Composer traveling Route 66 to set the highway to music | national news
KINGMAN, Ariz. – If US Route 66 was a symphony orchestra, what would it look like?
It’s a question that Dr. Nolan Stolz, a South Carolina music teacher and classical music composer, answers as he explores the historic route, capturing the essence of the highway so he can set it to music.
The composition for symphony orchestras, which will be performed during the 2025-26 season to celebrate the highway’s centenary in 2026, will contain eight movements and will be called “Route 66 Suite”.
But first, he must do his research.
Stolz, 41, who teaches at the University of South Carolina near Spartanburg, is taking a 15-month sabbatical and spending 13 months traveling back and forth along the Mother Road between Chicago and Los Angeles.
He was on his third westbound trip when he was interviewed at Kingman in February. “It’s a different experience every ride,” he told The Miner.
Stolz stops and talks to locals and business owners, often backtracking. He searches for old buildings that existed when the highway was founded and looks for old sections of Route 66 from before it was tarred. He stays in old-fashioned hotels and motels like El Trovatore in Kingman.
“I really soak in as much as I can,” he said.
And he’s shooting videos, taking photos and taking notes that will jog his memory when he sits down this year to put musical notes on paper in August.
The Kingman area in northwestern Arizona is one of his favorite sections of the old highway.
After spending a night in Peach Springs on his current crossing, he said he was struck by the sounds of heavy rail traffic.
Noting that the freeway is often near train tracks, he said “I’m definitely going to incorporate train sound.”
Hailing from Las Vegas where he earned his undergraduate degree, Stolz is no stranger to Kingman, or the high desert. He said he often traveled through Kingman decades ago en route to Lake Havasu to play gigs as a drummer in Chuck E. Bumps and the Crocodiles, a band that still performs to this day. “We played the Route 66 song many times,” laughed Stolz, referencing the rhythm and blues classic.
He said he never failed to stop at Kingman. “I feel like I have a local connection to this place.”
From now on, he mixes pleasure and work. The plan is to complete the Suite by 2024, so that it can be incorporated into the performance schedules of symphony orchestras and concert bands, during the 2025-26 musical season.
He hopes to complete his work well before the 100th anniversary of the Mother Road in 2026. He will compose a different version for wind bands in colleges and community groups, which are running out of wood.
While he hasn’t written a note yet, the composition is slowly falling into place. “I have the basic concept and structure and some things I want to think about,” he said.
The opening move of Route 66 Suite will be titled “AD 1926”. It will capture the feel of the freeway in its early days, when pavement and services were scarce.
He also researched ghost towns along the route for the “66 Ghost Towns” movement and researched the locations of 26 former gas stations – pictured in Ed Ruscha’s 1964 art book “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” – for yet another move. .
He said he was particularly keen to write the “Neon Dreams” movement, which will document the neon signs that dominated the road in its heyday, and which are still abundant today along the remnants of the old road. .
Stolz said the neon movement will feature light-up sounds and rhythms that echo the cadence of flashing neon signs. But don’t think of circus music.
“I want the play to be serious; entertaining but not kitschy,” Stolz explained.
The concept and the research are not entirely unique. Stolz also composed a symphony on US Route 30 – the Lincoln Highway – when she turned 100 in 2013.
There was no doubt what would be next.
“Route 66 is the obvious choice,” Stolz said. “It’s the most famous highway in the world. A whole culture has developed around it.”