ONTD Political

Veteran hears his symphony played by US Army orchestra, 70 years after it was written

12:48 pm - 11/12/2012


When you reach a certain age, big life surprises tend to come few and far between, unless you're Harold Van Heuvelen. Van, as everyone calls him, has had a blockbuster week full of dreams fulfilled. The story of his dream starts more than 70 years ago, on Dec. 7, 1941.

Van Heuvelen enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor. He was posted to a base in New Orleans as an instructor for recruits. He spent the war stateside, training men who were being shipped out to Europe and the South Pacific.

"When the peace came along in Europe in April of 1945, we just practically sat there without anything to do,
" he says. "Most of the gentlemen drew house plans because they were thinking they were going to get out of the service pretty soon. And I wrote a symphony."

Van Heuvelen started composing at age 8 and studied music in college, writing a violin concerto when he was only a junior. The symphony, though, was a huge undertaking: more than 200 pages of music, which he wrote thinking he might still be sent overseas.


"The rumor was that we were going to be shipped to Japan," he says. "And then Hiroshima/Nagasaki came along, and that ended the war completely."

Van Heuvelen finished the symphony and even got it in front of Leonard Bernstein a few years after the war. But he wound up getting a job teaching music in the public schools of Bismarck, N.D.

"So I didn't have a lot of time to promote it," he says. "It pretty much sat on the shelf for 70 years."


The story could have ended there. Click the audio link on this page to learn how Van Heuvelen's opus was revived decades later and finally saw its debut.

TRANSCRIPT:
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As we look forward to Veterans Day, we turn now to the story of one veteran for whom this week was more than he ever dreamed. Tina Antolini has our story.

TINA ANTOLINI, BYLINE: When you reach a certain age, big life surprises tend to be few and far between. Unless you're Harold Van Heuvelen.

HAROLD VAN HEUVELEN: I'm a 93-year-old codger. Still kicking.

ANTOLINI: Van, as everyone calls him, has had a pretty blockbuster week. A week of dreams fulfilled. The story of Van's dream starts more than 70 years ago.

HEUVELEN: December 7, 1941.

ANTOLINI: Pearl Harbor. Van enlisted. He was posted to a base in New Orleans as an instructor for recruits, training men who were being shipped out to Europe and the South Pacific.

HEUVELEN: When the peace came along in Europe in April of 1945, we just practically sat there without anything to do. Most of the gentlemen drew house plans, because they were thinking they were going to get out of the service pretty soon. And I wrote a symphony.

ANTOLINI: Van started composing at age eight, and studied music in college, writing a violin concerto when he was only a junior. But the symphony was a huge undertaking - more than 200 pages of music, which he wrote thinking he still might be sent overseas.

HEUVELEN: The rumor was that we were going to be shipped to Japan. And then Hiroshima, Nagasaki came along and that ended the war completely.

ANTOLINI: Van finished the symphony, even showed it to Leonard Bernstein a few years after the war. But he wound up getting a job teaching music in the public schools in Bismarck, North Dakota.

HEUVELEN: And so I didn't have a lot of time to promote it, you know. So, it's pretty much sat on the shelf for 70 years.

ANTOLINI: Literally, on the shelf.

BOB VAN HEUVELEN: He had it on the bookshelf in our living room and I would see it. And, of course, as a kid you see a lot of books, and so you don't really take notice.

ANTOLINI: That's Bob Van Heuvelen, Van's son. It wasn't until 2003 when Bob was helping his dad go through the house after Van's wife died, that they stumbled on the symphony again.

HEUVELEN: So, I said when are you going to have this played? And he said, well, you know, maybe that's something you boys will have to do after I'm gone. And I said, well, that's not OK.

ANTOLINI: The first thing Bob did was find someone to create a computer music version of the symphony score.


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: Now, Bob Van Heuvelen is a lobbyist and consultant in Washington, D.C. And he happened to be in a meeting with Michigan Senator Carl Levin.

HEUVELEN: He said I'm a great classical music lover. Would you send me a disc?

ANTOLINI: The next thing Bob knew, Senator Levin had written to the Pentagon, asking if they'd get the symphony performed.


MAJOR TOD ADDISON: We're always grateful when people on the Hill think of us.

ANTOLINI: Major Tod Addison is the deputy commander for the United States Army Bands, and conducts its orchestra. When a senator asks you to perform something, you don't want to say no, but what if this music just wasn't any good?

ADDISON: I was pretty worried, to tell you the truth. And thankfully, as soon as I looked at it, it was tonal. It was accessible. It was very neo-romantic. And I think I said the word Brahms right away, because it was just so broad.

