SHIFT Festival
Photo: Courtesy of Boulder Philharmonic

Interdisciplinary Inspiration: SHIFT Festival’s Guided Musical Hikes Explore Music and Nature

Boulder-based naturalist David Sutherland’s guided musical hikes aren’t just an experience. They’re an inspiration. The hikes, designed as nature walks set to classical music, are an interdisciplinary event rich in creative possibilities.

“When you pair two unrelated things together and find the commonalities, it creates a space to explore new perspectives,” Sutherland says. “Combining music and nature inspires people to think in new, creative ways.”

DC residents can experience this firsthand during two hour-long hikes in Rock Creek Park on March 27. Organized as part of the SHIFT Festival, a weeklong celebration of American orchestras co-presented by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, Sutherland’s hikes promise a distinctive experience for musicians and naturalists alike.

He’s got a traditional, yet exploratory, program planned. Both hikes, which center on the park’s birds, will challenge attendees to find different species while listening to Dvořák’s “American String Quartet,” Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” and other bird-reminiscent pieces.

He warns that the hike may pose a few surprises, though. Each program depends somewhat on the trail, weather and wildlife found along the way.

“I want all my hikes to be organic, rather than following a script or an outline,” he says. “I decide on a theme or concept, then illustrate it with what nature provides.”

The festival will also present two concerts performed by the Boulder Philharmonic, this year’s orchestral partner. Both performances, one a full orchestral concert at the Kennedy Center and the other a chamber recital at the Jefferson Memorial, also center on nature and music.

“Our natural environment has always been a source of inspiration for artists and musicians,” says Kevin Shuck, executive director of the Boulder Philharmonic. “We wanted to connect people to our natural world through classical music, and in turn use our natural surroundings to connect people to the power of music.”

The concerts and the guided hikes support the festival’s greater mission of reigniting people’s passion for classical music. Exploring the intersection of nature and music offers a new, creative way to experience the genre; a way that also helps it become more relevant to people’s lives.

“It’s about bringing classical music out into the community, finding new creative partners and better integrating it into society,” Sutherland explains.

He hopes this exchange will continue to motivate and inspire his hikers.

“Bridging nature and classical music helps people understand each other’s passions,” he says. “It encourages a deeper appreciation of classical music, and of each other.”

The guided musical hikes run on March 27 at 3:30 and 5 p.m. in Rock Creek Park. Tickets are free, and reservations are required.

The SHIFT Festival runs March 27 to April 1. Participating orchestras include Boulder Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and The Knights. For more information about SHIFT Festival concerts and community activities, visit


Jamie McCrary

Jamie McCrary is a writer, musician, and educator currently based in Washington, DC. As a journalist, she’s covered everything from science policy to statistics—though the arts is her specialty. She is currently Communications Coordinator for American University’s Kogod School of Business, where she writes articles to promote the school’s faculty, students and events. Ms. McCrary is published in NEA Arts Magazine, Connections Magazine, and Eat-Drink-Lucky. She holds a B.M. in viola performance and also maintains an active performing and teaching career. Learn more at