success right now.

So, how will they measure success in this concert? Criterion #1: they show up. Criterion #2: you show up. They sing; you listen. You leap to your feet or cry. Job well done.

Advanced reservations are recommended as the audience will be limited to 50% (approximately 200 seats) capacity at Augustana Lutheran Church on Friday, October 29th, 7 pm. Masks and proof of vaccination with ID is required. 

This In Medio concert will also be live streamed at concert time. See more information on their web site.

Choral Connections


Is Twix™ food? 

If you decide not, then perhaps a lovely Nordic yellow pea soup. With smoked ham hock or a suitable vegan substitute; blend a bit to make it creamier or leave it chunky. Nordic style calls for a swirl of brown mustard after serving. Crockpot or stove top, make a double recipe and have it ready for a light Halloween meal. Peas lower blood sugar, right?

Doree Jarboe, longtime Grant High School choral music teacher, says she is proud of her former student, John Eisemann, who is continuing “the legacy of excellence in school choral music at Grant High School.” For this concert Jarboe would choose her husband Dan’s apple pie. The fragrance of the fruit spiced with cinnamon and vanilla just before heading out to the concert, she says, “would warm the cockles of my heart and you might even see a few tears of joy.”

Upcoming living choral concerts 

Yes, there are fewer live community choral concerts this fall. But you can also enjoy live choral music being performed by some of our local collegiate choral ensembles. Tom Hard’s PDX Choral Calendar provides links to most local higher ed sites.

And live concerts celebrating Winter and the holiday season? Coming up!

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.