He sits in row F on this Sunday afternoon, toward the center of the hall, with hundreds of empty seats around as the music rolls over him [at the rehearsal].
He draws it in, this music from a half-century ago, this symphony of war and despair and peace and joy. Dale Dykins, 85, is listening to his own music of World War II.
On this Sunday afternoon, he listens intently as the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra performs his own composition, "Symphonic Suite." He seems to feel the music, sitting there in row F, watching the animated conductor, Howard Skinner, pull the music from the violins, the oboes and the flutes.
He closes his eyes occasionally, memories obviously rushing in, bringing back those moments when he was a bombardier on the B-17s, flying out of England and hitting targets in Germany and France. And later, the times when he was a student, living one summer in the woods of Michigan, where the piece was born.
Dykins was a music professor at the University of Northern Colorado for 33 years and came back this week from Seattle to listen to his music, to recall, to reminisce.
Drafted out of college in 1941, Dykins flew 35 bombing missions and returned to tell about it. More than that, he returned to write this music.
"They sent us all off in 1941 to fight in the war," Dykins says, "and we came back as different people in 1945. War did things to young men, and we couldn't help but change."
Dykins was decorated with medals for his missions and memories of new friends, some who made it through the war, some who didn't. It was difficult to return to the normal world after the war, the young musician discovered. He was exhausted physically and emotionally, and it was only with the help of a friend that he survived.
The friend sent Dykins off to the Michigan woods, to an isolated cabin, where he could relax and rest.
It was there that the music began.
"The suite saved me," Dykins says now, sitting in row F, listening. "It saved my life and my sanity."
He began writing the "Symphonic Suite," composing in his head, composing at the piano, even on the train, where he incorporated daily sounds and memories into the piece. He says that when a composer begins writing music, it is consuming.
"You don't sleep well at night, the music running through your brain all the time," Dykins said, "but it also makes it easier for you to cope."
The suite to be performed Tuesday night in Greeley has three movements, which Dykins explains:
But it isn't a sad, dreary piece. People who listen say they are uplifted, excited.
And so is Dykins on this Sunday afternoon. As he listens, he whispers, "Absolutely wonderful. The best performance it's ever gotten."
And so Dale Dykins sits here, in row F, and lets the music sweep him back to good times and bad, of memories hard and soft, to recall those days of young men returning from war.