By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. — The scene that unfolded Saturday night at Joplin’s Memorial Hall was worlds apart from the one that unfolded there a year ago.
Gone were hundreds of tornado survivors tended by nurses, doctors and volunteers in what served as an emergency hospital and shelter. In their place were elegantly dressed musicians and choir members performing a concert billed as a gift to Joplin.
In the lobby was the hall’s only remaining evidence of the EF-5 tornado that leveled a third of the town: a broken and battered Joplin High School bass drum that Rick Castor, band director, found in the JHS parking lot after spending hours May 22 pulling the living and dead from cars.
Saturday night, less than two weeks short of a year later, Castor helped prepare the space for the concert.
“It just shows what a lot of resilience and hope can do,” Castor said.
The concert, “A Vision of Hope: The Other Side of Storm,” was the brainchild of nationally known composer Hubert Bird, who was born in Joplin and attended Joplin Junior College. The first half was made up of emotionally charged musical selections like “The Journey” and “Storm Country,” sung by high school choirs from Joplin and Webb City; Riverton, Galena and Neodesha in Kansas; and the Joplin All-City Singers.
The second half was the world premiere of an orchestral and vocal work by Bird, now a Baxter Springs resident. He has written pieces performed at the nation’s bicentennial celebration and at the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Bird spent the past year writing “The Other Side of Storm” and making phone call after phone call to secure 50 musicians and 150 vocalists. His daughter, Jennifer Bird, an internationally known soprano, and his son-in-law, Bjorn Arvidsson, an internationally known tenor, were featured soloists. Conducting was Bryan Shelburne, a retired U.S. Army Band conductor.
Bird chose powerful and poignant poems as lyrics, including Edwin Markham’s “Defeat May Serve as Well as Victory” and Joplin native Langston Hughes’ “In Time of Silver Rain.”
The work’s three movements, held together by narration written by Duane Hunt and delivered by Gwen Hunt, took listeners through the pre-storm hours, the terror of May 22, and the weeks and months of recovery.
Fifth-grader Linda Switzer, a member of the Joplin All-City Singers, said the concert made her feel positive.
“This gives me a chance to sing out to the victims and heroes and survivors of the storm,” said Linda, whose parents rode out the tornado in their bathtub and whose home sustained damage.
Bird said that was precisely his purpose. At the conclusion, the audience responded with a long standing ovation.
“We were very honored and blessed to be asked; students here really understand what we’re doing,” said Becky Long, Webb City choir director, who noted that the group also participated in Joplin’s recovery at the Salvation Army by sorting and distributing donations to storm survivors.
“We’ve all been affected by it, and this is a really neat way to honor it,” Long said.
Joplin High School choir director Eric Eichenberger viewed the concert as the beginning of the one-year remembrance — an appropriate one, he said, because music “serves as a connection to our feelings.”
“Music has been healing us all year long,” Eichenberger said of his students.
Joplin resident Linda Smart attended the concert with her husband, Tom, to see their granddaughter, Danielle Campbell, perform in the Joplin High School choir. Campbell rode out the storm in a closet with her mother, Susan, and sister, Nicole, in their home on Connor Avenue.
They survived without physical injury, but they lost much of their home and lived with the Smarts until they could rebuild.
“It’s been an emotional year,” Linda Smart said as she wiped away tears. “This was a wonderful program and showed that Joplin has come a long way. It’s an indication Joplin is not going to let something like this get us down forever. We’re going to go on and be even better.”
The performance was professionally recorded. Copies of a combination DVD-CD are available for purchase for $25 by contacting the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 320 E. Fourth St., 417-624-4150, or online at www.joplincc.com/concertdvd.htm. All proceeds go to the Joplin Business Recovery Fund.