In Joplin, Mo., a tornado may have destroyed the city, but it did not kill the human spirit, especially not for the 139 members and staff of the Eagle Pride Band.
On May 22, 2011, a massive tornado struck Joplin, Mo., killing at least 156 people and damaging 8,000 buildings. Along its path of destruction, which stretched almost 1 mile wide and 7 miles long within the city limits, the tornado completely destroyed Joplin High School along with several other structures. In the wake of such a tragedy, how does a city—let alone a marching band—move forward?
Exactly one month after the tornado, Halftime Magazine spoke with Rick Castor, district director of instrumental music and the high school band director, about the losses from the tornado and also about hopes for the future.
Halftime: How much did the music department lose in the tornado?
Castor: Right now, I’m standing in the parking lot [of the high school]. … Everyday I come by; I can’t keep from coming over. Every day there’s more and more down. … At first the lower half of the walls were still up; now part of mine is down; the choir is down; part of the drum room is down; the roof has crashed in quite a bit in the band room; the music library room had beams crashing down on it. And our poor pianos …
There are so many looters coming in. I can look in to see that someone’s broken into my office. … I was hoping we could go in to save stuff. We had just gotten our Long Ranger and AV system. That was sitting on the floor in there. We had a new electric jazz guitar that was sitting in there. All of our new marching music— our Christmas march, which was written just for us—was in a locker. All that would’ve been fine. But now the door is open, and I have no idea what’s gone.
To replace everything for the entire music department would be around $3.7 million. To replace all the instruments is $400,000 to $500,000—that doesn’t count the pianos. It’s $100,000 for just marching and concert percussion. Our music library is $600,000 to $800,000 to replace. It was the second-oldest library in the state.
Halftime: What are the steps you’re taking to rebuild the band program?
Castor: We’re trying to figure out how to reschedule and how to plan everything because our schools are going to be split quite a bit apart. Freshmen and sophomores are in one building on one side of town, juniors and seniors in a building on the other side of town.
As of now, we’re planning to go to the same competitions that we have been. We’re in the process of getting uniforms and in the process of getting instruments.
We’ve had 15 to 17 different places offer us their uniforms. But our assistant district superintendent came up to me and said, “We want to have the band in brand-new uniforms if there’s anyway possible.”
I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s usually a year’s process.”
The company we bought them from before [Stanbury Uniforms] said they would try to get it done because everyone is volunteering to work overtime to get it done.
Halftime: Why did the assistant superintendent find it important to have brand-new uniforms?
Castor: We’re the most visible part of our school. We perform at every football game. We do three field competitions, seven parades a year, a Christmas concert, a spring concert; we have a winter guard and a winter drum line. … It was a really active music program. We’re in the public a lot, so she wants everyone to know that Joplin is going to go on. She wants everyone to see that the band’s ready to go.
Halftime: How are the students doing?
Castor: Sixty-two percent of our entire student population is displaced. … There are so many families—they didn’t just lose their home; they also lost their job because the businesses where they worked were gone. …
[Still] they’re all excited. We just had a picnic. We had the mockup of our new uniform there. It’s really cool looking.
Halftime: What help have you received so far?
Castor: People have just been wonderful. There have been thousands and thousands of volunteers coming and helping [the city]. A few of us are volunteering this weekend. You can’t go hardly anywhere without somebody asking you if you need something.
[As for the band,] we’ve had several instrument companies helping out, but most are able to help with only smaller things. There’s a group called Hot Topic Foundation in Los Angeles. They were the first to call me and said they wanted to replace all the instruments. [They agreed to donate $100,000 for marching and concert percussion.]
[Webb City] raised over $12,000 for our band. Another area band just had a fish fry. One guy caught all the fish and donated $1,500 to our band. One group in Illinois … they’re raising money and putting it into McCormick’s, which is giving 40% off everything, and the other band is paying for it.
Mike Lomax, a professional mouthpiece maker for woodwind instruments … he told me that he was going to make mouthpieces for all of [the reed students].
A color guard in Nashville is donating a new floor tarp and several sets of flags. Another group is sending us winter guard costumes and a couple sets of flags. There’s no way I could remember everything everyone’s doing.
Halftime: How can we help?
Castor: One of the best ways would be to donate money. That way I can control the quality of what we get. We’ve had some people offer us pianos that they were ready to take to the junkyard. They needed so much work that we didn’t have the money to fix them.
We’re hoping to raise enough money, so [the students] don’t have to pay the band fees and instrument rental fees. … They just don’t have enough money to pay for anything right now.
Halftime: With everything that you’ve gone through, what would be some words of wisdom you could share?
Castor: Always try to be patient and don’t let stress get to you. … I’ve seen too many people stress out about little things. That’s why the Missouri Bandmasters want me to write a book about how to deal with this stuff.
If I were to write a book, I would call it, “The wind can’t stop the music.” No matter what happens we’re just going to keep going and get stronger and better.
Note from the Editor: Halftime Magazine is joining the efforts to help Joplin rebuild its band program by collecting and donating cash toward student band fees. Through Aug. 13, 2011, $1 from every subscription will be donated to the Joplin Band. In total, we are attempting to raise $11,815 for the band. Click here to find out how you can help us in our endeavor.