celebrating ireland with a virtual Facebook parade of authors

Facebook-based book groups The Write Review and Sue’s Reading Neighborhood teamed up with six other book groups to create a virtual, day-long St. Patrick’s Day “parade” of authors. Since we can’t stand on the sidewalks to watch live St. Patrick’s Day parades anywhere due to the coronavirus, this was the next best thing, plus it gave us the opportunity to speak with authors who are in Ireland right now, while we’re stateside. The Irish Echo even ran a feature story about the unusual, COVID-era event.

I appeared on a panel where the writers discussed the “Irish DNA” in our work. The night before the panel, I looked over my four books and discovered that there’s Irishness deep within the bones of each, in one way or another.

The only explicit reference to my Irish connection (via my father’s father), was found in my collection of humor/parenting columns in my book A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum where I included a piece called, “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with All-American mutts.” In it, I talk about how my husband and I served our three young kids the same corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread my family used to eat every March 17 (full disclosure: my husband almost always made the corned beef.) While Scott took care of the corned beef, I’d have the kids create shamrock-themed crafts while I blasted U2 and the Dropkick Murphys (“Shipping Up to Boston” of course) as Scott and I enjoyed Guinness. That was usually followed by the kids’ consumption of super-sweet shamrock shaped cookies with sprinkles set atop their shamrock paper plates. One year, Scott and I took them to South Boston, where my brother lived at the time, to watch the famous Southie St. Patrick’s Day parade, not too far away from the L Street diner, which was featured in “Good Will Hunting.”

My next book, Mortified: a novel about oversharing, didn’t explicitly have Irish references, although the main characters were Irish. You had Michael Kelly who married Maggie Finn, whose mother was Molly Mahoney, whose mother Emily had lace curtains in the window. The novel was set in a suburb outside of Boston, an area where Irishness is deeply felt. When I was a newspaper reporter for a brief time, covering Boston City Hall in 1998, I was frequently asked, “What county are you from?” I’d wrinkle my brow, recall the western Massachusetts county where I was raised (Hampden), but then realized they meant from which IRISH county did my family hail (Cork).

Years later, my two works of narrative nonfiction included Irishness not only because the second one, Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir, was my story and I have Irish heritage, but because both books made frequent reference to Jamison Clark, the main character of Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. He not only was the hero in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, but he appeared at the beginning (and the end) of Uncomfortably Numb as he was there when I first experienced numbness in my left leg. During one of my first long interviews with him (the one with the numbness), Clark told me about and showed me his Celtic necklace with the “triple Goddess” that he wears, saying it symbolizes eternity and rebirth, this from a man who married a woman named Colleen O’Brien (no relation) and who, before they had kids, would spend the entire St. Patrick’s Day in the Black Rose in Boston.

While a recent DNA test told me I am 53 percent British and Irish (designating County Cork as a likely ancestral location), Irish influence has always been strong, particularly because of that O apostrophe at the beginning of my last name.

Watch the panel discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/1367330023/videos/10225035457138085/

‘mr. clark’s big band’ in ‘southborough living’ magazine

southborough living

Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room is featured in the second issue of the new publication Southborough Living.

The article includes a summary of the book, as well reviews of the award-winning work of creative nonfiction.

To view Southborough Living magazine, go here.

Image credit: Southborough Living.

‘mr. clark’s big band’ goes to southborough library & the symphony

southborough library photo

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)

listen to mr. clark & me on WICN

WICN interview photosWICN 90.5 FM host Howard Caplan kindly shared a recording of the interview he had with Massachusetts band director Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark) and me during his Saturday Swing Session show.

We listened to recordings of Clark’s middle school jazz band from Southborough’s Trottier Middle School, as well as discussed teaching, inspiring young musicians, and the book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.

Take a listen:

wicn 90.5 fm features ‘mr. clark’s big band’ book

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.

saturday morning jazz: radio segment on ‘mr. clark’s big band’ slated for 2/17

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, Jazz+ for New England.

Clark and I will be chatting 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.

kindle version of ‘mr. clark’s big band’ out this week

Screenshot 2017-12-04 10.14.05Want to hear what Mr. Clark’s voice sounds like? Want to hear him talk about Mr. Clark’s Big Band, the ups and downs of teaching middle school? Want to hear a recording of the jazz band premiere “Kaleidoscope” at the memorial service for their beloved friend Eric Green, for whom the piece was written?

The Kindle version of Mr. Clark’s Big Band, out this week, contains those special goodies.

However, if you’re a lover of all things tactile–count me among them–consider getting the music lover, the teacher, the band parent, music student in your life a copy of the paperback book for the holidays. Better yet, get them both the digital and the paperback and they’ll think you are a wildly generous soul.

An added Christmas/holiday bonus: If you email me, you can buy a copy of the book which I will sign and mail to the recipient of your choice! mereditheobrien@gmail.com. You will be my (and their) holiday hero!!

Image credit: Amazon.

‘bay state parent’ features ‘mr. clark’s big band’

Screenshot 2017-07-25 12.38.50 (2)

Bay State Parent recently ran a long feature story about the story behind Mr. Clark’s Big Band. Writer Melissa Shaw began the piece this way:

A Southborough mother and writer has transformed the unexpected death of a 12-year-old into a book detailing the true story of how the bond between a music teacher and his students helped them grieve and grow following the loss of their friend.

Shaw — who solicited comments from Suzy Green, the mother of the 12-year-old — also spent time speaking with Jamie Clark about the book:

Published in May, the book has been well-received by the community, former Big Band members, and the subject himself: ‘I have read the book and I love it!’ Clark says. ‘Reading it was an emotional experience, as I relived all the events covered in the book. I am incredibly proud of how the students [specifically] and the community [as a whole] rallied to support each other in that difficult time. … I hope that it helps others who are grieving and offers some guidance for the caretakers of children who have suffered a loss.'”

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Bay State Parent.

‘mr. clark’s big band’ goes to bar harbor music festival

Heading to the 51st annual Bar Harbor Music Festival over the July 4 holiday? 

I’ll be helping to celebrate the magic of music by signing copies of logoMr. Clark’s Big Band before and after performances by Brass Venture, the brass ensemble featuring Jamie Clark, the music teacher (Mr. Clark) featured in the book.

Brass Venture is slated to perform on Wednesday, July 5 at 8 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, 29 Mount Desert Street, Bar Harbor, Maine. The group will be playing music by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Alan Hovhaness, and John Philip Sousa, as well as premiering a piece by Jeffrey Kaufman. Brass Venture will also be participating in the Young Audience portion of the festival, performing earlier in the day on July 5 at 1 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church.

I will be on hand at both events signing copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band. And since Jamie Clark will be around, you could get him to sign your copy as well.