When Rick Erickson started piano lessons at age 10 he told his teacher that he wanted to learn to play the organ, and he wanted her to prepare him. Apparently, she did—and very well at that. His mother and paternal grandmother were church organists, and his family included many other musicians as well as pastors. He knew early on that he wanted to follow their paths.
And, in fact, Rick’s whole career has been spent as a church organist. While teaching at Eastman School of Music, he was organist at Lutheran Church of Incarnate Word in Rochester, New York, for 14 years; then he spent 20 years at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan; and for the last eight and a half years he’s been at Christ the King Church.
So how did a longtime New Yorker make it down to the Texas Gulf Coast? Rick says that as he approached 60 he was looking for a change in his life, a new adventure. He had become familiar with CTK and the Bach Society through several channels. He’d been a guest conductor for the Bach Society in 2006. He’d continued a friendship and a working relationship with our former pastor, Robert Moore, through activities both were engaged in at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, as well as their involvement in Bach conferences in New York. He’d also met our former music director, Albert LeDoux, at a New York conference and had spent time with him creating plans for their respective church music programs. Our congregation originally called Rick as a Deacon in the ELCA to serve as choir director at the same time he was asked to serve as Director of the Bach Society Houston. Over the years his position at CTK grew and expanded to that of Church Cantor.
Rick will resign his position as Cantor on December 4, though he will remain a member of the congregation as well as Director of the Bach Society. When asked about his most memorable moments during his tenure here, Rick immediately related the story of saving church music before Hurricane Harvey hit. As someone unfamiliar with potential ravages of a hurricane, but keenly aware of damages that might be caused by a flooded basement, Rick was anxious about the security of the choir room. Long time Houston church members, who were familiar with hurricanes but not so much with basement liabilities, assured him that the basement would be safe and dry, no windows to crash from falling branches that would in turn allow wind and rain damage. Fortunately, Rick persevered and was able to convince others that precautions needed to be taken to protect the sheet music and the harpsichord that are kept in the basement. (It was too late to arrange to move the piano, but it was on steel risers and thus not harmed by rising water.) The harpsichord was small enough to load on the elevator. And 30-40 members showed up to form the equivalent of a bucket brigade, transferring reams of sheet music to the third floor, preserving years of church music with a value of countless thousands of dollars. Rick said he was moved by the quick response of helpers, their efficient enthusiasm, and their sense of common purpose. It was, for him, a touching demonstration of the community we share.
Rick also reflected on the sense of community he saw at work during the pandemic when the congregation and the staff struggled to stay close while keeping a safe physical distance. He noted that following scientific, medical guidelines were paramount as the staff made responsible decisions regarding worship. Singing posed some particularly sticky issues. Zoom singing exercises and the use of technology to edit motets sung by multiple voices helped the choir to stay together. When the choir finally began to sing outdoors for online services, masked and well-spaced, he said the hope and determination he could sense among them was tangible. This was another of those memories he will cherish.
As for future plans, in addition to continuing as adjunct professor at Rice, Rick hopes to expand the reach of the Bach Society. The recent performance of Bach on Four Keyboards (turned out to be five) was a definite twist on the typical performance and was great success with all ages. Appearing in new venues—the Christmas oratorio will be performed in the new Brockman Hall for Opera at Rice and two concerts will be held at the Museum of Fine Arts in the spring—offer a means of reaching larger audiences. He also has plans for several residencies, including one in New York City and one in Berlin where he will be the organist for a modern dance troupe performing to Bach’s Art of the Fugue. In addition, he’s looking forward to spending time writing, especially about improvisation in liturgical settings, and becoming part of his Galveston community through volunteer work and participation in the historical society. And, very importantly, he plans to spend an entire two months at his family’s summer home in northern Wisconsin with his sisters; three nieces, who are collectively the undisputed apple of his eye; and the various friends and relatives who always drop in.
As a member of the congregation Rick, like all of us, has expectations and concerns for the challenges ahead. He shared a personal principle that he thought was pertinent to decisions CTK makes going forward: Don’t change who you are to make a friend. He acknowledged we will walk the sometimes difficult path of grounding young people and new members in tradition while at the same time listening to what they are asking for and being open to new ideas. As a musician he sees music, and particularly hymn singing, which he noted our congregation does very well, as a great building block for community.
As this interview concluded Rick wanted to add a word about how he felt his time at CTK had blessed his life. He particularly felt fortunate for two gifts: the opportunity to rediscover his love of the piano and the chance to spend time with the church choir, which he described as the happiest hour and half of his week. Rick Erickson has given many gifts and blessings to CTK. We wish him well in all his new ventures.