Ode to the Mother Road - Albuquerque Journal

Ode to the Mother Road

Nolan Stolz, University of South Carolina Upstate associate professor of music and composer, has traveled up and down Route 66 since July 1, 2021 getting inspiration for his next major composition for orchestra. ( Courtesy of Nolan Stolz)

When folks talk about their summer vacation, they typically refer to going to the beach, learning a new hobby or working on their tan.

For one professor, it was a time 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 Upstate. “They’re very interested in commercial music, popular music.”

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

U.S. Highway 66 turns 100 years old in 2026, so Stolz will have the composition ready for orchestras to perform it 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 in the hands of conductors,” Stolz said. “So that they can evaluate 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 in the summer of 2026 on one of their summer pops concerts or something, trying to make it available for them.”

He will continue traveling Route 66 through the end of July and commence writing the music in August.

Albuquerque is one of the numerous stops on the way.

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

With over a year before the piece is completed, there is still a lot of work to do.

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

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

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

This is Stolz’s second piece of this magnitude.

“I had done once before, that I took a year off of teaching 2012 to 2013 that academic year to write the ‘Lincoln Highway Suite,’ ” Stolz said. “This is a little bit different as I am not actually writing the music during this year, I’m only traveling, getting to know it really well. So I’d say I feel like I know the Route 66 much better than I do the Lincoln Highway because so many times, this is my seventh trip.”

While Stolz wraps up one portion of his project, he is currently headed towards the West Coast before hauling back to South Carolina.

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

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