westfield book talk: blue umbrella books

Thank you to Westfield (Mass.) independent bookstore Blue Umbrella Books for hosting my Mr. Clark’s Big Band book talk and signing on Veterans’ Day weekend.

It was great fun to visit my old stomping grounds and chat with friends from high school and college. Family members who live in western Massachusetts also came out to represent!

If you missed the event, signed copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band are still for sale at Blue Umbrella.

The bookstore folks live-streamed my book talk on Facebook. You can watch a recording here: https://www.facebook.com/BlueUmbrellaBooks/videos/1717853861625507/?hc_ref=ARRMYMhOKjANxxnBv_mvKCKOtDfaIm-5jhlgofdxSk6DRpYONumGsFkb0ZTzh17MFWM

Image credits: Scott Weiss.

westfield, ma book signing: blue umbrella books

blue umbrella logo

I’ll be heading to western Massachusetts for a book signing on Nov. 11 from 1-3 p.m.

The independent bookstore, Blue Umbrella Books of Westfield, MA, will play host as I sign copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

My ties to the city run deep. I lived in Westfield for my first six years, did my first journalism internship there (at The Westfield News) and covered the area as a young reporter for The Republican.

I’m looking forward to seeing friends from my hometown, the neighboring West Springfield. If you’re in the area, come join us!

Image credit: Blue Umbrella Books.

writers’ day panel at BPU talks current events & nonfiction

bay path writers day 2017CBay Path University played host to its 16th Writers’ Day this past weekend, as scribes talked about how to effectively read one’s work aloud in front of a crowd (Charles Coe, All Sins Forgiven poet and author extraordinaire!) and how to turn family documents, handwritten letters, and memories into an intergenerational memoir (the fabulous Patricia Reis, Motherlines author).

bay path writers day 2017BThe final panel was packed with tales from three writers–Kinship of Clover’s Ellen Meeropol, This is How It Begins’ Joan Dempsey, and yours truly (see above photos)–who discussed how we used events in the world and in our own lives to inspire our writing, as well as how we folded current events into existing narratives on which we were working. My presentation focused on the real life events in my town of Southborough that inspired Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I worked events such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing into my book about a middle school jazz band.

Thank you to author and educator Suzanne Strempek Shea for putting these panels together and for affording us the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about one of our favorite subjects: writing.

Image credits: Suzanne Strempek SheaSuzanne Strempek Shea via the Bay Path University MFA Program. 

‘writers’ group’ interview spotlights ‘mr. clark’s big band’

obrien_banner

Pioneer Valley Radio’s Bernadette Duncan recently interviewed me about all things Mr. Clark’s Big Band. We discussed how I was inspired to write the book, what the research process was like and about the reception it has received from the community:

“Her book is a touching real life story of pain, courage, friendship and growing up that chronicles the feelings and lives of the young members of a middle school music band who had to cope with the unexpected death due to illness of one of their classmates and bandmates.  Bernadette Duncan interviews Westfield-born writer and journalist Meredith O’Brien who will be at Bay Path University’s Writers’ Day on October 15th discussing her latest book Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, May 2017).”

Take a listen:

Image credit: Pioneer Valley Radio.

join me at bay path university’s writers’ day, oct. 15

writers day bpuCome join authors Patricia Reis, Charles Coe, Ellen Meeropol and me for lively conversations about writing about one’s personal life, reading one’s work aloud, and folding current events into your work at Bay Path University’s Writers’ Day on Sunday, Oct. 15 starting at 1 p.m. at the  D’Amour Hall for Business, Communications and Technology.

The first panel is slated to be led by author, visual artist, filmmaker, and therapist Patricia Reis: “Mining the Personal for your Nonfiction.” According to the itinerary: “Topics will include using personal elements and materials in nonfiction rather than fiction, how resources can be gathered, what it’s like to present a relative’s story–and your own–so candidly, and dealing with family reactions while a project is in progress and after it’s published.”

The second panel is scheduled to be anchored by award-winning poet and singer Charles Coe: “Standing Your Ground: Thoughts on Reading in Public.” Coe plans to “describe tools and techniques that can help in preparing and delivering a reading. He’ll also work with a few volunteers willing to read before the group and be coached on their presentations.”

The third and final panel–from 4:10 – 5:25 p.m.– will feature Ellen Meeropol, Joan Dempsey and me for, “Swimming with the Current.” Panelists will “discuss how current events in their hometowns and in the larger world have inspired their engrossing fiction and nonfiction. Incorporating topics including cults, racial diversity, the Boston marathon bombings, human trafficking, and a community in grief, the trio’s work will get you thinking about how to use current events as your own springboard.”

Sign up for the day’s events here.

Image credit: Bay Path University.

 

 

milford area orchestra’s ‘salute’ to music teachers

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.

‘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.

recent press for ‘mr. clark’s big band’

smartmusic.jpgHere are some pieces I’ve written about Mr. Clark’s Big Band recently, as well as a link to a review:

Music Lessons from Mr. Clark: A column I wrote about the lessons I, a non-musician, learned from watching Jamie Clark teach his students over the course of a school year. An excerpt:

When the Big Band performed an aching rendition of “Kaleidoscope” — the jazz piece composed for them by Erik Morales — at the Eric Green memorial service in June 2013, in front of Eric’s family in a packed auditorium, I, personally, graduated from music school, the school of Mr. Clark. I didn’t learn how to read sheet music. I still couldn’t sing. I couldn’t blow a note on a trumpet, but I learned, firsthand, about the stunning power of music and one teacher to give young people the guidance, safety and comfort they desperately needed in order to move on.

Mr. Clark’s Big Band — A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room: The blog Michigan Mom Living reviewed the book saying,

Not an easy book for O’Brien to write since she was personally touched by this story and then to take the time to spend an entire school year figuring out the WHY of Mr. Clark’s jazz band being possibly therapy for the students’ grief?  In this story, O’Brien writes the daily on-goings in the band room and regarding jazz band performances.  Some stellar, most were not as she was trying to unravel the meaning and tightness of this band and their band leader.  Why was it that everyone loved this class and respected the band leader, Mr. Clark, so much?  Was it because he pushed them, believed in them, made them feel they had something more to share? Join O’Brien as she daily reflects the monotony of practices and performances of achievement failure and closure in this non-fiction [book].  This novel is geared toward adults, but highly recommended for Middle School and up as it will touch some great points for students.

5 Lessons from Mr. Clark: How Risk-Taking Teaching Can Benefit Kids: A blog post I wrote for SmartMusic about how Clark’s unorthodox teaching approaches to his students helped them get through a difficult year. This includes quotes from Clark’s colleagues and former students. A sample:

Tom Griffin, a teacher at Trottier, said students are drawn to Clark’s honesty. “I think they adore him,” he said. “He is so open with them and truthful. They are willing to go to the ends of the earth to do what he wants. … They trust him beyond all belief.”

Former student-teacher [Scott] Morrill said students tolerate Clark’s frankness about their playing because they say he cares deeply about helping them perform their best. “I think, a lot of time, teachers sugarcoat,” he said. “You know something, they needed [the honesty]. A lot of times, you get from teachers, ‘That’s good.’ What is ‘good?’ Sometimes you need colorful, graphic language.”

Image credit: SmartMusic via Twitter.