Sharing the Story of ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ in Southborough, Milford

southborough library photo

The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.

claflin obrien and clarkParents of current and former Trottier Middle School students who attended the reading at the library (see video below) told me they were mentally and emotionally brought back to the days when our children roamed the halls of the middle school, when some of the kids played music for Mr. Clark, and when all of the students mourned the loss of their friend, Eric Green.

Two days later, Mr. Clark and I chatted about Mr. Clark’s Big Band with music fans at the Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season, a season in which music educators were celebrated.

Some current Trottier Middle School students attended the show in Milford’s historic town hall and stopped by to greet Mr. Clark, who couldn’t play the trombone with his pals in the Claflin brass section because he recently had elbow surgery (see the sling he’s sporting in the photo below).

claflin obrien and clark2Several folks also paused at the book table to fondly remember former Algonquin Regional High School music director Dennis Wrenn, the man who helped Mr. Clark get his job in the Southborough school system and who is mentioned several times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

It can sometimes seem like a small world indeed.

Image credits: Southborough Access Media (first image), Scott Weiss (other two images)

‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ Wins Independent Publisher Book Award

Screenshot 2018-04-12 19.36.22Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room has won a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The group–which received over 4,500 entries for this year’s contest–honored Mr. Clark’s Big Band with a bronze medal in its Education: Commentary/Theory category.

“This year’s winners represent books from 41 U.S. states, Guam, and DC; 6 Canadian provinces; and 12 countries overseas,” the Independent Publisher group said in a press release.

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Ironically, the silver award winner in my category is Joseph E. Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and president of the university where I teach. Two Northeastern University educators in one category. Not too shabby!

Image credits: Independent Publisher Book Awards.

2017 INDIES Book of Year Finalist: ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band is among the finalists in the Adult Nonfiction-Education category in Foreword Reviews’ 2017 Indies Book of the Year Awards.

“More than 2,000 entries spread across 68 genres were submitted for consideration,” Foreword Reviews’ press release said. “The list of finalists was determined by Foreword’s editorial team. Winners are now being decided by a panel of judges across the country, reflecting Foreword’s readership of booksellers and librarians.”

Winners will be announced in June.

Image credit: Foreword Reviews.

New This Week: Kindle Version of Book (Plus Audio Interview, Recording of Band)

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Want to hear what Mr. Clark’s voice sounds like? Want to hear him talk about Mr. Clark’s Big Band, the ups and downs of teaching middle school? Want to hear a recording of the jazz band premiere “Kaleidoscope” at the memorial service for their beloved friend Eric Green, for whom the piece was written?

The Kindle version of Mr. Clark’s Big Band, out this week, contains those special goodies.

However, if you’re a lover of all things tactile–count me among them–consider getting the music lover, the teacher, the band parent, music student in your life a copy of the paperback book for the holidays. Better yet, get them both the digital and the paperback and they’ll think you are a wildly generous soul.

An added Christmas/holiday bonus: If you email me, you can buy a copy of the book which I will sign and mail to the recipient of your choice! mereditheobrien@gmail.com. You will be my (and their) holiday hero!!

Image credit: Amazon.

‘Mr. Clark’s’ signings at Jazz Night & Tatnuck

jazz night 2017Thank you to all the folks who bought books at my recent book signings. It has been an absolute pleasure to meet current and former music students, current and former music teachers, hosts of radio jazz programs (like WICN’s Howard Caplan and Tom Nutile) as well as fans of an uplifting story about a band director helping his students find their way.

Trottier Jazz Night

I was honored to appear at Jazz Night at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, along with my drummer son Jonah (see above), a former member of the Trottier Big Band who just graduated from high school (*sniff*).

I met current Trottier Big Band members who excitedly told me their own Mr. Clark stories, and spoke with professional musician/trumpet player/vocalist Christine Fawson, who performed with the Big Band, about teachers who make an impact on their students.

To see what kind of magic Clark inspires, take a look at what his current eighth grade Big Band members did at the end of Jazz Night 2017 (see video above). As a surprise gift to their band director at their final performance as middle schoolers, the students taught themselves Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and played it for him. At the song’s conclusion, you can see Clark is the first one to leap to his feet to applaud.

Additionally, I learned that Trottier Middle School has added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to its summer reading list.

tatnuck signingTatnuck Books

A local independent book store, Tatnuck Books in Westborough, MA (right), hosted a book signing for me where a retired music teacher told me she’d read about the event in the local newspaper and was looking forward to reading the tale that reinforces what she already knows deep within her bones: music education makes a tremendous difference to children.

As if to put an exclamation point on the teacher’s statement, a former Westborough music student later told me she not only bonded tightly with her middle school music teacher, but that she sorely misses her band room days.

Southborough Public Library

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My local library in Southborough — the Massachusetts town in which Mr. Clark’s Big Band is set — used social media to kindly promote the fact that they’d added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to their shelves.

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.

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.

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

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Jamie Clark speaks in front of his current Big Band

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

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

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Clark is a world-class bear-hugger.

Image credits: Sharon Shoemaker

Community Advocate profiles ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’

community-advocate-logoA weekly local paper in the Southborough, Massachusetts area, the Community Advocate, has profiled Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

“For residents of small, tight-knit Southborough, the morning of Jan. 11, 2012 brought with it deep sorrow and mourning as news of 12-year-old Eric Green’s passing swept through the town,” Sue Wambolt wrote in the Advocate. “A seventh-grade student and member of the P. Brent Trottier Middle School big band, Green died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart condition.”

“While friends, neighbors and townsfolk struggled to come to terms with the loss, big band teacher Jamie Clark demonstrated the power of music to heal wounds as he guided his students through an emotionally challenging year,” she continued. “Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room, penned by resident and ‘big band mother’ Meredith O’Brien, chronicles this journey and gives an inside look at navigating bereavement in middle school.”

Image credit: Community Advocate.