‘Freakishly Fabulous:’ The Big Band is What’s Right With America, Education

News in the world is depressing me right now, and I’m a three-newspaper-a-day kind of person, someone who affectionately calls herself a news junkie.

So if you’re like me, you need something uplifting and good right about now … like watching members of the Southborough middle school jazz band — the jazz group I profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band — play their hearts out for their wildly dedicated band director, Mr. Clark.

I attended the group’s annual Jazz Night last week and was, as usual, blown away by the “freakishly fabulous” way in which this band performed. (WICN’s Howard Caplan initially coined the “freakishly fabulous” adjective when describing the Trottier Middle School Big Band; he even brought a handful of T-shirts saying “Freakishly Fabulous” to Jazz Night, at which he introduced Mr. Clark.)

The concert was exactly what I needed, what everybody needs. As we watch sobbing migrant children being wrenched from their parents’ arms along our border with Mexico, as unbridled political strife seems to be scorching and permanently dividing us, seeing middle school children simply play music and publicly shower their teacher with affection and admiration, to see parents and members of the public bathe the students and their teacher in praise, to watch Mr. Clark strive valiantly to hold back his genuine tears at the end of the 2017-2018 school year as his eighth graders prepare to leave the school and his band room, is to lift one’s heart.

My spirits were indeed lifted when I heard the band’s rendition of the 2013 Erik Morales tune “Kaleidoscope” (see above video), written in memory of Eric Green, the Trottier seventh grade Big Band trumpet player who died unexpectedly in his sleep in January 2012. The year of grief and healing students experienced in the aftermath is chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band. So to hear these students — many years removed from the raw emotions of Eric’s death — play this piece with such verve, brought joy to my heart. Meanwhile their playing of Late Night Diner (see video below) was just, in Mr. Clark’s whispered words … bad ass.

THIS is what and who we are, what America can be. People working hard, working together, trusting one another, being emotionally honest with one another, coaxing the best out of one another, loving one another. That’s why, when I left the Trottier auditorium last week on a clear and warm mid-June evening, I felt a glimmer of hope amid the current darkness, and I’m certain it was more than just the glint of the light bouncing off the students’ shiny instruments.

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)

Book signing with Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra, 4/28

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The Milford (MA)-based Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra — for which Mr. Clark plays the trombone — has invited me to sign copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band at their final concert of the season on Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be held at the beautiful Milford Town Hall, 52 Main Street, Milford.

Mr. Clark, who will not be playing due to an elbow injury, will be joining me as we sign books, discuss the importance of music education, and talk about the process of writing the tale of his 2012-2013 Trottier Middle School jazz band.

The concert will feature the world premiere of Vermont composer Keane Southard’s “An Appalachian Trail Symphony” as well as the playing of Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9: The New World” and Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo.”

Image credit: Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra.

Three time’s a charm: 4/26 Southborough Library talk

Screenshot 2018-03-29 11.51.24Let’s try this again, shall we?

My book talk/book signing at the Southborough Public Library–located in the town where Mr. Clark’s Big Band is set, not too far from the Trottier Middle School–has been rescheduled for a third time. Hopefully there will be no snow or flu complications on the new date: Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. (*knocking on wood*)

I’ll be discussing how I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band and what the writing and researching process was like. I’ll read several select excerpts and, afterward, have copies on sale.

Image credit: Southborough Public Library. 

 

 

Talking Jazz, Music Education & Mr. Clark’s Coffee Addiction on WICN

I had a blast appearing on WICN 90.5FM Jazz+ for New England with Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark from the book) to talk jazz, music education, the Trottier Middle School Big Band, and just how much coffee Jamie actually drinks.

Host Howard Caplan played excerpts of pieces performed by the 2012-2013 Big Band — whose year is chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band — and spoke with us about Jamie’s teaching, about Jamie’s penchant for tossing pencils, and how he inspires his students to play top-notch music that sounds as if it’s produced by much wiser, more experienced musicians.

A link to the specific interview will be forthcoming. In the meantime, for two weeks only, a stream of the February 17 “The Saturday Swing Session” is available online. The interview with Jamie and me appears in the last thirty minutes of the program.

Just booked: 2/17 radio appearance on WICN Jazz+ for New England public radio

wicn_4c-152_1Southborough middle school music director Jamie Clark, the main character (and real-life dude) in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and I will be making a joint appearance on Saturday, Feb. 17 from 11:25 a.m. through noon with “The Saturday Swing Session with Howard Caplan” on WICN Public Radio 90.5 FM.

Clark and I will be talking about the history of the Trottier Middle School’s elite Big Band, including its evolution, and the shelf-load of awards it has accumulated during Clark’s tenure, as well as how the book Mr. Clark’s Big Band, about the 2012-2013 Big Band, came to be.  Excerpts of recordings of Trottier Big Bands, including the ensemble featured in the book, will be played during the broadcast.

Given Clark’s penchant for loquaciousness, don’t be surprised if he attempts to hijack the show and stretch our 35-minute appearance into a marathon take over of the airwaves. Ya never know.

You can stream the interview live at: wicn.org.

Image credit: WICN.

Talkin’ ’bout ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’ in Longmeadow, Mass., Oct. 15

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I’ll be participating in a panel of writers at Bay Path University’s 16th Writers’ Day on Sunday, October 15.

Come hear me talk about how events in my town of Southborough, Mass. inspired me to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I wove events that unfolded during the time I shadowed the middle school jazz band into the narrative. During the 2012-2013 school year in which the book is set, outside events such as the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing had direct impact on the students at the Trottier Middle School as well as on their band director, Jamie Clark.

Appearing on my panel, which is slated for 4:10 p.m., are fellow authors Joan Dempsey and Ellen Meeropol.

Stop on by. I’d love to see you and chat about Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Milford’s Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra celebrates music teachers, Mr. Clark’s Big Band

Screenshot 2017-08-21 16.12.42The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra in Milford, MA — for whom Jamie Clark plays the trombone — will be honoring music teachers on Tuesday, August 22 at 6:30 at the Milford Town Park.

Signed copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band, whose main character is a hero music teacher from nearby Southborough, will be available at the performance.

Image credit: Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra.

Vacationing on Cape Cod? Get a signed copy of ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band!’

Screenshot 2017-08-04 18.23.38Going to Cape Cod for vacation?

Stop into the Brewster Book Store on Route 6A in Brewster and pick up a signed copy of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

It’s an amusing and inspiring beach selection as you read about Mr. Clark’s musings on why people eating more doughnuts would reduce global warming, why he could never be a mime, and how he once got into big trouble with his father after he killed a spider. Plus, you can find out why the teenaged Mr. Clark refused to apologize to his high school principal after he got into a physical altercation with another student in the lunch room.

Image credit: Meredith O’Brien.