In a book club? Invite an author to discuss ‘the power of music’

Are you in a book club? Want to have a Massachusetts author join you?mr-clarks-cover

Contact author Meredith O’Brien about having her visit your book club and discuss the “moving portrait of how a grieving school can heal through the power of music,” Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room, recently featured in the Boston Globe.

New York University assistant professor of jazz studies Dave Pietro called Mr. Clark’s Big Band: “a chronicle of all that is good and precious in music education and how it can help young people to learn so many important lessons of life; lessons about compassion, respect, bravery, listening to others, working together as a team, accepting others for who they are, and finding one’s inner passion.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Madeleine Blais said, “A drumroll, please, for Meredith O’Brien’s endearing and inspiring Mr. Clark’s Big Band. … [T]his book focuses on one school band in one small town after the sudden death of one of its members. In the end, music is the main character: the joy, the hope, and the solace it delivers to a bereft community.”

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Strempek Shea wrote: “With a journalist’s commitment, a teacher’s passion and a mother’s heart, Meredith O’Brien brings her readers to a community leveled by sudden loss then bundled in music’s ability to heal. As well as illustrating the author’s stellar talent, Mr. Clark’s Big Band shows her radar for a timeless story, one that underlines in gold the power of unsung heroes all around us.”

Teacher and author Robert Wilder called the book, “a moving portrait of how a grieving school can heal through the power of music.”

Email Meredith: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Listen to Mr. Clark & His Big Band

At the party celebrating the launch of Mr. Clark’s Big Band, Jamie Clark led the current middle school members of his jazz band as well as jazz band alums in a rousing rendition of “Groovin’ Hard.”

The alums, who had no rehearsals before the party, used their muscle memory from their middle school years to play what’s now considered a Big Band standard, a piece they hadn’t played in years. Several of them gave up playing musical instruments after leaving Trottier’s Middle School and their beloved music teacher, Mr. Clark.

As he thanked those who attended the book launch party, Mr. Clark spoke eloquently about the importance of risk-taking teaching and being able to work in such a supportive environment.

Looking for signed copies?

Looking for signed copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band? There are several available right now at Stax Discount Books, 193A Boston Post Road West, Marlborough, MA.

I spent part of Saturday afternoon signing books at Stax and chatting with the charming owners Stacey and Mike. Love me an independent bookstore!

Image credits: Stax Discount Bookstore.

National music groups promote Mr. Clark’s story

National music groups have been promoting Mr. Clark’s Big Band on social media.

Go #musiceducation!

SmartMusic, MakeMusic honors Mr. Clark

goodwinSmartMusic honored Southborough’s Trottier Middle School music teacher Jamie Clark–the “Mr. Clark” of Mr. Clark’s Big Band–after one of his former star students won a nationwide jazz competition and named Clark as a chief musical inspiration.

Saxophone player Connor Jenks, who just finished his freshman year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, won the Big Phat Band Jazz Challenge and, when he was invited to Colorado to play with Big Phat Band leader Gordon Goodwin, Jenks chose to bring his middle school music teacher along with him.

Writing about Clark, Jenks said:

When I was chosen for the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band Challenge I was told I could bring whoever I wanted. I knew immediately it had to be Mr. Clark. He was the person that got me so interested in The Big Phat Band and always told us that in addition to practicing, listening was just as important. I would come home and listen to the Big Phat Band while doing homework and then grab my sax and practice. It is thanks to Mr. Clark – and all of the other wonderful music educators – that I have dedicated my life to music and the saxophone.  

The post also mentioned Mr. Clark’s Big Band, for which Jenks was interviewed:

The story of how Jamie taught students music and how to deal with the loss of a classmate is told in Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. Author Meredith O’Brien followed the Trottier Middle School big band during the 2012-2013 season. Her book gives us insight into the award-winning director’s unorthodox approach. … While not every educator gets a book written about them, they all make a difference in the lives of their students.

Jenks (left of photo) and Clark (right) gave professional jazz musician Goodwin (middle), a copy when they met him.

