Joplin: One Year Later

Though rebuilding is still taking place in Joplin, Mo., following the devastating tornado in May 2011, the marching band plays on—with instruments for every student and more performances than previous years—thanks to community support from near and far.

Photos courtesy of the Joplin (Mo.) High School Band

One year ago, Monica Reynolds drove her two sons home from Joplin (Mo.) High School, directly after their musical performances at the graduation ceremony. Moments later, the mile-wide tornado—with a six-mile wide path— tore through the city. The high school was flattened, dozens of houses were destroyed, and 116 lives were lost.

The Reynolds family was safe from the destruction by a mere 13 blocks. “If we would have been running 10 minutes behind schedule, we would have been driving straight through it,” Reynolds says. “I am just very thankful that my family was safe, and I am also thankful because it could have been so much worse,” Reynolds says. “I think as a town, it has been amazing to see people come together, and instead of being just a large city, we have become a community.”

Not everyone in the band was as lucky as Reynolds. Members lost their homes and classmates in the destruction. One year later, several are still learning to cope and move forward. “We have had several close friends displaced and are even still displaced now as they wait for their homes to finish being rebuilt,” Reynolds says.

Bringing Hope

In the midst of the struggle, the band has been an integral part of bringing hope and joy to the community. As a result and despite the odds, the group has not only maintained the same amount of performances as past years but has also been given new opportunities to play.

“We’ve actually probably had more performances this year [than previous years],” says Rick Castor, who has been the director of bands at Joplin for 10 years. “As everything re-opens in town, they want us to come and play for it.”

The band has played for grand openings of businesses like Walmart, Walgreens and Home Depot. Reynolds says her son has played in at least five grand re-openings.

Another unique performance occurred at the Chief’s NFL stadium during one of Joplin’s football games. Joplin and the opposing team’s band played a show together. “They weren’t ‘enemies’ at that point,” Reynolds says. “They were all working together, and they even spelled out the word ‘hope’ on the field.”

Receiving Aid

None of these opportunities would be possible, of course, without the incredible amount of support the band has received throughout the last year. While the task of rebuilding a music program complete with instruments, uniforms, music, etc., may have seemed daunting at first, people all over the world made it possible for the band to continue playing music and performing.

Castor said that even though the process of rebuilding has been slow, the amount of support they have received over the last year has been remarkable. “We’re probably in better shape now than we have ever been, instrumentwise,” Castor says.

On the first day of school this year, the band played at a teacher/faculty event. “Seeing our band standing there with instruments, able to play the school fight song was just fantastic for us—to see an instrument in every kid’s hand—that was really cool,” Reynolds says.

Celebrities like Barry Manilow donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in instruments and uniforms, and the city of Branson, Mo., held a telethon that raised $45,000 to go toward repairing the instruments that were donated from individuals and schools around the United States.

“There are still so many people out there who are still willing to help,” Castor says. “It is just amazing.”

For example, Castor says that a family from San Diego has started an automatic monthly withdrawal of $50 that goes toward the band program. He also recently received a call from a woman in Oregon who wants to start a fundraiser to hopefully bring the students to the Rose Parade in a few years.

Reynolds has also experienced the extraordinary amount of support for her community. “People from all over the world have come to lend a hand,” she says. “You don’t see that every day. In fact, there are still people here in town who moved here just to help us rebuild, and it is just amazing that people would give up their lives to come and help us.”

With all of the support, the students were able to participate in the band without paying fees, and the band has been able to keep a relatively similar travel and performance schedule as prior years.

Logistical Nightmares

However, scheduling daily rehearsals and facilities take a lot of time and planning, and transportation costs have doubled because the students have to bus to and from different parts of town in order to get to the facilities they use for rehearsals.

The freshmen and sophomore students go to school in an old middle school close to the temporary band room, which is in Joplin Memorial Hall—a multipurpose concert and sports venue in the area. However, the juniors and seniors attend school across town in a mall. To account for traveling, freshmen and sophomores start classes at 8:15 a.m. and the juniors and seniors begin at 8:30 a.m.

For the band students, however, the day begins earlier. These students start class at 8:05 a.m., and Castor has a lot of respect for these students because of the amount of time they spend traveling each day and because the length of their day is longer than most students.

The commuting to and from different locations has decreased participation in the band by about 30 members, especially among juniors and seniors. Students need to arrange their own rides to Memorial Hall for rehearsal in the morning and be bused back to school, though not until after second hour. “If their schedule doesn’t work with that, they can’t be in [the band],” Castor says. Castor spends a large amount of time in his car, driving between all three facilities daily. “I have put in a little over 2,000 miles just this school year, just going to work,” Castor says.

During the fall marching season, traveling to practice on a football field was another sacrifice of time and sleep. Four days during the school week, the percussion and tuba students had the following routine: arrive at 6:15 a.m., load all of the equipment onto the truck, drive to the football stadium (which was not attached to any of the aforementioned campuses), unload, rehearse, reload the truck, drive back to the middle of town, unload and put everything away.

As a result, rehearsals were much shorter than usual. “Still, the band did very well this year,” Castor says. “It was one of the best years we’ve had. We had a lot less rehearsal time, but I think the kids worked harder.”

A Bright Future

One of the biggest lessons Castor has learned through this experience has been to be very patient, very thankful and keep very good records of everything that you have. The hardest part of the music program to recover has been all of the music that was lost. Before the tornado, the band was in the process of archiving all of its music files onto the computer, but they had only completed a small percentage when the tornado struck.

Even through this logistical struggle, Castor’s voice rings with optimism and thankfulness for all of the support and encouragement they have received and continue to receive. He hopes that in the next five years, the number of students in the band will increase to the 150’s and that the students continue to get better scores at contests.

The future looks bright for Joplin High School, and with new bonds recently passed, Castor says that construction on a new building begins this month (May 2012), and it will be ready in August 2014.

Help for Henryville and Joplin

Joplin High School isn’t the only program that needs your help. In March 2012, tornados hit southern Indiana, with the city of Henryville being one of the worst affected. Its high school was among the buildings that were severely damaged. The twister stayed on the ground for more than 50 miles and generated winds to 170 mph.

Similar to the situation in Joplin, the music industry has banded together to help the high school band with equipment and cash donations. Carmel (Ind.) Bands, was among the first to provide support, including thousands of dollars and its winter guard tarp. But both Joplin and Henryville continue to need your help.

To donate to Joplin, make checks payable to Joplin High School Band Boosters and mail to:
Joplin High School Band Boosters, Inc.
P. O. Box 3303
Joplin, MO 64803

To donate to Henryville, make checks payable to Henryville Band Boosters and mail to:
Henryville Band Boosters
213 N Ferguson St.
Henryville, IN 47126

About the Author

Lydia Ness graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., with a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and integrated media and a minor in biblical studies. Lydia has experience in visual, print and broadcast journalism as well as public relations. She has performed in the Glassmen, the Bluecoats and The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps as well as the Riverside Community College indoor percussion ensemble.

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