‘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.

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.

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.

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.”