A National Parks Soundtrack
10 ideal pieces of orchestral music to be the movie score to your National Parks trip.
There’s something about pulling through an entrance gate to a National Park that lets you know you’re somewhere special. You’ve entered a wonderful place that will be kept and preserved in all its pristine natural beauty. Driving from landmark to overlook to trailhead, often a marvelous adventure in its own right, deserves a soundtrack that helps preserve and define your experiences. Sometimes Top 40 or a Beatles-heavy road trip playlist just doesn’t quite do the job. Zedd, Cardi B., we love you, but standing on the precipice of Zion Canyon just isn’t your moment.
Nature and classical music share a unique bond. They capture and spur on our imaginations in a way that lets each of us experience moments in our own unique and individual ways. Without lyrics, the music allows us to attach our own thoughts and words to its melodies.
Our wondrous natural world, and evens some national parks, inspired each of these composers to create some of their best music. The result is an amazing collection that is a real-life movie score to your adventures! Enjoy!
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1) The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé (1931)
Debuting in 1931, the Grand Canyon Suite is Ferde Grofé’s most enduring work. It’s five movements emote five grand feelings that anyone who has visited Grand Canyon National Park can easily relate to. Sunrise is arguably the prettiest piece, On The Trail is easily the most famous (Disneyland’s train uses the piece between Tomorrowland Station and Main Street USA), and Cloudburst will undoubtedly bring back memories for anyone who has been caught in one of Grand Canyon’s yearly monsoons.
2) Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland (1944)
Although not specifically composed for Appalachia, Copland wrote the piece to evoke an idyllic version of America. He tells the story of a wild west that was full of infinite possibilities. National Parks are in many ways the final version of those halcyon visions, and it’s impossible not to relive them with Copland’s melodies gliding along.
3) An Outdoor Overture by Aaron Copland (1938)
Originally written for high school students, this piece features Copland’s trademark for optimistic and joyous music. Perfect feelings for going on an outdoor adventure.
4) Gates of Gold by Joseph Curiale (2002)
. Composed as a tribute to the story of Chinese immigrants to California, the third movement lays bare the glories of the Sierra Nevada.
5) Symphony of the Seasons by Dan Locklair (2002)
Less famous than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Locklair’s work takes the natural patterns of our world and musically re-introduces them in wonderful ways. All four movements remind us that outdoor adventures need never stop—there is always something to explore.
6) Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi (1924)
The inspirational subject of this piece is in the title. Although the music revolves around the city, the story is told from the perspective of the trees. It’s a wonderful thought that our lives are inextricably linked with the natural world, which makes the Pines of Rome all the more meaningful.
7) Symphony No. 6 "Pastorale" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1808)
History’s greatest deaf composer frequently took walks in the countryside outside of Vienna. His 6th Symphony represents the great joy he took in the natural world. When Napoleon’s occupation of the city meant he couldn’t spend the summers outside, he stated, “How delighted I will be to ramble for awhile through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear.”
8) Places in the West by Dan Welcher (2014)
Titled after four national parks, the highlight of the album is Welcher’s piece on Zion. You can hear the colors of Zion National Park jumping from the winds and horns.
9) Symphony No. 50 “Mount St. Helens” by Alan Hovhaness (1982)
Hovhaness’ depiction of the famous volcanic eruption evokes images of the Cascade mountains. Parks like Lassen and Rainier could one day take St. Helen’s place, which makes Alan’s work all the more meaningful.
10) Symphony No. 60 “To the Appalachian Mountains” by Alan Hovhaness (1992)
The composer said he put himself “into the spirit and moods of the Appalachian idioms and culture, the spiritual life, the religious singing from shaped-notes under the oak trees.” Like Copland’s Appalachian Suite from above, it’s hard not to get lost in the woods in Hovhaness’ gorgeous work.