Eric Thor Karlstrom

Eric Karlstrom grew up in Arlington, Virginia and developed his love for music early on. In fact, you could say it’s in his genes as both parents grew up in musical families. His mother’s father had won the National Eisteddfod singing contest in Wales at the age of 17.   (That’s a very big deal in Wales, which is such a musical nation that winning the National Eisteddfod is a bit like winning the Superbowl in America) And both grandmothers were trained and avid musicians who played piano, harp, etc.

Eric started playing trombone at the age of 9 and played in elementary and Jr. high school bands and orchestras for several years.   He switched to singing and playing acoustic guitar at 13 and wrote his first song at 14; putting a tune he invented on guitar to a poem that he wrote for an 8th grade English class. This song, “Why Should It Be?,” appears in it’s original version on the “Reflections” CD and as an instrumental in “Guitar Reflections Volume 2”. As a high school senior in Flagstaff, Arizona, he recorded a 45 rpm record that featured two other originals; “The Red Flower” and “The Race to Knowhere, ” which appear on the “Reflections” and “Guitar Reflections” Volume 1” CDs.   “The Red Flower” got lots of radio play at the time, made the local “top forty” in Flagstaff, and made Number 20 in Phoenix. At his two Alma maters (Prescott College and Northern Arizona University), Eric supplemented his studies by playing lots of acoustic guitar as well as 5-string banjo in a “jug band.” There, he also began “tinkering” on the piano. His original and self-taught “improvisations” (for he had no formal training at all on piano), developed over time into the body of original pieces recorded on “The River,” “The Refuge,” and the “Wyoming Waltz” CDs.

After four blissful post-graduate years of discovery, in which Eric worked in the Forest Service, as a shepherd on the Navajo reservation, as a boatman on the Colorado River, a high school teacher on the Navajo reservation, and travelled and climbed all over the American West, “Practical voices” prevailed.. and Eric discovered the motivation pursue the career path that would lead to being a university professor. A Masters degree in physical geography at the University of Wyoming was followed by a Ph.D. in that subject at the University of Calgary, Alberta.   Then the academic ladder required climbing the various professorial rungs, Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor, which he attained at first, Northern Arizona University, then The University of Kansas, and finally, California State University, Stanislaus.

But the flow of music could not be stopped even by the rigors and demands of academe.   For, truth be told, music always came much easier than “book-larning” for Eric.   So, throughout his career, “Dr. Karlstrom” kept learning, developing, playing, composing, and performing his music on guitar, 5-string banjo, and piano; playing in various groups and combos and as a solo; and also self-producing numerous CDs of original compositions, etc.   (Also check out his movie. “An Awakening Journey: Songs and Voices From the Earth:” It features his best piano songs and best photos from various outdoor adventures).

Some of Eric's instruments....
Some of Eric’s instruments….
Eric was very fortunate that in the brief “homeless” interludes between university teaching jobs, he found a temporary academic home as an “Adjunct Professor” at another Alma mater, the University of Wyoming in Laramie. There, they have many, many great practice pianos as well as the ultimate pianos; the Steinway and Bosendorfer concert grand pianos, in their university concert hall.   The music professors at the University of Wyoming music were truly generous and allowed Eric to record his original pieces in their university concert hall using their Steinway and Bosendorfer concert grand pianos in 1988, 1997, and 1998.   Wow. What power and tone those instruments have!   Eric felt like a jockey riding Secretariat!   Most of the songs on his three piano CDs were recorded at this time on those pianos.

Today, living in the small mountain retreat town of Crestone, Colorado, Eric has found another spacious interlude to develop and refine his God-given musical gifts.   What is gifted to us in this life, we must try to pass on to others, right?

The 18 CDs featured on this website showcase Eric’s acoustic guitar, banjo, vocal and piano music.   Ten CDs feature all original compositions and the other 8 feature a mix of originals and bluegrass, gospel, country, folk, and popular favorites. His full-length movie (“An Awakening Journey: Songs and Voices from the Earth”) features the piano originals as soundtrack background for a photo-journey to some very beautiful, wild locations on this planet.

