A Musician Writes A Soundtrack For His Grandparents' Love Story "I wanted a chance to have other conversations with him," Peter Miller says of his late grandfather, whose letters to his wife inspired Miller's new album with We Are the Willows.

A Musician Writes A Soundtrack For His Grandparents' Love Story

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Next we're going to hear a love story told through letters and music. Peter Miller is the founder and lead singer of a band from Minneapolis called We Are the Willows. The songs on the band's new album, "Picture (Portrait)", are inspired by the hundreds of letters sent to Miller's grandmother, Verlie, by his grandfather, Alvin. Peter Miller spoke to NPR's Leah Scarpelli about his grandparents' romance.

LEAH SCARPELLI, BYLINE: It was 1941 in rural Minnesota. America was about to go to war. Alvin Miller was 20. Verlie Branstner, 18.

PETER MILLER: His siblings had told him about Verlie Branstner and that she was, like, really beautiful and he had to meet her. And so he took a job splitting wood for Verlie's father. They called him in for lunch. That's when he first saw my grandma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "PICTURE - PORTRAIT -")

WE ARE THE WILLOWS: (Singing) The reverend he, his family were gathered there. You had paint hiding in your hair.

MILLER: He's later talked about it like his heart fell to the floor, and he was overwhelmed by her.

SCARPELLI: It wasn't until the following year that Alvin Miller and Verlie Branstner met again.

MILLER: He calls that their first date. And he, like, drove her to work. In some of the letters he talks about, you know, kissing her and, like, she would say that they needed to take five-minute breaks from kissing.

SCARPELLI: Just months later, Alvin Miller left with the Army to fight in World War II.

MILLER: He asked my grandma to marry him before he left. And she said no on the grounds of, like, they still didn't know each other well enough.

SCARPELLI: So for four years Alvin and Verlie wrote to one another. Some of his darkest correspondence comes from his time in the South Pacific. And only his letters to Verlie survive. There are over 350 of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "PICTURE - PORTRAIT -")

ARE THE WILLOWS: (Singing) Oh boy, if you could see what I am seeing now.

SCARPELLI: Alvin Miller made it through the Pacific campaign and then back to the U.S.

MILLER: When he first got home to Minnesota, he saw her. You know, he said that he, like, kissed her so hard that she wanted to marry him.

SCARPELLI: Alvin and Verlie married, had children, then grandchildren.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "PICTURE - PORTRAIT - ")

ARE THE WILLOWS: (Singing) We will have a son. He will have a son. He will be our grandson.

SCARPELLI: Peter Miller says that in first reading the letters then writing an album inspired by them, he wanted to get to know his grandfather more. Alvin Miller died two years ago.

MILLER: I wanted a chance to sort of, like, have other conversations with him. And in some ways, this seemed like the best way.

SCARPELLI: And Peter says his grandmother, Verlie, approves.

MILLER: She said that I captured my grandpa's voice, and that she feels like she is stepping back into time and reliving these things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR MS. BRANTSNER")

ARE THE WILLOWS: (Singing) Dear Ms. Brantsner, you are on my mind all the time.

SCARPELLI: "Picture (Portrait)" by We Are the Willows is out this week. Leah Scarpelli, NPR News.

MILLER: Literally the last letter that I have of his is a week before their wedding. And he is writing her to say that he just got a haircut, and he's taking the bus up to northern Minnesota, and he'll see her really soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR MS. BRANTSNER")

ARE THE WILLOWS: (Singing) And our intentions do what we want them to. A 21-gun salute could bring me back to you. In a casket...

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