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

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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)

Signing Arms & Sneakers: Scenes from Granite Valley Middle School

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

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Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

 

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.

Southborough Library event POSTPONED from Wednesday, 3/21, 7 p.m.

Screenshot 2018-03-19 12.15.52UPDATE: Due to the continued snowy forecast, the Southborough Library is going to postpone my book talk/signing. I will post new details when I have them.

A perfect storm of the flu and the second of three nasty nor’easters colluded to cancel my March 7 book talk/signing at the Southborough Library.

I am slated to appear at the Library (25 Main Street, Southborough) THIS Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the main floor.

The event will be filmed by Southborough Access Media and I’ll be selling and signing copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Fingers crossed that the new nor’easter the meteorologists are discussing for mid-week goes out to sea!

Image credit: Southborough Library.

Blue Umbrella Book Reading Recap

Thank you to Westfield (Mass.) independent bookstore Blue Umbrella Books for hosting my book talk and signing.

It was great fun to visit my old stomping grounds and chat with friends from high school and college. Family members who live in western Massachusetts also came out to represent!

If you missed the event, signed copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band are still for sale at Blue Umbrella.

The bookstore folks live-streamed my book talk on Facebook. You can watch a recording here:

Image credits: Scott Weiss.

Western Mass. book signing: Blue Umbrella Books

blue umbrella logo

I’ll be heading to western Massachusetts for a book signing on Nov. 11 from 1-3 p.m.

The independent bookstore, Blue Umbrella Books of Westfield, MA, will play host as I sign copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

My ties to the city run deep. I lived in Westfield for my first six years, did my first journalism internship there (at The Westfield News) and covered the area as a young reporter for The Republican.

I’m looking forward to seeing friends from my hometown, the neighboring West Springfield. If you’re in the area, come join us!

Image credit: Blue Umbrella Books.

 

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.

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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