As always, Eric is now working on his next CD, which will feature a mixture of new solo banjo originals and gospel songs.

The bluegrass/folk/country/acoustic style of music that Eric loves to play is sometimes referred as “Americana” music.  Some call it “roots” music.   Both terms are accurate: That’s also accurate because this music, developed and refined here in America, has deep cultural, technological, and spiritual roots. And it certainly can help connect us as individuals to our deep cultural and spiritual roots.

Photography by Eric Thor Karlstrom


It’s been said that “music begins where words leave off.” There is certainly a spiritual, a “soul,” a transcendent quality to music, beyond words, that can influence moods, emotions, thoughts, and even actions. And this power can be used for good or for evil; to uplift the soul or to drag it down.

Thomas Carlisle summed it up: “Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.”. Lots of voices have echoed that sentiment: Victor Hugo (1802-1885) stated: “Music expresses that which can not be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”  Pythagoras (569-475 BC) agreed, stating: “The highest goal of music is to connect one’s soul to their Divine Nature, not entertainment.” And Jean Paul (1763-1825) added: “Oh music! Thou who bringest the receding waves of eternity nearer to the weary heart of man as he stands upon the shores and longs to cross over! Art thou the evening breeze of life, or the morning air of the future one?”

All true. But much modern music, harnessed by the purveyors of profit and perfidy, seems to be the speech of the fallen angels. So we know from our own experience that music can be like a double-edged sword: Whereas beautiful music can inspire, enliven, and uplift the heart, mind, and soul, violent, destructive, and discordant music can actually damage, disorient, and even destroy hearts, minds, and souls.

Thus, it seems that just as individuals have a certain responsibility to help and inspire others, so we musicians also have a responsibility to create positive and inspiring music.  Perhaps more important than achieving financial success, is the divine mandate for musicians should try to create beautiful, “heartening” music; for the sake of others and our Creator, whom we can and should worship through our music.  This kind of music, of course, also feeds our souls.   So just as each individual can strive for order and harmony in our own lives, musicians should strive for order, harmony, and beauty in the music we compose and play.

Plato (429 – 347 BC) had this figured out over two millennia ago:

“Harmony sinks deep into the recesses of the soul and takes its strongest hold there, bringing grace also to the body and mind as well. Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.   It is the essence of order…”

Certainly, I’m not the first to discover that there is far, far more to music than mere fun and games. Cicero (106-43 BC) opined: “In ancient times music was the foundation of all the sciences. Education was begun with music with the persuasion that nothing could be expected of a man who was ignorant of music.”

Similarly, the great Protestant reformer (and musician and composer!), Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) added: “Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul.” Leonardo da Vinci (1451-1519 AD) observed: “Do you know that our soul is composed of harmony?”  Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis (1920-2001) noted: “Listening is nothing less than our ‘royal route’ to the Divine.” For this reason, Corinne Heline (1882-1975) stated: The magic of “Musical Medicine” will come into its own. The application of such healing potencies will not be limited just to man’s body and mind. It will be an agency for building and healing his soul as well.

And good music crosses all cultural and religious barriers. Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Kahn (1882-1927) observed: “Music should be healing, music should uplift the soul, music should inspire; then there is no better way of getting closer to God, of rising higher towards the spirit, of attaining spiritual perfection, only if it is rightly understood.” And Hafiz (1320-1390) stated: “People say that the soul, on hearing the song of creation, entered the body, but in reality the soul itself was the song.”

Yes, music is more than entertainment. It is more than a business. It can and should be the expression of and food for the soul.   And we must acknowledge the profound practical and spiritual impacts of music. As Jacques Attali, (1943- ) wrote in “The Political Economy of Music:” “Now we must learn to judge a society by its sounds…” For myself, I’m grateful to God for all his gifts.   And consider music to be among the highest of these.

Of course, as individuals and as musicians, we make mistakes and sometimes fall short of realizing these lofty ideals.   But, in the very process of correcting our mistakes and re-dedicating and refining our efforts, we can continuously become better musicians… and hopefully, better people.

Guitar Reflections Vol. 2 Cover
Guitar Reflections Vol. 2 Cover