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Ellen Reid’s Soundwalk At Saratoga State Park Offers A Personal Soundtrack

Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK artwork

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Whether it be a gorgeous IMAX film, an amateur home movie, or anything in-between, we’ve all experienced the value of a musical soundtrack while viewing beautiful scenes of nature.

Well, get ready for your own personal soundtrack while walking the grounds of Saratoga State Park. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in collaboration with several prestigious performing arts venues, is offering Ellen Reid’s Soundwalk through November 1.

It’s a musical public art installation that was designed for the landscape of Saratoga State Park by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid. The music is performed by the Soundwalk Ensemble, of which Reid is a member. She plays synthesizer.

You will be able to walk an approximately mile-long route within the park, connect your ear phones to an app on your phone and hear your own soundtrack as you walk the areas around Geyser Creek and Vale Springs. The app on your phone is available free of charge at the SPAC website. Maps are available at the same site. The length and path of the walk is up to you.

A similar program conceived by Reid started operation last week in New York City’s Central Park. SPAC’s program is only the second in the country. Several more are planned for 2021 at other sites that combine classical musical performances within a pristine environment. Future locations include Wolf Trapp National Park in Virginia, The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and Britt Music and Arts Festival in Jacksonville, Oregon.

One of the remarkable things about the Soundwalk is that it is tied into GPS technology. This means the music directly relates to the geographical area at which you are physically present. On your walk you will hear music that is designed to enhance specific areas of the park. Reid has tried to marry music to the sound of a soothing bubbling brook or to add to the visual majesty of an especially scenic area of the park. Too, there is the thrill of having music support the unique pleasure of watching and listening to water flow over what many call Ormandy Falls.

As an aside, the name Ormandy Falls comes from Eugene Ormandy, the legendary conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra who claimed his highly sensitive hearing was disturbed by the sounds of the waterfall. He insisted a dam be built to control the water flow to the Geyser Creek waterfall located alongside and behind the amphitheater at SPAC. The waterfall was turned off whenever he took the podium. There would be no distractions while he was conducting. The dam was removed after Ormandy’s death in 1985.

It’s almost ironic that some 40 years after Ormandy’s last appearance at SPAC, we now have music dedicated to making the sounds and sights of nature, including that waterfall, even more beautiful. Indeed, the Philadelphia Orchestra is providing orchestrations for the Mann Center Soundwalk in Philadelphia. The orchestra might even be heard in the SPAC Soundwalk.

Though much of the music is classical in nature, the Soundwalk experience is extremely diverse in nature. Indeed, what makes the experience interesting is that Reid is known for programming music that is counterintuitive. She is also fond of planting Easter Eggs. Nothing in Soundwalk will be predictable. There will be surprises.

Adding to the beauty of the experience, the programming of the music makes each venture unique. Every walk you take will sound different depending on the route you choose. You can walk at your own pace and select the path that gives you the most satisfaction. You become the conductor of every Soundwalk.

Reid, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music for “p r i s m”, a two-person opera concerning a sexual assault survivor’s psychological struggles, has also scored for films, television and art installations. She is known for her choral and ensemble writing, as well as her sound designs. Reid often refers to herself as a “sound artist”.

The 37-year old composer says of Soundwalk, “I hope it will inspire us to feel connected to something larger than ourselves. It is meant to serve as artistic nourishment - a place to recharge, reconnect and re-energize.”

In time of social isolation, a walk outdoors is wonderful therapy. At Saratoga State Park, as art blends with technology, it makes communing with nature even more personal and beautiful. It is available until November 1.

For the Soundwalk app, a map of the route and information on the artists go to spac.org.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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