Missouri Baptist University’s annual winter Fine Arts Concert, which takes place around Christmas time, was interrupted by tornado warnings, but after patrons patiently waited in safe areas while the storm passed, they returned to the Chapel for the remainder of the show.
Missouri Baptist University’s Chorale is accompanied by various instruments is conducted by student fellow, Jonah Scott, during the 2021 Christmas concert. Photo courtesy of Missouri Baptist University
It’s dark except for the lights on the stage. You are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting and anticipating the climax of the song, “Carol of the Bells,” being played by the MBU Ringers, and right when they get to the best part the worst thing imaginable happens. A cell phone goes off. Followed by another one, and another one until the whole Chapel was filled with the crescendoing sound of ringing alarms.
This is what happened at Missouri Baptist University’s annual winter Fine Arts Concert on Dec. 10, 2021, but it wasn’t a typical ringing cell phone, it was a weather alert.
A tornado warning was issued for the entire St. Louis area, resulting in everyone having to shelter in place, and bringing a halt to the concert.
Weather forecasts for the week of the concert had predicted such a storm and led many to wonder if the concert would be canceled that day, including Dr. Jordan Cox, chair of the Fine Arts Division and director of choral activities, who was directing the concert.
“We were really fortunate that all of our administrators were here, but my first thought was it’s over. It’s gonna be canceled,” Cox said.
That left President Keith Ross, Dr. Cox, Public Safety and other administrators to direct everyone to the designated shelter location in the Pillsbury Chapel and Dale Williams Fine Arts Center, where the concert was being performed.
When it came to the procedure for getting everyone to safety, “I knew that the hallways downstairs in this building are the ideal place to go. I think the initial question was, wow, is everyone going to fit? And how long is it going to take to get everyone down there? So I knew where we were supposed to go. It was just a matter of, OK, let’s get everybody down there,” said Cox.
Lorraine Linson, a junior English secondary education major, offered her perspective as a concert attendee.
“Growing up in Missouri we are used to this kind of stuff. We all basically went downstairs to the lower level of the Chapel. We all hung out in the basement. We played games like 20 questions and eye spy, so it ended up being kind of fun, as fun as playing a game while seeking shelter can be for about 35 minutes,” Linson said.
While sheltering in place in such close proximity it got quite warm for some attendees. Luckily the president’s donor reception took place earlier that evening and extra fans left over from the event were distributed to guests while waiting for the all clear.
Upon arriving at the lower level of the Chapel, Cox said he was grateful for the other administrators who took charge in helping the guests take shelter.
“The nice thing is that our president was here. I was so thankful because I could just look to him to lead and he did. And so, while the concert was happening when it (the sirens) first went off I knew that something was up. I knew he was here, and I knew several of our other administrators were here,” Cox said. “So I was able to go down, I went towards his office and sure enough that’s where all the Cabinet kind of just convened and had Public Safety on the phone.”
“So I was able to really just let Dr. Ross lead that process with our director of Public Safety. The whole night I was very thankful for an administration that was quick to act and also knew what to do, and also worked really hard to allow us to perform, if at all possible.”
One member of Chorale, Grace Covington, said temporarily stopping the concert was in the best interest of everyone’s safety.
“From what I know of the Fine Arts Department here and Dr. Cox, I know they were doing everything possible to keep it going while keeping us safe, and that is exactly what happened,” said Covington, a junior psychology major from Sappington, Missouri.
In regard to continuing the concert after seeking shelter, Linson said, “Overall the conditions seemed safe and nothing bad happened.”
After 35 minutes of sheltering, the concert continued to the surprise of some, but not to Covington.
“I just thought it was kinda humorous at that point. I was just like, we’re still doing this, we’re still here,” she said. “Glad we could do it but I guess that was a little funny.”
When it came time to proceed with the rest of the concert Dr. Cox was concerned that the audience would be less engaged due to the storm.
“It definitely affects the concert because it changes your audience’s perspective in the moment. Also it’s something that you can’t just wash away from your mind as a performer,” Cox recalled. “I kind of even chuckled to myself when I walked out. I was the first soloist to come out, and I’m standing there holding my score thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this right now.’ I’m like, ‘Quit thinking about the tornado stuff, just breathe and perform.’ But that’s the beauty of good musicianship, when you’ve rehearsed and prepared. Distractions will come and you’ve just got to let technique take over.”
In spite of all of the chaos that took place the concert prevailed and the concert goers were safe during the remaining portion of the show. That being the masterwork, Handel’s “Messiah,” that MBU’s Chorale performs traditionally every four years around Christmas.
“I’m very thankful and pleased that so many people stayed. I actually thought that if we did get to restart this concert, I kind of anticipated seeing a mass exodus. But, I was very thankful that so many people chose to stay and honestly it probably was safer for them than being out in the weather,” said Cox. “Getting to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ at the end was probably my favorite part and just also hearing the audience celebrate because they felt like, hey, not only was this a great concert but you went above and beyond despite all of the obstacles.”
Faith Port, a freshman music education major, who participated in Chorale and MBU Ringers said, “Hearing the sirens go off during bells and just continuing to play” was her favorite part, and really showed the persistence of everyone who was involved.
Linson expressed that though the tornado did affect how she viewed the concert the talents of the concert’s participants shined through.
“I really liked the Ringers, I think it’s such a unique thing, and I had never seen that before coming to MoBap. ‘Carol of the Bells’ is the perfect song to play on bells, and hearing the band play Christmas carols in a minor key was really interesting,” Linson said. “Though a lot of my thoughts were overshadowed by the tornado, I think the concert went well.”