A few months ago, we began a partnership with Resilient Me, a Georgetown nonprofit offering creative programming for veterans. During one of their Equestrian Therapy sessions, we were fortunate to meet William Childress, a veteran who has found solace in composing music. Notes and phrases constantly flow from his brain to the piano, but he had never seen his compositions on paper.

William recently told us that working with ACG to write out his music has been “a dream come true. I couldn’t express it any better.”

We’re delighted to share his story with you as part of our “Hopeful Things” series.

I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1940. On the main street, vendors would park their trucks and sell merchandise. They would line up the street. My pop was a doctor, a pharmacist. Whenever he gave me an injection, he would pay me 50 cents. And for 50 cents I would go to two movies, five cents each, then go to the restaurant and buy a hamburger and french fries for 35 cents. What a life.

My mother was a concert pianist. She attended conservatory in the northeast. She was very strict when it came to teaching me piano. All my brothers were artists, musical. I started playing when I was three and a half, but my mother was so strict as a teacher that I eventually quit. But she didn’t mind me listening to jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues. She just let me do my thing. Because my mother also taught voice, the students would come by and sing in German, Italian, French, and Spanish. That’s where I picked up my desire to learn languages. At 11 years of age, I met one of my favorite French opera singers.

I joined the army in November, 1960. After basic training, I attended the school for medics and later was selected for the U.S. Army Medical Service School at Fort Sam Houston. Upon graduation, immediately we took off for Vietnam with the 12th Evacuation Hospital. I specialized in treating combat casualties. After Vietnam I got stationed in Germany and spent time with people from all over Europe.

Because of my experience in Vietnam, today I suffer from PTSD. I take equestrian therapy to help me deal with it. And I think to some degree, my music helps me.

Even though I know what I went through in Vietnam, if I could do it all over again, even now at my age, I would do it.

After spending over 13 years in the medical field, there were no wars going on. I did work with the flight surgeons taking care of pilots, but it got boring, and I thought, “It’s time for me to leave the army and go study art.” 

So it was at art school (CCSU in Corpus Christi, Texas) where I met my wife, and received my bachelor’s degree in studio arts, specializing in sculpturing.

No matter what I’m doing, music is in my mind, compositions come to my mind. How that music comes, I have no idea. It can just be a few notes at a time. I love sitting at the piano and bringing it to life.

For some reason, I know that every time I play the guitar or trumpet, compositions are going to come from it, and then I go to the piano and put it together. I can hear something, and if it catches my ear as I listen to intonations of a voice, it turns to music.

I start figuring out notes. What I love about my playing is the natural and unrestricted manner I approach the instrument. I feel that my compositions at times are inexhaustible, one right after the other. It boggles my mind how this happens.

I get emotional. Sometimes, as I listen to the chord changes, my eyes get teary. And I would love to convey this feeling to whoever is listening, though I do have moments when I get a little embarrassed that my eyes get teary. But I just feel that music so deep down. I can’t imagine my life without it, and I am thankful to God that my wife doesn’t mind when I’m trying to figure out changes and chords. I’m forever grateful to ACG’s Travis Marcum and John Churchill for spending time with me, encouraging me, and helping me gain the confidence as a piano player, because I used to think that my style of playing was pretty elementary.

At 79, this is a dream I’ve had all my life that’s finally coming true. I found two great musicians that have actually invested their precious time with me, and helped me to visualize what my compositions look like with notes. Written. It’s amazing to see that. These two have helped me realize that there’s nothing elementary about my playing. It’s just my style.


When I see the sun going up from the horizon in my backyard, I see the beautiful dark orange as it starts going above and lightens. I watch it rise, and then at noon it reaches the high point. In the evening, the sun is not as bright, and gradually loses its intensity as it goes below the horizon. It produces some radiant patterns in the clouds. Then nighttime falls.

I remember I was sitting at the piano, playing. I don’t even think I sat down immediately after seeing the sunrise. I just started playing, and as it developed, it reminded me of the dark orange sunrise and the sunset with its beautiful hues. What I wanted to replicate in that music was the colors. That’s where the art comes in.

I want to tell anyone who performs Sunrise to internalize it. Improvise. Play it with the feeling you’d feel as you would see a sunrise like this. Don’t play it identically each time. Improvise notes and expressions to suit the day. I would use the first few bars from the melody, then let it go off into a different path.