‘Cool Cat’ Teacher Podcast Features ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ as Guide to Help Students with Tragedy

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The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.

Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”

You can listen to the podcast by:

Image credit: Cool Cat Teacher.

 

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.

Telegram & Gazette puts spotlight on ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette published a long piece in advance of the book launch party at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough.telegram and gazette

The article, “Book charts Southboro school band, leader’s coping with member’s death,” began this way:

Today, parents, teachers and music students in Southboro will meet to honor a rather special story. It’s told in a book about kids who lose their fellow band member and experience the harshness of grief at a vulnerable age — poised on the brink of adolescence and not really equipped to figure out their feelings.

Writer Ann Connery Frantz continued:

Subtitled: “A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room,” the book contains a virtual text for grief management, made human by the kids’ stories (anonymously) and their difficulty in setting aside fear and grief over a buddy’s death to move forward as Clark melds individuals into a team, rocking their approach to life and music.

Bloggers recommend ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band,’ said could’ve used ‘a Mr. Clark’ in middle school

Blogger Kelly Reci knows what it’s like to be a middle school student who suddenly and unexpectedly loses a friend:

Teen bereavement is real. Many of our tweens and teens will struggle with the loss of a friend. It’s heartbreaking, but sadly its life. When I was an eighth grader, (all the way back in 1992,) we lost a friend. He was just a year behind us, and the older brother to three younger children. Billy passed away while caring for their yard. He was the “man” in his family, and he often did chores that his mother and sisters couldn’t. That horrible day he happened to be mowing the lawn on a riding mower. He fell off, and the mower landed on him. He was asphyxiated before he was found. I’ll never forget the day we found out, or the days following. Our group of “bus buddies” mourned for months. Driving passed his house twice every day, and seeing the exact spot he departed our world, was virtually torture. Grief counselors were called in, but they didn’t stay longer than a week. I guess we were all supposed to be “healed” by then. Most of us weren’t. We could have really used a teacher like Mr. Clark to help us all heal. 

In reviewing Mr. Clark’s Big Band, which shines a spotlight on how a small Massachusetts middle school–its jazz band in particular–handled the sudden death of a 12-year-old student, Reci recommended the book for those who have experienced loss:

Following these kids journey to healing was touching as well as inspiring. It was a very cathartic experience for me. Mr. Clark is amazing, and I really can picture him as jolly Santa Claus type. If you or someone you love has experienced a loss, whether they’re tween or older, I think you’ll love this book.

Meanwhile, blogger Cassandra McCann also posted a review of Mr. Clark’s Big Band saying it is: “a great book of healing with the magic powers of music in a way that seals the town in a mix of emotions that the readers will surely feel.”

 

Mr. Clark’s Big Band book to be published May 2017

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After a seemingly healthy 12-year-old boy died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment on a brisk New England winter night, Eric Green’s small Boston suburb was overcome with sorrow. Its residents closed ranks. Quickly.

Slashes of green duct tape were adhered to mourners’ shirts all over town. Green rubber bracelets bearing his name adorned wrists of the young and old. Emerald grosgrain ribbons were looped through safety pins and affixed to shirts and winter coats. “Green-out” days at the elementary, middle and high schools were organized on social media. In the Trottier Middle School band room, his music stand—with green tape wrapped around its post—stood empty as his bandmates demanded the school formally honor their fallen friend. A committee was organized. A service in honor of Eric’s brief life was slated for 18 months later, where two musical compositions commissioned by the school in Eric’s memory would be played by the children he left behind.

big band room smallerIn the spirit of Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren, journalist Meredith O’Brien shadowed the Southborough, Mass. Trottier Middle School Big Band during the 2012-2013 school year to witness how making music and working with a charismatic, unorthodox fortysomething music director who looked like Kris Kringle helped this group of 33 children overcome their anguish. Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room chronicles how these children performed well beyond their years, won jazz competitions—in one case, playing just before the Newtown Middle School, another band coping with fresh, searing loss—and mastered the extremely complicated piece written for Eric at his packed, emotion-laden memorial service.

Mr. Clark’s Big Band celebrates the power of music and team camaraderie, of the big heart of a risk-taking teacher, and of a small town which closed ranks to help its children emerge on the other side of grief. Wyatt-MacKenzie will release this book in May 2017.

eric green service2A journalism instructor at Northeastern University in Boston, O’Brien is a former newspaper and investigative reporter, award-winning columnist and blogger. She is the author of A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum a collection of humor columns (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2007), Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing which was a finalist for a ForeWord Reviews debut novel competition (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2013), and a co-author of The Buying of the President which examined the connections between campaign donors an presidential candidates (Avon 1996). She has been published in an array of publications and sites including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Baltimore Sun, the Huffington Post, The Nation and the Avalon Literary Review. She is currently working on a memoir.

Visit her web site and follow her on Twitter.

Image credit: Top image courtesy of Karen Travins. Other images by Meredith O’Brien.