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By Laura Enderson
Singer/songwriter Mark Laperle of Bedford, inspired others to “sing again” after the deadly Joplin, Mo., tornado one year ago.
Last week he was in Joplin to personally deliver that message during a special memorial service in the city.
“As a singer/songwriter it is extremely gratifying to have one of my songs make such an impact on a community,” Laperle said. “As a fellow human being it felt good to play a small part in the healing process of a city. Most importantly, as a Christian it was humbling and amazing to see my small ‘loaves and fishes’ being used to ‘feed’ thousands of people.”
The Joplin EF-5 tornado hit on May 22, 2011, and killed 161 people and injured almost 1,000. It destroyed one-third of the city and is also the costliest single tornado in the U.S.
Two days after the storm hit, Laperle, hoping to comfort the city of Joplin, decided to send a song he wrote when a friend of his, Pastor Mike Jones, lost his only son, Zack, to a car accident. The Song, “Sing Again,” hopes to comfort the listener as well as give them hope for the future.
“When the news came back from Joplin and the death toll kept rising, I thought about emailing the recording of ‘Sing Again’ to the folks at Joplin city hall,” Laperle said. “I thought perhaps a few of them would get some comfort by it.”
Laperle has been playing guitar, signing and writing music since he was 17. Now, he is working on his first full-length CD and performinglocally around Virginia.
When Laperle decided to send the song to Joplin, he emailed everyone that worked for the city that he could find, even Mark Morris, the Information Systems Director. It was Morris who emailed Laperle back, and said he was touched by the song and that they would like to use it.
The city ended up designing a T-shirt after the song, with the words ‘Joplin’s Heart Will Sing Again’ printed on it and they played it during the memorial service one week after the tornado hit. They took a minute of silence at 5:41 p.m., the exact time when the storm hit, and then played “Sing Again” after the silence. They repeated this on the six month anniversary.
“Sing Again” had a big impact on the city of Joplin. According to Laperle, a few people posted the song on Youtube, including an 8-year-old girl named Parker, and a local radio station played it constantly for about a week after the first memorial service.
“Joplin city manager, Mark Rohr, called me shortly after receiving the song and choked back tears as he thanked me for sending it,” Laperle said.
Morris had been in contact with Laperle all year and they decided it would be a good idea for Laperle to preform “Sing Again” live for the year anniversary of the storm.
The year anniversary memorial service, called the Day of Unity, was held on May 22 on a sunny, breezy day. It began with a seven mile Unity Walk at 2:30 p.m. that retraced the path on the tornado and ended at Cunningham Park, where Laperle was to perform. An estimated 6,000 people participated in the Unity Walk and the memorial service. They held a moment of silence at 5:41 p.m., and then Laperle sang “Sing Again.” Laperle said at the end the crowd broke into a loud, appreciative and respective applause.
“To me, one of the most rewarding moments was when, after starting the intro to the song, the crowd began to applaud,” Laperle said of the live memorial service. “That showed me they recognized it and appreciated it. That truly touched my heart.”
Other proof of the locals’ love for Laperle’s song came from a local chapter of Sweet Adelines barbershop quartet chorus, Show-Me Harmony. They sent a recording of “Sing Again” off to Brian Beck, an arranger, who then sent Show-Me Harmony the sheet music for them to sing. They plan to send the song to the Sweet Adelines chorus in Christ Church, New Zealand as comfort in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes.
Laperle was very impressed with the local city officials and the local churches, who bonded together, despite their differences, in the city’s time of need.
“There was a big sense of hope,” Laperle said. “They were focused on moving forward.”
Laperle said he does regret not coming to Joplin earlier to assist in the clean up, but he said he and his wife, Chloe, did get to help one resident with some work at her home.
Cunningham Park, where Laperle preformed, was destroyed durning the tornado. Now it features a memorial fountain and a plaque containing the 161 names of the victims. There are also 161 saplings, Laperle said, planted throughout the park in honor of the victims and to replace the trees that were destroyed. There is a monument dedicated to the Human Spirit, the thousands of volunteers who helped the city of the past year. Across the street from the park stands the shell of the destroyed St John’s Hospital that they can’t implode because of environmental concerns, Laperle said, so they have to take it apart piece by piece.
“Although Joplin may not be in the daily headlines, they still need help,” Laperle said. “The vast majority of the cleanup has been done, but more rebuilding is needed. I also think many people there are only now beginning to grieve, as they have had to spend the past year cleaning up and rebuilding.”
If you’re interested in helping Joplin, you can go to www.joplinmo.org for contact info or to HYPERLINK “http://www.joplintornadoanniversary.com/”www.joplintornadoanniversary.com for more information about the Day of Unity program.