boston globe tells the story behind the book

Screenshot 2017-05-15 10.20.27The Boston Globe’s Sunday, May 14 edition ran a “Story Behind the Book” feature on Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Writer Kate Tuttle wrote of the book:

In Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room, O’Brien chronicles that first painful year after [Eric] Green’s death, as Jamie Clark and his musicians pulled together to remember Eric. “They wanted Eric Green to be memorialized,” she said. “I think it was very healing for them to be part of the process, and then for the kids who were in music to play the song that was written for Eric.”

Tuttle continued:

At a time when arts education is often threatened in public school budgets, O’Brien argues for its importance. “For these particular kids, the emotional outlet that the music provided them, I think it was very powerful,” she said. “To these kids the music was their way of saying ‘We care; we love you; we miss you.’ ”

southborough’s middle school celebrates ‘mr. clark’s big band’

book launch band.jpgParents, educators, students and friends converged on the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. on Sunday to celebrate the publication of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Trottier School Principal Keith Lavoie emceed the event, introducing me before I read several excerpts from the book–specifically a segment about members of the 2012-2013 Big Band debating, during a January 2013 rehearsal, which would curdle one’s stomach more: eating boneless chicken-in-a-can or “gas station sushi.” I also read excerpts including one which describes a student triumphing over her fears in order to play a solo, knowing that Mr. Clark had her back, and another about the pre-performance jitters that occur when band members learn that their lead trumpet player is heading to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy an hour before showtime.

book launch jamie meredithAfter thanking the nearly 150 people who crowded the cafeteria decorated with sunflowers, sheet music and enlarged copies of the book cover, Trottier music teacher Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark, see pictured on the left) led the current members of the Big Band in several pieces including Paul Clark’s swinging “A Band’s Gotta Do What a Band’s Gotta Do” and Doug Beach’s sassy “Late Night Diner.”

Big Band alumni, including many students who were profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band and are now in high school–therefore they towered over their middle school counterparts, joined the group for the hard-charging final number, “Groovin’ Hard,” the chart made famous by drummer Buddy Rich.

Suzy Green–Eric Green’s mother–was on hand, as were the Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Christine Johnson, former Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Charles Gobron and Mass. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema.

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Trottier Principal Keith Lavoie looks on as I read from Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

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Jamie Clark speaks in front of his current Big Band

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Clark surprises me by pulling me up in front of the band after they finish “Groovin’ Hard.”

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Clark, Suzy Green and me celebrate the joyousness that is the Big Band.

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Clark is a world-class bear-hugger.

Image credits: Sharon Shoemaker

telegram & gazette spotlights southborough big band book

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette published a long piece in advance of the book launch party at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough.telegram and gazette

The article, “Book charts Southboro school band, leader’s coping with member’s death,” began this way:

Today, parents, teachers and music students in Southboro will meet to honor a rather special story. It’s told in a book about kids who lose their fellow band member and experience the harshness of grief at a vulnerable age — poised on the brink of adolescence and not really equipped to figure out their feelings.

Writer Ann Connery Frantz continued:

Subtitled: “A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room,” the book contains a virtual text for grief management, made human by the kids’ stories (anonymously) and their difficulty in setting aside fear and grief over a buddy’s death to move forward as Clark melds individuals into a team, rocking their approach to life and music.

community advocate profiles ‘mr. clark’s big band’

community-advocate-logoA weekly local paper in the Southborough, Massachusetts area, the Community Advocate, has profiled Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

“For residents of small, tight-knit Southborough, the morning of Jan. 11, 2012 brought with it deep sorrow and mourning as news of 12-year-old Eric Green’s passing swept through the town,” Sue Wambolt wrote in the Advocate. “A seventh-grade student and member of the P. Brent Trottier Middle School big band, Green died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart condition.”

“While friends, neighbors and townsfolk struggled to come to terms with the loss, big band teacher Jamie Clark demonstrated the power of music to heal wounds as he guided his students through an emotionally challenging year,” she continued. “Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room, penned by resident and ‘big band mother’ Meredith O’Brien, chronicles this journey and gives an inside look at navigating bereavement in middle school.”

Image credit: Community Advocate.

bloggers recommend ‘mr. clark’s big band’ as example of teen bereavement handled well

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.”

jazz educator/artist endorses ‘mr. clark’s big band’

Screenshot 2017-03-14 16.28.13Jazz performer Dr. Steve Raybine, a jazz educator and recording artist, lauded Mr. Clark’s Big Band:

Meredith O’Brien hits all the right notes in her new book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band. This is a warm-hearted story about a charismatic middle school jazz band director. He both comforts and inspires the members of his jazz band who are grieving the loss of their fellow bandsman. Written with insight and affection, this will take you back to your own years as a middle school band student.
Dr. Raybine is a virtuoso vibraphonist (nicknamed the “Master of the Mallets”), percussionist, composer/arranger, instructor and clinician. He has recorded four jazz CDs including Cool Vibes, In the Driver’s Seat, Bad Kat Karma and Balance Act.

writer suzanne strempek shea hails ‘mr. clark’s big band’ as ‘a timeless story’

sundays-in-americaAward-winning writer Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of nine books, including novels and works of nonfiction, praises Mr. Clark’s Big Band:

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 the unsung heroes all around us.

Strempek Shea teaches creative writing in the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, and is the writer-in-residence and director of the creative writing program at Bay Path University.

Image credit: Amazon.