Artistic events that are free, accessible and outdoors – think InLight, the 2nd Street Festival, the Richmond Folk Fest, or any of the city’s myriad arts festivals – have long helped to anchor Richmond’s diverse cultural scene.
Go ahead and add Richmond Symphony’s Mile of Music trail walk to the growing list of events that help create the city’s unique vibe.
A little history: Flashback to 2021 and the Richmond Symphony was discovering that necessity is the mother of invention. Organizers were originally planning to present a big tent concert at Forest Hill Park in June that year, but, like everyone else, they didn’t know what the status of COVID transmission would be. Shifting gears, they looked for a creative way to engage the community with outdoor music.
Enter Mile of Music, a way for the community to interact more closely with professional Richmond Symphony musicians while enjoying the bucolic setting of one of the city’s public parks. “Around the time of that very first Mile of Music, masks had just become optional, so it was the first time seeing faces in a very long time and there were lots of smiles that day,” recalls Marcey W. Leonard, community partnerships manager for the Richmond Symphony. “Mile of Music united all of us with music and movement in our collective needs for healing, connecting, and recovering.”
At its core, the upcoming, third annual Mile of Music is still a trail walk concert featuring ensembles from different sections of the orchestra on a one-mile route within a beautiful natural setting. Building on the last two years, the Symphony has found new ways to keep the event fresh. Last year’s event was also in Forest Hill Park, but this year it’s taking place in Bryan Park on the North Side.
Another change is the sheer number of musicians involved. Instead of four chamber ensembles, there will be five, including a brass quintet, two woodwind quintets, and two string quartets. “We’re also excited to partner with the Richmond SPCA, which means volunteers will be bringing dogs to walk the Mile of Music with the community,” Leonard says.
Goal is to build relationships
The strolling pace is leisurely. Attendees will gather near the trail entrance closest to picnic shelter #1, which is near the playground, to enjoy the first 20 minute performance at 2 p.m. That’s followed by plenty of time to walk to the next performance at 2:30 p.m. “People are welcome to bring chairs, food and drink with them,” Leonard says. “They can even bring their own furry family to walk the mile with them.”
The trail continues along a short loop, circling back towards the parking lots with performances scheduled every half hour with a bit of time to walk in between, making for a total of five mini-concerts, the last one finishing by 4:30 p.m. “We give our symphony musicians the freedom to select their own programming,” Leonard says. “For much of the year, what they play is decided for them, but here they have the chance to get creative and share music that’s special to them.”
The Richmond Symphony’s goal is to create relationships between their musicians, performers, and audiences by building upon each performance as an engagement opportunity. Mile of Music is just one of the many ways they accomplish that. “Working as a community partner, the Richmond Symphony uses music’s special ability to tell stories, evoke emotion, and bring people together,” explains Leonard. “That power is enhanced when the symphony works with other partners, utilizing music to activate more community spaces and serve more residents with our free and accessible concerts.”
Or, as Leonard puts it, “A beautiful setting plus live music means everyone becomes a part of it all.”
Richmond Symphony’s third annual Mile of Music takes place on Saturday, June 3 at Bryan Park, 4308 Hermitage Rd. from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The free concert is supported in part by the City of Richmond. Go here for more information.