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Music composer draws inspiration for new work by traveling Route 66

Nolan Stolz
Nolan Stolz
Nolan Stolz during a visit to Springfield

Nolan Stolz plans to have his piece, "Route 66 Suite," finished by the 100th anniversary of Route 66 in 2026.

Nolan Stolz, associate professor of music at the University of South Carolina Upstate, has been traveling back and forth on Route 66 since July 2021 as he composes his new major orchestral piece,"Route 66 Suite." It's part of a six-year project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic highway.

The work will be a musical reflection of Route 66 and will represent various aspects of the road. He talked with KSMU about his journey. Below is a lightly edited Q and 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 westbound trip, and I'll do one more eastbound trip, so I've been basically everywhere on Route 66. Different places are inspiring different things. So, for instance, the opening movements of the suite I'm titling "AD 1926." That's because that was the year that Route 66 became official, and so I'm taking the 1926 version of the road—and a lot of times that's dirt and gravel or through the cities that's through the old part of town. You get to see these beautiful buildings that would have existed in 1926—that sort of thing.

Q: And you have been in Springfield, Missouri. Tell me about your visit here.

A: I've been in Springfield several times, but I've actually spent multiple nights in Springfield. Sometimes I'll stay for two or three days, so I'll spend a lot of time in the square and picture what it would've been like in 1926—or in the whole downtown area, for that matter. You know, there's different hotels...or buildings that used to be hotels.

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

A: Yeah. All of these small things are a part of it. For example, I have another movement called, "Vacancy/No Vacancy," and it's all inspired by lodging that [Route] 66 travelers would have stayed at. For instance, I spent a night at the Rockwood Motor Court. It was built in 1929, and so you really get a flavor of that early 66 travels. Another one is "26 Gas Stations." It's an homage to a 1963 photography book entitled "26 Gasoline Stations." What I've done is I've chosen 26 that I find inspiring, and they don't have to be active gas stations or anything. For instance, Paris Springs Junction you have the Gay Parita (Service Station). There's a lovely couple that operate it now. It's a gift shop. It's not like an active gas station, but at one time it was. That was a place where people would stop and get gas, and you can just go and sit on the porch and talk with George and have a lovely time. It's that sort of thing, so, you know, I get inspiration from the people that I meet as well.

Nathan Stolz's Route 66 Suite vehicle outside Rockwood Motor Court in Springfield
Nathan Stolz
Nathan Stolz's Route 66 Suite vehicle outside Rockwood Motor Court in Springfield

Q: Tell us more about "Route 66 Suite" and what we can expect. How many movements will there be in all?

I am planning on eight, so we're talking probably 45 to 60 minutes total. Each of the eight movements will be on a different topic. Now I should say that any of the movements—I'm going to compose in such a way that they can be performed as a stand alone work.

Q: How can someone follow your journey?

If someone is interested in following the journey and seeing the piece coming to fruition, I have a Patreon page:, and there's different subscription levels. I'll post videos and sort of behind-the-scenes look at the compositional process. I also have a Facebook page. That's intended more for conductors to just get an idea—perhaps not just conductors but maybe some of the members of the orchestra or someone on 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 overwhelm with too many things on that page, but that's

Q: What do you hope for this piece? What do you hope people will get from it when they listen to it one day when it's finished?

A: I hope that they get that there's a lot more depth to Route 66 than it gets credit for or what it's known for. You know, there's a lot of kitsch along Route 66, and that's one aspect I won't be portraying in the music is the kitsch. I'm writing the music based on the things that I find inspiring like these old theaters, these neon signs, for instance. I'm writing a movement called "Neon Dreams" and then I'll go around a town at night and take pictures of the neon and get ideas for rhythms if they're animated, for instance, so I would hope that the listener, even just from looking at the titles, would say, "Wow. There's a lot of interesting things about Route 66. I could travel it, look at the neon, go to these theaters, stay at these interesting old hotels, old motels." "Among the trees" is another movement. It's about how there are all these bits of abandoned highway that's not even labeled as a road anymore, but that was Route 66 and now it's just sitting there abandoned among the trees. And there's abandoned buildings among the trees, so I hope that would encourage to try these abandoned versions and see, you know, what it looked like.

Q: It's got to be an adventure to be out there finding these bits of road and uncovering things from the past. What is that like?

A: I've been uncovering some Ghost towns even—a few places that aren't even mentioned in any of the Route 66 literature. If they are mentioned, you know they're in some book somewhere, but there's no mention of Route 66. There is no connection, so I'm connecting these ghost towns to 66 because some of them, at least the ones that I'm looking to, were still active towns when 66 came through, 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's one in Illinois I went to—there must have been 30 or 40 buildings. Now there are zero. It's amazing.