‘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.

 

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.

Book Project Covered by Springfield (MA) Paper

the-republican-springfield-ma_largeThe newspaper for which I used to be a reporter, The Republican (in Springfield, MA), was kind enough to run a large piece about Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

When Meredith O’Brien’s son, Jonah, was a seventh-grade drummer in the Trottier Middle School jazz band in Southborough, 12-year-old trumpet player Eric Green died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment. The members of the jazz band were shaken to their core.

From the throes of his own grief, the Trottier Big Band’s director, Jamison Clark, became the children’s guide, their catalyst for healing. With a face resembling Santa’s, coupled with eyebrow-raising antics ranging from bathroom jokes to poking fun at his own girth, Clark coaxed the children to pour their grief into their music through a challenging year of mourning.

 

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.”