The members of the Heartland Concert Band have just finished practicing a composition by Johannes Brahms when they begin a song commissioned especially for the band.
The song “Joplin Strong,” written by Pete Havely, retired chair of Missouri Southern State University’s music department, is a powerful rendition of our deadly 2011 tornado.
It starts out fun. Then comes the punctuation of the percussions and the flutes which reproduce the sirens, followed by a fatal tone. The drums roll, the horn section rises, the whole band rises to a short crescendo. Suddenly there is a shattering dissonance in the music. A few beats of silence are followed by mournful bars of tapping. The music creates painful visions of destruction until it becomes “America the beautiful”.
It is a captivating composition that the group was to perform on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the tornado. But that was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the lineup will premiere when the band performs a 7 p.m. concert on Thursday, October 27 at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center, 501 W. Fourth St. The concert is free.
The concert will offer a range of music from classical traditions to contemporary styles and from patriotic tunes to Broadway shows. But “Joplin Strong” will be the centerpiece.
The band is an amalgamation of community instrumentalists with a common love for playing music. They are of all backgrounds, ages and skill levels. One is a computer programmer, another realtor, another retired hospital financial officer. Teenagers play alongside octogenarians, and former music teachers perform alongside people who played in high school or college bands years ago.
“I think everyone here played in their youth and enjoyed it,” says baritone saxophonist Tim Meadows. “A lot of people put instruments away and then pick them up a few years later to join a band like this.”
It’s a good opportunity for former conductors to perform, notes horn player Martin Williams.
“These talented players help us to hold on and make us play better,” said conductor Aaron Power.
The band originated as the Carthage Community Band decades ago, says Meadows, one of the original members. The number of members started to dwindle until there were only three who wanted to keep playing, so they practiced at each other’s house, he said.
Gradually, interest renewed and around 2013 the band reorganized, Meadows says. Its name was changed to Heartland Concert Band to better reflect the region of origin of its members. There are about 10 area communities represented in the strip, Williams says.
Today, the group has an average of thirty musicians. Occasionally a string player, such as a harpist, will sit down, if necessary for a specific song. At the next concert, Power notes that his wife, Donna, will sit at the piano. During practices, she plays the piano that famed songwriter and singer Barry Manilow donated to the local school district after the tornado.
Power took over management of Heartland when original director Vicki Mayes died in 2017. Under Mayes, Power played bass clarinet and saxophone. After his death, he put these instruments aside to take over as conductor.
“There are five or six who could lead better than me, but they like to play and I like to lead,” he said.
A former orchestra teacher with a bachelor’s degree in music, Power is a gentle but stimulating director. During a recent practice, he pointed out that one player’s beat was too slow a beat for the song, joking that “coffee before practice is a requirement”. He uses analogies to help musicians express themselves musically. “You are a laser and you pierce the ground,” he says during practice.
“I challenge the group and try to make it fun but not bully,” he says.
The group performs at special events, such as last year’s anniversary celebration of the local historic district of Murphysburg, and it performs concerts for holidays such as July 4th, Memorial Day or Saint -Valentine. He gives several concerts during the Christmas holidays. The band does not have a permanent performance venue, so they play wherever venues can be arranged. This could be at the Northpark Mall as well as at a local church.
Performance is not the group’s only motivation. She also distributes instruments to schoolchildren or band members in need. Some of the instruments he distributed were donated by the local Ozark Christian College.
The group practices from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays in the auditorium of the Memorial Education Center at Eighth and Wall streets. Those interested can contact band [email protected]
“It’s a chance to get together with other musicians,” Meadows says. “There is a camaraderie. It is a common bond regardless of religion, politics or type of job.