Ode to the mother road

Nolan Stolz, associate professor of music and composer at the University of South Carolina upstate, has been traveling Route 66 since July 1, 2021, drawing inspiration from his next major orchestral composition. (Courtesy of Nolan Stolz)

When people talk about their summer vacation, they’re usually talking about going to the beach, learning a new hobby, or working on that tan.

For a teacher, it was an opportunity to tour the country.

“They gave me a sabbatical to do this for a year,” said Nolan Stolz, associate professor of music at the University of South Carolina in upstate. “They are very interested in commercial music, popular music.”

Stolz spent time in many towns along Route 66, getting to know the community, including its business owners, residents, and historic buildings.

US Highway 66 will be 100 years old in 2026, so Stolz will have the composition ready for orchestras to perform during their 2025-26 season.

He said the composition, “Route 66 Suite”, is a musical reflection of the historic highway, representing various aspects of the road.

“The goal is to have it performed by various orchestrators in 2026, so I’m trying to finish it by 2024 to get it into the hands of conductors,” Stolz said. “So that they can assess to see, can we put this on the ’25-’26 season or maybe a ’26-’27 season or maybe we think they put it on. summer of 2026 on one of their summer pop gigs or something, trying to make it available for them.

He will continue to travel Route 66 until the end of July and will begin writing the music in August.

Albuquerque is one of many stops along the way.

“I’ve been to the New Mexico Philharmonic three times and I’ve been to see concerts at the University of New Mexico,” Stolz said. “I usually take a few days of driving. I ended up spending a lot more time (in Albuquerque) than in other cities.

With over a year to go, there is still a lot of work to do.

“The piece will be divided into several sections, or movements, each representing a different aspect of the historic route,” Stolz said.

“The ‘Neon Dreams’ movement, for example, is inspired by the many neon signs found along the road,” Stolz said. “For example, around these old theaters, like the Lobo, they have a neon sign with their marquee so there’s inspiration that I’m going to draw from the logo that will go with the neon dream movement, but also on that one.”

Other movement titles include “26 Gas Stations”, “Among the Trees”, “AD 1926”, “Desert 66”, “Vacancy/No Vacancy”, and “66 Ghost Towns”.

This is Stolz’s second piece of this magnitude.

“I had done it once before, that I took a year off from teaching from 2012 to 2013 this academic year to write the ‘Lincoln Highway Suite,'” Stolz said. “It’s a bit different because I’m not really writing music this year, I’m just traveling, getting to know it well. So I would say I feel like I know Route 66 better than Lincoln. Highway, because it is often my seventh trip.

As Stolz completes part of his project, he is currently heading to the West Coast before returning to South Carolina.

“Tonight I’m staying in Gallup and the last two times I’ve stayed in Gallup I’ve stayed at this old hotel called El Rancho Historic Site,” Stolz said.

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