Image credit: SmartMusic

Boston Globe tells story behind the book

Screenshot 2017-05-15 10.20.27The Boston Globe’s Sunday, May 14 edition ran a “Story Behind the Book” feature on Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Writer Kate Tuttle wrote of the book:

In Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room, O’Brien chronicles that first painful year after [Eric] Green’s death, as Jamie Clark and his musicians pulled together to remember Eric. “They wanted Eric Green to be memorialized,” she said. “I think it was very healing for them to be part of the process, and then for the kids who were in music to play the song that was written for Eric.”

Tuttle continued:

At a time when arts education is often threatened in public school budgets, O’Brien argues for its importance. “For these particular kids, the emotional outlet that the music provided them, I think it was very powerful,” she said. “To these kids the music was their way of saying ‘We care; we love you; we miss you.’ ”

Excerpts of ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ read aloud

I read several excerpts from Mr. Clark’s Big Band at the book launch party at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, MA on April 30, 2017. Here are videos of the reading taken by my daughter.

I read aloud from the beginning of the first chapter, before the Big Band’s final performance of the 2012-2013 school year, Jazz Night.

This is the oddest of all the excerpts. I read from a section of the book where the students in the Big Band are seeking to avoid rehearsing a piece by debating which is the more revolting culinary oddity: boneless, jelly-covered chicken-in-a-can or gas station sushi. I kid you not.

This video is a short excerpt from one of the more emotional sections of the book. This passage features an account of how a girl, who had never before played a solo during her three years in middle school, did so in front of an emotional crowd at a memorial ceremony because she felt as though she owed it to her friend and classmate, Eric Green, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 12. when they were in seventh grade.

Scenes from a book launch

The book launch of Mr. Clark’s Big Band at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough on April 30, 2017 was an event brimming with love and affection. I cannot thank people enough for how fabulously they pulled together to make this event possible, how they supported me unconditionally, and how they showed music teacher Jamie Clark the depths of their appreciation for his dedication to the children of Southborough.

Here are some videos from the book launch taken by my daughter.

Trottier Middle School Principal Keith Lavoie welcomes the crowd, provides some background about the event and then introduces me. I begin my presentation with thanks.

I explain how I came up with the idea for the book as well as what went into the reporting and researching of it.

I read an excerpt from the book’s prologue which demonstrates how important being a member of Jamie Clark’s musical ensembles is to the lives of his students, even long after they’ve left middle school.

Trottier Middle School celebrates ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’

book launch bandParents, educators, students and friends converged on the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. on Sunday to celebrate the publication of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Trottier School Principal Keith Lavoie emceed the event, introducing me before I read several excerpts from the book–specifically a segment about members of the 2012-2013 Big Band debating, during a January 2013 rehearsal, which would curdle one’s stomach more: eating boneless chicken-in-a-can or “gas station sushi.” I also read excerpts including one which describes a student triumphing over her fears in order to play a solo, knowing that Mr. Clark had her back, and another about the pre-performance jitters that occur when band members learn that their lead trumpet player is heading to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy an hour before showtime.

book launch jamie meredithAfter thanking the nearly 150 people who crowded the cafeteria decorated with sunflowers, sheet music and enlarged copies of the book cover, Trottier music teacher Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark, see pictured on the left) led the current members of the Big Band in several pieces including Paul Clark’s swinging “A Band’s Gotta Do What a Band’s Gotta Do” and Doug Beach’s sassy “Late Night Diner.”

Big Band alumni, including many students who were profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band and are now in high school–therefore they towered over their middle school counterparts, joined the group for the hard-charging final number, “Groovin’ Hard,” the chart made famous by drummer Buddy Rich.

Suzy Green–Eric Green’s mother–was on hand, as were the Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Christine Johnson, former Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Charles Gobron and Mass. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema.

book launch keith meredith

Trottier Principal Keith Lavoie looks on as I read from Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

book launch jamie

Jamie Clark speaks in front of his current Big Band

book launch meredith jamie

Clark surprises me by pulling me up in front of the band after they finish “Groovin’ Hard.”

book launch suzy jamie meredith

I am proud to stand with Mr. Clark and Suzy Green as we celebrate the joy that is the Big Band.

jamie hugging meredith

Clark is a world-class bear-hugger.

Image credits: Sharon Shoemaker