In 1945, Harold “Van” Van Heuvelen was in New Orleans waiting for his orders that would have shipped him to Japan as World War II neared a climax.
Because of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Van Heuvelen’s orders never came through.
The former Bismarck Public School music department chairman and teacher had some time on his hands — so he wrote a symphony — a symphony that Sunday will be performed for the first time, 67 years later.
“We still had to report to duty every morning, but the Army told us to find something to keep ourselves busy,” he said.
“Most guys started drawing house plans. I wrote a symphony.”
Van Heuvelen, a Huron, S.D., native, left the Army a full colonel and taught in Bismarck schools from 1946 to 1988.
His composition, “Symphony No. 1,” will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday at Bruker Hall in Fort Myer, Va., by the U.S. Army Band.
Van Heuvelen said it took him three months to write the symphony, a four-movement piece that details the story of WWII from beginning to end.
He said it’s been an interesting journey from the time he penned the work by hand to last year.
He said the work had sat on a shelf until his wife died in 2003. His sons were helping him clean out some things at his Montana home when they discovered the bound copy of the original score.
Van Heuvelen’s son, Bob, said they had the work transcribed into a digital format in 2011.
Until then, he had never heard it played. “I tried a few times to get it published, not very hard though,” he said.
Through a couple chance meetings with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the the Senate Armed Services committee, Bob Van Heuvelen was able to discuss his father’s composition.
After hearing the symphony, Levin requested the U.S. Army Band consider performing it and in May, the band agreed.
Now 93, Harold Van Heuvelen said when he first heard the digitized version of his symphony, “It wasn’t very refined, but I loved it. The thing that made me the happiest was my two sons loved it.”
Both of Van Heuvelen’s sons played in the Bismarck High School Orchestra, a group he conducted for 38 years.
Today, Van Heuvelen will hear his work under full orchestration as the Army band rehearses it for Sunday’s performance.
He will be joined by about two dozen members of his family at its premiere
He said he’s both nervous and excited to hear it live. The first movement relates to the worldwide build-up to the war. “It was a sad, sad period,” he said.
The second movement relays the hustle and bustle in America as the nation ramped up to being drawn into the conflict.
The third movement is the war itself, something that has personal significance for Van Heuvelen. His brother was in the force that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
“He survived ... there were a lot of prayers.”
The fourth movement, his favorite, conveys “glorious peace. I have a lot of beautiful music in that movement ... it’s my favorite part.”
On Sunday, a lifelong dream will be realized.
“It’s just really amazing,” he said. “It’s amazing my sons could pull this off. I never, never thought this would ever happen.”