‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ Goes to Pops Night

Displaying IMG_2576.JPGThank you to the Northboro Southboro Music Association for allowing me to have a book table at their annual Pops Night at the Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Mass.

The event was attended by over 900 people and featured music from every instrumental and vocal group in the school, many of whose members were featured in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Displaying IMG_2574.JPGFormer students of Clark’s came up to me throughout the evening and fondly recalled their days in the Trottier Middle School band room in Southborough, noting that they were grateful to have played with him. Upon noticing the rolls of sheet music in the vase on the book table — music related to Eric Green, “Kaleidoscope,” “Swing Shift,” and “A Kind and Gentle Soul” — several teens said they were honored to have been able to perform those pieces.

My daughter Abbey (pictured above) helped me throughout the evening.

Jamie Clark himself also attended and was on hand when my son Jonah (pictured on the right with Clark), a drummer who was a friend of Eric Green’s and was mentioned many times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, won a jazz award … that was after Clark was accosted like a rock star by parents, students and grads alike.

As I wrote in the book’s prologue about high school students who gathered to play with their middle school music director one last time in May 2015:

Since they’d left Trottier Middle School, many confessed, they’d longed for the connection, the camaraderie, the joy of the Big Band. Nothing had been able to fill the space in their hearts that was once occupied by the experience of playing in this space with this man … Mr. Clark and the Big Band are never quite in the past.

You can listen to the alums of Clark’s Big Band, and their Northborough Melican Middle School jazz alum counterparts, play Van Morrison’s “Moondance” at Pops Night.

Raves for Mr. Clark’s Big Band

Writers from two parenting blogs, Atlanta Mom and Michigan Mom Living, recently reviewed Mr. Clark’s Big Band and raved about it:

Screenshot 2017-05-30 12.07.10
cropped-mml-blog-header8
Meanwhile, over on the Michigan Mom Living blog, Cynthia Tait reviewed Mr. Clark’s Big Band saying:

Not an easy book for O’Brien to write since she was personally touched by this story and then to take the time to spend an entire school year figuring out the WHY of Mr. Clark’s jazz band being possibly therapy for the students’ grief?  In this story, O’Brien writes the daily on-goings in the band room and regarding jazz band performances.  Some stellar, most were not as she was trying to unravel the meaning and tightness of this band and their band leader.  Why was it that everyone loved this class and respected the band leader, Mr. Clark, so much?  Was it because he pushed them, believed in them, made them feel they had something more to share?

Join O’Brien as she daily reflects the monotony of practices and performances of achievement failure and closure in this non-fiction [book].  This [book] is geared toward adults, but highly recommended for Middle School and up as it will touch some great points for students.

Image credits: Atlanta Mom Facebook pageMichigan Mom Living.

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.