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Joplin High School's Music Program--One Year Later

RANDY: When we last spoke to Joplin High School Choral Director Eric Eichenberger, he and his chorus were at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield preparing a fundraising concert for the Joplin Schools music program.  When I spoke with Eric last week, it was in the cafeteria--and music-rehearsal room--of the temporary 11th- and 12th-grade school facility housed in the formerly-vacant Shopko building at North Park Mall in Joplin.  I asked him to talk about what they were able to salvage last year from the ruins of the former Joplin High School at 20th Street and Indiana.

ERIC EICHENBERGER: We had a pretty extensive music library.  And they discovered that the value of that, with some of the things that were no longer in print, especially for orchestra and band in particular, it would be of benefit togo in and try to retrieve some of that.  And so they did.  A company came to estimate that it was probably close to $800,000 worth of music.  Some of the music was unusable because of the mold and water damage.  I would say it probably sat there for three months at least.  I think they were able to retrieve a fe instruments, but very limited stuff.

RANDY: Eric says that, somewhat surprisingly, about 60 percent of their sheet music and scores were able to be salvaged.  But much else was lost.

ERIC: We lost risers, platforms, pianos, choir robes--just a wide variety.  And the band and orchestra lost a significant amount of stuff--they lost these incredibly valuable instruments.

RANDY: One precious choral-music memento was uncovered by Joplin senior Tori Mitchell just after the tornado. She, her cousin and a friend were able to get past the National Guard troops in the school parking lot and crawl over the rubble of the fallen choir-room wall to see if there was anything they could save.  Tori suddenly saw, half-buried, something blue and shiny.  A bit of digging revealed the first-place show choir competition trophy the Joplin High School choir had won in 2011.

ERIC: And a lot of the kids, right after the storm, wanted something tangible to remember that buildng with.  And this year all the graduates are receiving a brick from the original building that has been cleaned and painted with a scene in front of the old school.  So it's kind of a nice sentimental token that they can take with them from the old building.

RANDY: Fundraising and donation efforts, of course, are continuing, says Eric Eichenberger.  School music departments from around the state and across the country have held fundraisers and sent checks.

ERIC: We received a $25,000 grant from the 20th Century Fox/"Glee" Give-A Note promotion. 20th Century Fox teamed with the Music Educators National Conference, and they awarded schools that were in need.  We were one of the first-place winners and we won a $25,000 grant to use as we needed to for our departments.  And we've had costume companies that have donated items.  Barry Manilow and his foundation brought in some pianos.  We've had just an outpouring of support, and it has continued on throughout the year.

RANDY: Some of the lost and damagefd items have been replaced, but as Eric says...

ERIC: We're nowhere near where we were.

RANDY: The biggest item requiring replacement, of course, is the school building itself, and that's going to take a while.

ERIC: We're scheduled to move into a new building in August of 2014.

RANDY:  But that's two years away.  How have the students adapted to the stress and chaos of having to attend a temporary, replacement high school?

ERIC: It has been challenging, but the students have an amazing resilience.  I still am kind of amazed at the obstacles that they may have had to overcome just to be coming into school every day.

RANDY: Losing their homes and having to relocate is one major obstacle.

LISA BRUMLEY: Yeah, it's been really difficult, because I'm living in Carl Junction right now and I used to live--

RANDY: Did you lose your house?

LISA: Yeah. I used to live two minutes away from the high school, and now I live 15 minutes--with no traffic--away.  And I also have to go to the other, "9-10" campus for first hour, and then drive all the way over here.  And it's been really hard going with that, because gas is just going up!

RANDY: And despite the great renovation job performed  on the Shopko building, there are many temporary walls that don't reach all the way to the ceiling.

LISA: With the walls not going to the ceiling, you hear everything that goes on around you!

RANDY: Joplin junior Madison Kendall agrees.

MADISON KENDALL: You can feel that it's temporary, and the walls don't go all the way up to the ceiling, so it's very LOUD in all of the classrooms.  And that's rough.

RANDY: The sound of singers and musicians rehearsing in the cafeteria don't stay in the cafeteria either.  But as Eric Eichenberger suggested, the mood of the students I talked to is, overall, quite upbeat. 

LISA: It's still really cool.  You know that they did their best.

RANDY: Meanwhile the needs are great throughout the Joplin school system.  You're encouraged to visit www.donorschoose.org to see what Joplin teachers need (and to donate funds or specific materials to meet those needs).