93-year-old retired army colonel finally hears symphony he composed at end of WWII

In 1945, World War II soldier Harold Van Heuvelen wrote a symphony.

"We just practically sat there without anything to do," Heuvelen told NPR of his position as a recruit instructor at the end of the war. "So I decided to write a symphony."

This week, the 93-year-old retired colonel in the Army Reserve heard his "Symphony No. 1, Opus 7" performed for the first time, at the U.S. Army Orchestra's Veterans Day concert — and received a standing ovation almost 70 years in the making.

"It opened up a new world for me at age 93," Van Heuvelen told the Kalamazoo Gazette after hearing his four-movement piece performed. "I'm probably one of the most happy 93-year-olds in the country."

Heuvelen's son Bob, a former chief of staff, discovered the opus in the early 2000s and made it his mission to have the work performed. He contacted Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who then petitioned the Army on his behalf.

Major Tod. A. Addision conducted the orchestra.

"It was a tonal piece of music, very accessible, very melodic, neo-romantic," Addison said of Heuvelen's opus.

Roll Call's Neda Semnani was even more ecstatic about the piece:

"And the symphony is good. It is really good. So good, it will make you cry," she wrote.

Dozens of family members attended the concert this week to hear Heuvelen's masterpiece, structured to tell the story of war — "from sadness to celebration."

"The opening bars of the first movement portray the depth of sadness experienced in those years prior to World War II," Heuvelen told NPR.

With the crowd on its feet, Heuvelen was ushered to the stage.

"Thank you for coming, and God bless you. And I hope that God will bless you as much as he's blessed me," Heuvelen told the cheering crowd.

"You know, I think I could have made it as a composer," Heuvelen, who once studied under composer Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood music academy in Lennox, Massachusetts, later told Roll Call. "But it would've taken a lot of courage. With hindsight, I wish I would have gone right to work [promoting the symphony] and had it played. I should have just somehow taken a leave of absence from my teaching job or something, taken the time to do it. But that's hindsight. You can't go back and do it."