ANTOLINI: And so Bob Van Heuvelen got a letter back saying the concert was on, and asking...

HEUVELEN: Do you think your dad can make it? I said I don't think all the horses in the country could hold him back.

(APPLAUSE)

ADDISON: And now we will perform for you the world premiere of the Van Heuvelen Symphony No. 1.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: Van is in the front row as the symphony begins in a concert hall on Fort Meyer in Northern Virginia. He's wearing his old World War II army uniform, which he insisted on resurrecting for the occasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: Each movement of Van's symphony addresses a different era of the war: from Hitler's rise to power to America's entrance into the war, to the peace following Japan's surrender.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: Major Addison says there are glorious, uplifting moments in the music.

ADDISON: But at the same time, right about the time you're getting used to the glorious full chords, he changes back to, yes, but it was uneasy. Even after the war, it might have been wonderful that we were finished, but there was a great uneasiness as to now what?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: Van's expression is serious - until the theme of his favorite movement is played. Then his face is transformed by a wide-mouthed grin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTOLINI: At the end, he gets a standing ovation, and is led to the front, leaning on his cane to address the audience.

(APPLAUSE)

HEUVELEN: Thank you for coming, and God bless you. And I hope that God will bless you as much as he's blessed me.

(APPLAUSE)

ANTOLINI: It was a day that Harold Van Heuvelen says is proof, your dreams can come true. It just might take - 70 years. For NPR News, I'm Tina Antolini.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

source: NPR
LISTEN: has clips of symphony
lil_insanity 12th-Nov-2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, this made me cry. I wonder if there's somewhere to listen to the whole symphony without the narration? If somebody has a link please post it. :)

I think you need the "good news" tag. What a lovely story.
fenris_lorsrai 12th-Nov-2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
added "good news"

there's a bunch of similar comments on the NPR article, but nobody seems to have link for full recording.
darth_eldritch 12th-Nov-2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
Awww, look how happy he is.

This is one cool story.
shhh_its_s3cr3t 12th-Nov-2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
Awwwww that's some faith restored in humanity I needed! <3
justspaz 12th-Nov-2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
This is so beautiful, I'm having so many happy tears!
very_veggie 12th-Nov-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Aw, this is such a happy story. I'm so glad he got to hear his symphony performed before he passed :)
schexyschteve 12th-Nov-2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
It's like a real life Mr. Holland's Opus! :') And Carl Levin is awesome, as always.
masakochan 13th-Nov-2012 12:19 am (UTC)
fishnet_hamster 13th-Nov-2012 04:33 am (UTC)
The part where he sings and signs "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" to his son always hits me in the feels like a brick.
fishnet_hamster 13th-Nov-2012 04:19 am (UTC)
A bit OT, but I thought Mr. Holland's Opus was based on a true story, though?
schexyschteve 13th-Nov-2012 04:21 am (UTC)
According to google, it's a work of fiction.
fishnet_hamster 13th-Nov-2012 04:24 am (UTC)
Aw, bummer. I always thought it was based on a true story.
countrygirl_914 13th-Nov-2012 12:39 am (UTC)
I saw this on CNN this afternoon. Video!

:')
aviv_b 13th-Nov-2012 01:02 am (UTC)
That made me teary-eyed. Thank you for the link.
johnjie 13th-Nov-2012 03:58 am (UTC)
This so much like like Mr Holland's Opus, but 1000x better because it's real :)

(I was a band kid, we watched Mr Holland's Opus every second year on band camp and every time our band director, an ex-army man who did 25 years service, would cry at the end)
mschaos <313th-Nov-2012 04:03 am (UTC)
this made me cry

thank you for sharing this
fishnet_hamster 13th-Nov-2012 04:26 am (UTC)
This is a fantastic story, and his symphony is really good. I love the thought of a musical piece that tells the story of World War 2. I wonder if there's full audio somewhere.

Thank you for sharing, OP!
jeweledvixen 13th-Nov-2012 05:39 am (UTC)
This is all kinds of awesome. It's a very touching story. I, too, would love to hear the whole symphony. I hope they release the entire thing on video.
placetohide 13th-Nov-2012 10:01 am (UTC)
This made me so happy! :D
atomic_joe2 13th-Nov-2012 10:01 am (UTC)
Better late than never eh? I love these old boys. They must laugh at us and the way we worry about silly things like relationships and laptop batteries like they're the end of the world when they had the actual end of the world on their minds when they were younger than us.
pleasure_past 13th-Nov-2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Awwww. This is wonderful. :')
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