Ray Erickson '63 is Opening Musical Doors to China

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Finding a harpsichord to play in China proved to be the most difficult aspect of Whittier College alumnus Raymond Erickson’s ’63 May trip to China. Nonetheless, the instrument surfaced, and Erickson performed the first harpsichord recitals ever held in major concert halls in Beijing and in Wuhan.

“The harpsichord is not well known in China and there are relatively few scattered around,” said Erickson.  “In the end, they had to borrow the instrument, one delivered from Germany six years ago, but never used until I played it. It certainly was the first opportunity to see and hear the instrument.”

The audience proved to be much more ubiquitous. Erickson’s performance in Wuhan, the most populous city in Central China, was so well-attended that it sparked an article in the local newspaper with a picture and headline that read: After Four Years, Early Music Has Finally Found Its Audience.

The first and only American to ever perform at the Wuhan concert series on Early Music, Erickson hopes to build connections for American musicians in the future.  

“One of my goals now, especially as a board member of Early Music America, is to help open the door to China to other American musicians in this field,” said Erickson.

After the recitals, Erickson concluded his tour by teaching master classes at two Beijing Conservatories on “Bach and the Dance,” and at the Beijing Central Conservatory, which is regarded as the Julliard of China.

With China behind him, Erickson is not slowing down; next stop, Japan. He will be conducting a week-long workshop, titled “Rethinking Bach” at the Tokai University in August.

A great supporter of the Whittier College Bach Festival, Erickson performed a preview of his recitals in China at the 77th Whittier College Bach Festival this year. His advice to students: “experience the Bach Festival; it’s a big deal.”

“[Students] have a chance to experience some of the great masterworks of music through the Bach Festival,” he said. “They are going to get really topnotch performances of music. I would encourage students to get to know their faculty and to expose themselves to music, like they should expose themselves to current issues in politics and in science. That is what a liberal arts education is all about.”

From Whittier to China, Raymond Erickson shines a spotlight on the advantages of such a liberal arts education, as he continues to forage firsts in the musical world.

After graduating from Whittier College with a music degree, Raymond Erickson went on to earn a PhD in history of music from Yale, where he studied under world-class harpsichordist, Ralph Kirkpatrick. Erickson then became the founding Director of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College of the City University of New York, as well as the College’s Dean of Arts and Humanities before retiring in 2008. He is author or editor of four books, including The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach (2009). He has performed in the United States, Italy, Germany, and Austria, and will make his debut in Japan later this year. He returns to Whittier College each year to participate in the Annual Bach Festival.