Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over…

As she sat in front of her computer, Michaela West listened via headphones to the pre-recorded second soprano part and created a video as she sang along to Josef Reheinberger’s “Abendlied” in its original German.

“It was a little intimidating,” the junior theater major says. “There’s a big difference between a solo song and a single part that’s meant to be heard in a group. That’s the beauty of being in a choir – when blended together with everyone else, it somehow all comes together.”

West’s recording was one of 26 recorded by the members of the Missouri Southern State University Chamber Singers, which were then mixed together in a single video. Their voices rising and falling in unison, the piece serves as a reminder that music has the power to lift spirits and inspire, no matter what the situation.

On a small scale, the effort represents what has unfolded at Missouri Southern over the last several weeks.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges unprecedented in the university’s history. Classes have moved online, and commencement postponed. The campus is empty, save for a few students who remain in the residence halls. Faculty and staff are working from home – computer screens replacing face-to-face contact.

And yet it’s become a time of unity.

In ways large and small, the Lion community has come together like never before – individual efforts being blended together to create something extraordinary.

‘Innovative and resilient’

There were big decisions to be made.

As winter turned to spring, members of Missouri Southern’s administration kept a watchful eye on the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. Two days before the start of spring break, it was agreed that classes needed to be moved to an online format.

“Faculty and staff gave up their spring break to convert in-person classes to distance education,” says Dr. Alan Marble, president of MSSU. “This allowed us to make the transition a week or two before many of our peers.”

Residence halls were closed to all but a few students who could not return home, and refunds were pro-rated to the checkout date. Eleven students who were studying abroad were recalled, though two decided to remain in their host countries. The Physical Plant team began an effort to ensure all campus buildings were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

Campus employees were soon asked to begin working from home, well before the city and state-issued similar guidance.

“Every action taken was based on what we believed to be in the best interest of our students, faculty and staff,” says Marble.

The Distance Learning and IT departments were instrumental in making sure the transition to online education went as smoothly as possible not just for students, but the instructors who were also adjusting to a new reality.

“I am both amazed at and proud of the response of the faculty to the move online,” said Dr. Rebecca Mouser, president of the Faculty Senate. “They have been innovative, resilient, patient and supportive of students and of each other. I was worried about how to support my colleagues, but they have instead supported me.

“I think we all realize that this is not an ideal situation, but serving the students takes precedence as well as supporting each other.”

Making the call

In the weeks following spring break, Jurnee Adams received a call from Missouri Southern’s Student Affairs department.

“They asked how I was adjusting to this, and to see if I needed any help,” says Adams, a junior nursing major. “They said if there was anything I needed, they could point me in the direction of people who could help.”

The call was part of Southern’s effort to personally reach out and speak with every MSSU student.

“We have about 40 callers, including a few people outside our department,” says Dr. Julie Wengert, dean of Student Success and Support. “It’s strictly a call to check in with the students to see how they’re doing. We want to make sure they’re adjusting to the shift to online education, check on their well-being and see if they need any further resources.”

The callers are coding the response they’re getting from students and making sure that someone follows up with students who have a specific need.

“Our goal was to attempt to call every student by Friday (April 17), and we’re on track to reach that goal,” Wengert says. “If we can’t reach a student by phone, we email them and try to schedule a call.”

Adams says she has been adjusting to the online transition as best as she can.

“It’s definitely crazy, but I’m doing my best to work through it,” she says. “It was really nice that they took the time to check up and see how I’m doing.”

Meeting the needs

The university donated its supply of personal protective equipment to Mercy Joplin and Freeman Health System to assist the local hospitals with critically needed items.

Donations included boxes of masks, gowns, caps and other disposable items.

“We have them to use in our training programs,” says Dr. Richard Schooler, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “Because we don’t have students on campus this spring, we felt it appropriate to collect those items and get them to places where they are needed in our community.

In addition to the PPE, the university loaned the hospital several ventilators that are used as part of the respiratory therapy program in conjunction with Franklin Technology Center. The Athletics Department went through its inventory as well, donating cases of hydrogen peroxide and gloves, gauze pads and disinfectant solution.

Across campus, the Lion Co-op worked to ensure that the campus community’s needs were being met in other ways.

Located inside the FEMA shelter, the program distributes food and personal items to students and others in need. Starting the week of spring break, the co-op modified its operations in response to the pandemic.

“Typically, we have a grocery store-model where people can come in and take what they want,” says Dr. Andrea Cullers, associate professor of kinesiology and a member of the co-op’s task force. “With COVID-19 coming to our area, we didn’t feel comfortable with people walking in because there was no way we could keep the space sanitized and maintain some of the social distancing recommendations.”

Instead, co-op staff began assembling grocery bags filled with canned fruit and vegetables, cereal, instant rice dishes and other food items. Separate bags with personal hygiene items were also gathered to give away.

The bags were given to individuals who visited, while larger boxes were offered for families.

“Each week, we also purchased bread, milk, eggs and yogurt that we could hand out as well,” says Cullers. “We wanted a variety of different things to get them through the week.”

For the first three weeks of the modified pandemic operations, the co-op served about 20 people per week. The last Wednesday it was open, it saw 40.

“We saw a lot of people we had never seen before in the last few weeks,” she says. “We were seeing students whose jobs had been furloughed.”

‘The day will soon be over’

In the week since the Chamber Singers’ video was created, it has garnered thousands of views on YouTube and social media, and has been featured on Forbes’ website.

“This was my first attempt at (creating a virtual ensemble),” says Dr. Keith Tally, chair of the Music Department. “I imported the 26 video files into Final Cut Pro and aligned them so they would all start at the same time, then exported the audio to do some noise filtering and pitch correction.

The response to the video has been beyond what he ever expected.

“There were immediately great responses on social media,” he says. “When Forbes linked to us, it got us even more views. It was much more successful than I thought it would be.”

Dr. David Sharlow, director of choral music at MSSU, says there was meaning behind the song selection.

“Josef Rheinberger was a composer in the late Romantic period,” he says. “The text for ‘Abendlied’ – which translates as ‘Evening Song’ – was used by several composers in that period. It’s a translation of Luke 24:29 … the meaning of the text is that the day will soon be over.

“If you think about it, this pandemic will come to a close, and I personally think we are going to be blessed because of the great things that will come from it. Out of death comes life, so to speak. Creativity is at an all-time high right now, and we’re seeing it not just in music. We’re all being forced to be creative.”