What is a Music Portrait?
Article by Cori Wilbur, Portraits by Rick Erlien
Arriving in Solana Beach, I was greeted by Rick Erlien outside of his studio to have a portrait created of me. The way he does portraits, though, is a little different than you might think. Instead of a paint canvas, he uses a keyboard.
What Erlien does is a “unique opportunity to go to a professional musician and have an original Music Portrait of who you are, your essence captured in music, intuitively composed and played for you on the piano.” Each portrait costs $175 which includes two different pieces recorded for you.
Erlien has been playing the piano since he was four-years-old, drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan to Debussy–I can attest, the guy is good.
Besides composing, he is also a licensed psychotherapist. How do the two fields–counseling and composing–complement each other? “It’s all a fusion of everything I do,” he explained. “I blend the creativity of composing with psychology.”
He first realized his interesting gift several years ago, during a visit to an Ansel Adams exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts. While at the exhibit, he came across a grand piano facing an original of one of Adams’ photographs. What Erlien felt next was an inexplicable vibe coming from it which he then interpreted into music on the spot.
Adams–whose landscape of Yosemite is widely recognizable–is one of Erlien’s major influences. With his keyboard on his back, Erlien ventured into the California landmark and created “The Music of Yosemite.” Produced under Real Music, the album has sold over 130,000 copies, which is impressive for an independent label. A full-length video was also made to go with the album, which has been featured on over 350 PBS sponsored pledge drives and other programs internationally.
Erlien’s work is not just music, it’s medicine too. “Nature is the antithesis of materialism,” he says. With his music, he wants to ultimately bring people back in touch with nature; with his portraits, he wants to ultimately bring people back in touch with themselves. He strongly believes “if we connect to nature with our hearts, then we can learn to appreciate the beauty of nature and connect with one another and all things.”
When a person comes back for a follow-up session, their portrait sounds vastly different. This shows just how powerful and effective even one session with Erlien is. Where a painting captures what you look like on the outside, Erlien’s compositions convey inner beauty. Upon request, he will even give you feedback on a personal quality he picks up from your presence. The results might surprise you or reaffirm ideas you already have. From my own session with Erlien, those close to me noticed I seemed significantly more optimistic and confident afterward.