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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef


Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Words and Images by Penny Neef.

Feature Image courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Are you looking for something unique, close by, outdoors and free?

The Virginia Arts Festival presents Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK, “sound art created to illuminate the beauty of Coastal Virginia” now through December 31.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Beautiful, natural surroundings inspire Ellen Reid. She composes music and sounds that are GPS enabled and site-specific. “The path you choose dictates the music you hear, and no two visits will be exactly the same.”

The Virginia Arts Festival commissioned Ellen Reid to create two sound experiences in Coastal Virginia – Pleasure House Point Natural Area

in Virginia Beach and a portion of the Elizabeth River Trail in Norfolk.

Reid’s past compositions have enhanced Central Park in NYC and Griffith Park in Los Angeles. This is the first time that Reid has created music for two walks in the same area.

The Virginia Beach walk through Pleasure House Point Natural Area takes you along tidal marsh, sandy shores and maritime forest. It is secluded and serene. As you move along the trail with your earbuds or headphones, the sounds shift in mood, rhythm and instrumentation. Reid has collaborated with the world-class musicians of the SOUNDWALK Ensemble to make the experience unique to the setting.

I met a group of walkers at the Chrysler Museum one sunny, chilly Sunday to walk a portion of Norfolk’s Elizabeth River Trail (ERT) so I could experience the Norfolk SOUNDWALK. This SOUNDWALK is totally different from the one at Pleasure House Point. The walk in Norfolk follows the well-marked ERT from the Hague through Freemason, past the waterfront at the Pagoda and the Battleship Wisconsin, to Waterside.

The concept is simple. Download Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK app on your phone, choose which walk you’re starting, put your headphones on and start walking.

Walking with me that Sunday was the new Executive Director of the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation, Kindra Greene. Kindra said it best, “There’s that beautiful moment where you cross Mowbry Arch and hear the brass instruments that seem to be saluting the views. It’s an opportunity to really be present and aware of what you’re doing physically, but also what you’re hearing. It’s an immersive experience.”

The music in your ears changes as you keep walking. It can be soft and serene one moment, and plaintive, almost sad the next. As we rounded the corner to the boardwalk around the USS Wisconsin, there was a celebratory horn fanfare to the great ship.

Greene is thrilled that walkers and bikers can experience SOUNDWALK on the ERT in Norfolk. “The ERT is the heart of Norfolk and the link to connecting neighborhoods with businesses, universities and the unique, historical heritage of the city.” The partnership with Virginia Arts Festival and SOUNDWALK “engages all the senses.” This unique portion of the ERT offers an “experiential connection to what you’re seeing and listening to and feeling at the moment, that makes it really memorable.”

“Working with Ellen Reid on this project has been extraordinarily rewarding”, said Virginia Arts Festival Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross. “After the challenges of the pandemic, we have sought out new ways for our audiences to experience the performing arts. This project is an innovative response to that need.”

For more information on Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK, go to:

For more information on the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation, including upcoming events such as the Rudolph Bike Ride and the Santa Bike Party, follow the ERT on Facebook at:

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