watch the 2017-2018 big band in action

The current Big Band members at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. — led by the larger-than-life music director Mr. Clark, of Mr. Clark’s Big Band fame — are continuing to carry on the school’s tradition of sharing their music with their unique brand of unbridled enthusiasm.

33784860_2243272132366728_5795502403910369280_nThe Trottier Middle School’s Facebook page recently featured a video of the 2017-2018 Big Band playing “Uptown Funk” during a school assembly. Seeing the joy on the faces of the middle school students reminded me of the Big Band students I observed during 2012-2013 school year, whose journeys I chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. I really miss the time I spent in the Trottier band room observing Mr. Clark and those students hone their skills and tell really bad jokes.

However …  I’ll get an opportunity to revel in Big Band tunes during their June 14 Jazz Night performance at the Trottier Middle School at 7 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society.

You can get an audio preview of this year’s Big Band repertoire by listening to the middle school musicians perform on WICN 90.5 FM Jazz+ for New England on Howard Caplan’s “The Saturday Swing Session” on Saturday, June 9 between 11 a.m. and noon.

*To watch the video of “Uptown Funk” performance, click here*

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.

Baystate Parent profiles ‘Mr. Clark’s Big Band’

music-man

Baystate Parent Magazine’s editor Melissa Shaw spent a lot of time speaking with me about the several-years-long process of writing and researching of Mr. Clark’s Big Band. Her piece about the book, about Jamie Clark, and about Suzy Green’s reaction to the project, is featured in the July issue of the magazine.

Shaw watched Clark in action herself when she took photos of him (see above) conducting the Trottier Big Band at their Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators competition, in which they received top honors.

Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

The book follows the band members and Clark through the 2012-2013 school year, all leading up to a year-end memorial service, at which the group would play a brand-new, professionally composed jazz piece commissioned in [Eric] Green’s memory.

“Kaleidoscope,” created by composer Erik Morales, is described as an “incredibly unique” and complicated swing number that proved difficult for the young musicians, thanks to scheduling and emotions.

“The students didn’t get [the sheet music] until late in the year,” O’Brien recalls. “All the kids I talked to said they were so afraid of making a mistake — a mistake equaled disrespecting his memory. Two weeks before the Eric Green Ceremony I was listening to them saying, They are never going to master Kaleidoscope. I was so worried. I asked Mr. Clark, ‘How do you think they’re going to do? This seems very precarious.’ His answer: ‘They just have to.’ It surprised me how things just shifted; I don’t know what that magic shift was, and then they got it. I don’t understand how they go from shambles to kicking it.”

After successfully debuting the song at Green’s memorial, O’Brien describes the children’s sense of relief as “palpable.”

“Afterwards, they were in the cafeteria, acting like kids, they seemed happy,” she recalls. “They seemed, like, ‘We did it. We’ve honored him,’ almost giving themselves permission to move on. But that whole fear of disrespecting him, I felt, hung over them the whole year.

“It’s not just mastering the notes on the page,” she continues. “I think one of the things Mr. Clark focused on is how can they safely process their emotions through the music because he would try to make the band room a place of openness, of safety. Where, if they were playing a ballad and it’s really emotional, it’s OK to be emotional here and to express it in the notes. That’s a really hard thing to communicate to anybody, never mind children who are going through the rockiness of adolescence.”

Read the whole story here.

Image credit: Melissa Shaw, Baystate Parent.

‘Mr. Clark’s’ signings at Jazz Night & Tatnuck

jazz night 2017Thank you to all the folks who bought books at my recent book signings. It has been an absolute pleasure to meet current and former music students, current and former music teachers, hosts of radio jazz programs (like WICN’s Howard Caplan and Tom Nutile) as well as fans of an uplifting story about a band director helping his students find their way.

Trottier Jazz Night

I was honored to appear at Jazz Night at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, along with my drummer son Jonah (see above), a former member of the Trottier Big Band who just graduated from high school (*sniff*).

I met current Trottier Big Band members who excitedly told me their own Mr. Clark stories, and spoke with professional musician/trumpet player/vocalist Christine Fawson, who performed with the Big Band, about teachers who make an impact on their students.

To see what kind of magic Clark inspires, take a look at what his current eighth grade Big Band members did at the end of Jazz Night 2017 (see video above). As a surprise gift to their band director at their final performance as middle schoolers, the students taught themselves Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and played it for him. At the song’s conclusion, you can see Clark is the first one to leap to his feet to applaud.

Additionally, I learned that Trottier Middle School has added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to its summer reading list.

tatnuck signingTatnuck Books

A local independent book store, Tatnuck Books in Westborough, MA (right), hosted a book signing for me where a retired music teacher told me she’d read about the event in the local newspaper and was looking forward to reading the tale that reinforces what she already knows deep within her bones: music education makes a tremendous difference to children.

As if to put an exclamation point on the teacher’s statement, a former Westborough music student later told me she not only bonded tightly with her middle school music teacher, but that she sorely misses her band room days.

Southborough Public Library

southborough library

My local library in Southborough — the Massachusetts town in which Mr. Clark’s Big Band is set — used social media to kindly promote the fact that they’d added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to their shelves.

‘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.

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.