Nationally accredited composer travels RT 66 to draw inspiration from namesake orchestral suite
America’s Mother Road, which stretches 2,000 miles across the country, is once again the center of attention as the 100th anniversary approaches. Dr. Nolan Stolz of the University of South Carolina has also turned his attention to Route 66, turning the road into a muse for an orchestral suite to be completed just in time for the centennial celebration in 2026. Dr. Stolz is a Las Vegas native, spending his early life just south of the famous road, and used the road during his brief move to South Dakota before settling in South Carolina to share his passion for music . The composer has already completed an orchestral suite on Lincoln Highway, another historic road in America. “I never really paid much attention to it,” he said of Route 66 at the start, adding that he’d played the song as a musician countless times and driven a handful of times on the road, but it was the Pixar movie Cars that really piqued his interest. . “I have to visit it before it disappears,” he said. The loss of an important story, enjoying things while they are here, and hoping for progress in the future were major themes in the film, and the same themes resonate in his orchestral work as well.
Dr Stolz has been traveling the route since July 1 last year, anticipating a total of thirteen months on the road. He returns to his home base in Missouri to recharge his batteries before setting off again in search of inspiration for his musical pieces. He began his journey in St. Louis, and drove back and forth, visited cities, and attended concerts and symphonies. “I want to know what orchestras are in those cities,” he said, mentioning how disappointed he was that the Tulsa Symphony had to cancel its last performance due to snowy weather.
One particular move from the sequel is titled “66 Ghost Towns,” epitomizing small towns suffocated by new highways and abandoned schools or cemeteries. The esteemed professor told a story about the ‘town that wasn’t a town’: Mud College. Although it has nearly thirty buildings, a school and even a cemetery, the community does not have a post office and has therefore never been an official town. Now all that’s left may be a building and the inaccessible graveyard between Stroud and Davenport. Dr. Stolz says it’s very inspiring to bring light back to those forgotten towns that depended on Route 66 before the new highways were built. He makes sure to always remain respectful while exploring the road and never enter houses or locked areas. There’s a magnet on the side of his car that says ‘Route 66 Suite’ so people know he’s not here to cause trouble, but rather ‘one of those Route 66 people’ . Dr Stolz recounted how friendly people are when they realize he’s there for their ride, including business owners offering discounts or even gifts as a thank you for bringing more recognition to the community. road. Some cities are extremely proud to have America’s Main Street under their care, but some cities treat it like any other road. The professor added that Tulsa has fully embraced Route 66 to an impressive extent, going so far as to put “Route 66” on things that have nothing to do with Route 66. “What I love about Sapulpa” , he added, “It’s that they’re so close to Tulsa but they’ve retained their own identity. I feel like that’s very rare.
Approximately 400 miles of the Mother Road is in Oklahoma, more than any other state in the country. Many towns along the route take immense pride in being located along the original highway, covering buildings with murals and signs. Parts of the road are hidden, however, and Dr. Stolz had the privilege of exploring a section of Route 66 that only two other people had traveled before him – apart from the family who live there. This particular section was established in 1926 along with the rest of the road, but was removed around 1938 when a new highway was built. Today, it’s a private road, and the owner has only allowed three people — Dr. Stolz and two well-known Route 66 authors — to use it since then.
The trip was exciting, but not without rainy days. The composer and Black Sabbath specialist had to repair his tires five times, including four in Oklahoma. Since the road is almost 100 years old, there are incredibly narrow areas, places with road debris, nails, bolts and other miscellaneous junk that can destroy good tires. Dr. Stolz also had to have an emergency gallbladder removal on the road, but nothing stopped him from completing his mission.
During his visit to Sapulpa, the professor follows the renovations of the TeePee Drive-In currently underway and even has a video of cleaning the big screen on his Patreon. “I’m really excited for this,” he said, saying the drive-in really embodies the sequel’s beginning and ending moves. The final piece, titled “The Show Will Go On”, depicts the theaters, opera houses and music halls of Route 66, and the TeePee Drive-In is a perfect example of this theme of remembering the old and to embrace the new.
Dr. Stolz has yet to write a single note for his sequel, but it is with purpose. He plans to complete his travels before spending a year thinking about and writing the perfect orchestral suite that represents the soul of Route 66. He collects photos and videos that he posts on a Patreon for lovers of the Route 66, and those interested behind the scenes. -the scenes of composing such a great piece of music. He plans to complete the suite in time for symphonic councils and orchestras to add the music to their 2025-26 or 2026-27 seasons for the road’s centennial celebration.
“I take all these photos and videos and then I go to my studio and get inspired, kind of like a realistic painter taking a picture,” Dr. Stolz said, “I curated my own version of RT 66 that I find inspiring and then I’ll write the music about it.