By Kelsey Ryan
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Barry Manilow presented Joplin schools with a $300,000 instrument donation on behalf of the Manilow Music Project on Thursday morning at Junge Field to the cheers of hundreds of Joplin band, choir and orchestra students.
“I’ve been looking out at all these young people here,” Manilow said. “I wonder, do you guys know who I am? Well, back in the 1970s, I was Justin Bieber.”
Manilow briefly sang some of his song “Copacabana” before telling the crowd how the Manilow Music Project began about six years ago when he heard about cuts to music programs at public schools. He spoke about how the music program at his high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., had an impact on him as a musician.
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
“I know what music does for young people,” Manilow said. “Their grades go up, they learn to interact with other students, and they become better people. It happened to me.”
Manilow said he saw that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was in Joplin, so he yelled “move our trucks” as the cue to send the three truckloads of brand new instruments at Junge Field to the schools.
“I can only hope that bringing music to Joplin can make it all a little easier to bear,” he told the students.
Rick Castor, band director for Joplin High School, said he was excited to meet Manilow. He said the donation will make a huge affect on the program in the wake of the May 22 tornado.
“We lost all of our practice room pianos, and we had no way to practice for solos and ensembles. We also got a new concert grand piano that will be staged at Memorial (Hall) until we get our new auditorium built at the new high school.”
Manilow said he was happy to see the students of Joplin who will be directly helped by his donation.
“It makes me want to do this every morning if I could,” Manilow said in an interview after the program.
He said he was impressed by the people of Joplin and all they’ve accomplished since the storm.
“They are the definition of the word ‘community.’ To be able to go through something like this and to still smile and be so uplifting and inspiring, they are amazing people.”
Some students said they didn’t know who Manilow was when they first heard about him and asked their parents. But they were excited about the donation.
“It’s people like him that lift our spirits,” said freshman percussionist Zach McDonough. “I feel like that’s what has really come out of this tornado — seeing the human spirit in action.”
Band parents also attended — including some Manilow fans like Debbie Wills, whose daughter plays snare drum.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” she said. “I’m so proud. Not just of my daughter, but of all of them because they’ve overcome so much since the tornado, and I come to every event, I go to all their competitions and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If it wasn’t for people’s generosity, we wouldn’t be playing, for sure.”
Karrla Morgan, whose son, Kyle, is a freshman in band, said she has gone to some of Manilow’s concerts and has seen him in Las Vegas. She said she thought it was nice for Manilow to personally accompany the donation.
“When I first heard the high school was destroyed, I thought: ‘There’s no way they’re going to be able to have a band,’” she said. “No uniforms, no instruments. You didn’t really expect a whole lot. It’s really amazing.”
The Manilow Music Project became involved after Margie and Mike Fitterling approached Manilow about the impact the tornado had on Joplin. The Fitterlings, who lost their dental practice in the tornado, coordinated an instrument drive and fundraiser for the lost music library.
“Barry, thank you for your sincerity, your compassion and your overwhelming generosity,” Margie Fitterling said. “Your donation will touch many hearts and lives in Joplin.”
The Fitterlings also presented an $8,320 check from their fundraising efforts for the music library.
Castor said the Manilow Music Project contacted him about three or four weeks after the tornado, and it’s been in contact ever since. Castor and Superintendent C.J. Huff presented Manilow with T-shirts signed by students and boosters.
Rick Castor, high school music director, said the music department’s losses from the tornado totaled $3.7 million, including sheet music, instruments, electronics, risers and flats.