Music Composer Gets Inspired by New Work While Traveling Route 66

Nolan Stolz, an associate professor of music at the University of South Carolina in upstate, has been going back and forth on Route 66 since July 2021 as he composes his major new orchestral piece, “Route 66 Suite “. This is part of a six-year project to commemorate the historic highway’s 100th anniversary.

The work will be a musical reflection of Route 66 and depict various aspects of the route. He spoke with KSMU about his trip. Below is a slightly edited Q&A transcript.

Q: Where have you been so far and what inspiration have you gained?

A: This is my seventh trip. I’m currently on my fourth trip westbound, and will be making another trip eastbound, so I’ve been pretty much everywhere on Route 66. Different places inspire different things. Thus, for example, the first movements of the suite which I call “AD 1926”. That’s because that’s the year Route 66 became official, and so I take the 1926 version of the route – and often it’s dirt and gravel or through towns that run through old town. You can see these beautiful buildings that would have existed in 1926, that sort of thing.

Q: And you’ve been to Springfield, Missouri. Tell me about your visit here.

A: I’ve been to Springfield several times, but I’ve actually spent several nights in Springfield. Sometimes I stay two or three days, so I spend a lot of time in the square and imagine what it would have been like in 1926 – or all of downtown, for that matter. You know, there are different hotels… or buildings that used to be hotels.

Q: Did Springfield or part of it, southwest Missouri, inspire any of your Route 66 sequels?

A: Yeah. All those little things are part of it. For example, I have another movement called “Vacancy/No Vacancy”, and it’s all inspired by the accommodation that [Route] 66 travelers would have stayed. For example, I spent one night at Rockwood Motor Court. It was built in 1929, so you really get a feel for this early 66 voyage. Another is “26 gas stations”. It’s a tribute to a 1963 photography book titled “26 Gas Stations”. What I did was I picked 26 that I find inspiring, and they don’t have to be active gas stations or anything. For example, Paris Springs Junction, you have the Gay Parita (petrol station). There’s a lovely couple running it now. It’s a gift shop. It’s not like a working gas station, but at one time it was. It was a place where people stopped to get gas, and you could just go and sit on the porch and talk with George and have a good time. It’s that kind of stuff, so, you know, I’m also inspired by people I meet.

Nathan Stolz’s Route 66 Suite vehicle in front of Rockwood Motor Court in Springfield

Q: Tell us about “Route 66 Suite” and what we can expect. How many moves will there be altogether?

I’m planning eight, so we’re probably talking about 45-60 minutes total. Each of the eight movements will deal with a different subject. Now I must say that any of the movements – I will compose in such a way that they can be performed as a stand-alone work.

Q: How can someone track your journey?

If anyone is interested in following the journey and seeing the piece come to fruition, I have a Patreon page: patreon.com/route66suite, and there are different subscription levels. I’ll be posting videos and a kind of behind-the-scenes look at the composition process. I also have a Facebook page. It’s more for the conductors to get an idea – maybe not just the conductors, but maybe some of the orchestra members or someone from the board or an executive director of a symphony orchestra or something – just to get a little taste of what I’m doing, just an idea, but I don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much stuff on this page, but it’s http://www.facebook.com/route66suite.

Q: What are your hopes for this piece? What do you hope people will get out of it by listening to it one day when it’s finished?

A: I hope they will understand that there is much more depth to Route 66 than is attributed to it or what it is known for. You know, there’s a lot of kitsch along Route 66, and that’s one aspect that I’m not going to portray in music, it’s kitsch. I write music based on things that inspire me like those old theaters, those neon signs, for example. I’m writing a move called “Neon Dreams” and then I’ll go around a city at night and take pictures of the neon and come up with ideas for beats if they’re animated, for example, so I hopes the listener, just looking at the titles, would say, “Wow. There’s a lot of interesting things on Route 66. I could walk it, look at the neon lights, go to those theaters, stay in those interesting old hotels, those old motels. “Among the trees” is another movement. It’s about how there’s all these abandoned bits of highway that aren’t even labeled as a road anymore, but that was Route 66 and now it’s just there, abandoned among the trees. And there are abandoned buildings among the trees, so hopefully that would encourage us to try those abandoned builds and see, you know, what it was like.

Q: It must be an adventure to be out there to find these stretches of road and discover things from the past. How is?

A: I’ve even discovered ghost towns, a few places that aren’t even mentioned in the Route 66 literature. If they’re mentioned, you know they’re in a book somewhere, but there’s no has no mention of Route 66. There’s no connection, so I’m linking these ghost towns to 66 because some of them, at least the ones I’m considering, were still active towns when 66 is arrived, and so I have a movement called “66 ghost towns”, so I hope people will go out and adventure and take a look at this space… there is one in the ‘Illinois. went to…there must have been 30 or 40 buildings. Now there are zero. It’s incredible.

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