2008 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient: Eric Friesen

Eric Friesen.Eric Friesen (BA ’67 English) is the 11th recipient of the Faculty of Arts Alumni Achievement Award. The award recognizes Waterloo Arts alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their professional field and in community and public service.

Eric is a lifelong broadcaster, who thinks of himself as “a pilgrim of creative change and renewal.” As a broadcaster, writer, and leader, he has spent his life developing new programs and creating new ideas, and since graduating from University of Waterloo, he has built a successful career in broadcasting, both in Canada and in the United States.

Eric Friesen’s radio personality is marked by his enthusiasm, his intelligence, his humanity, and his whole-hearted passion for culture and the arts in Canada,

says Sheila Ager, Professor of Classical Studies at Waterloo.

Eric’s career in radio broadcasting actually began in the early 60's in his hometown of Altona, Manitoba. Says Eric,

It was here, as a child, that I became infected with the stealthy magic of radio, with the signature voices of evening radio hosts from clear channel stations all across North America.

In 1963, Eric worked his first on-air nightshift at a local radio station. He joined the CBC as a relief announcer in June 1972, in Ottawa.

It was a dazzling world: music, information programming, the arts, and like Walt Whitman I wanted to embrace it all,

he says. Over the next 12 years, Eric hosted various programs including, All in a Day, Radio Noon, The Passing Show, and ultimately The Eric Friesen Show, the first network morning music show.

After a stint in CBC management, where he was responsible for Ideas, one of CBC Radio’s signature programs, he took a position with American Public Radio in St. Paul,Minnesota, as the executive vice president for programming. Eventually, Eric returned to the microphone with Minnesota Public Radio, where he hosted an afternoon drive show called The Music Room, and the Minnesota Orchestra’s “live” Friday night broadcasts to the nation. He was fully engaged in the arts and the life of that community, and in addition to his broadcasting, wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Monthly.

In 1997, CBC Radio invited Eric back to Canada to be the network concert host. Based in Toronto for seven years, he spent weekday evenings hosting In Performance, and on Sundays, Onstage from the Glenn Gould Studio, bringing live music to the nation. For the past four years, Eric was the host of Studio Sparks, which was broadcast out of CBC’s Ottawa studios. Even though Studio Sparks has come to an end, he has created two major documentary series for CBC Radio: The Concerto According to Pinchas (10 one hour programs on the great violin concertos with violinist Pinchas Zukerman), and The Concerto According to Manny (10 one-hour programs with pianist Emmanuel Ax on the great piano concertos). There is one more series to come on the symphony, with Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Eric is extremely active with his pro bono work. He is a frequent presence at concert venues throughout Ontario, introducing concerts, giving pre-concert talks, and doing interviews with the artists. He is currently the artistic advisor to Queens Performing Arts at Queens University in Kingston, and writes regularly for Queens Quarterly magazine. Eric has been a regular contributor to arts organizations throughout his career, and in the past has served as board director for several organizations, including the Roy Thomson Hall/Massey Hall, Toronto; Conrad Grebel University College; Minnesota Opera; American Composer’s Forum; and ExMachina, a baroque opera company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 2005, uWaterloo acknowledged Eric’s career success by inviting him to be the featured speaker at an alumni reception held at the national gallery in Ottawa, where he addressed the question of “How an Arts Student Succeeded in a Sea of Engineers.”

As part of the first cohort of Waterloo students living and studying at Conrad Grebel in the mid-sixties, “Eric left his distinctive mark and legacy,” says Henry Paetkau (President, Conrad Grebel University College).

His active leadership in the Grebel community demonstrated the interests and gifts he would later pursue and demonstrate, as well as the social and cultural values that would become the hallmarks of his career.

Outside of music, Eric loves to read and garden; along with his wife Susan, they are working on creating a natural garden at their home on Amherst Island, near Kingston, where they are restoring the natural landscape of limestone outcroppings which terrace down to Lake Ontario.