upcoming events: first memoir event 3/7

Tatnuck eventI’ve been furiously updating my Google calendar to add new book-related events to promote my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb (released on March 3).

Here’s a list of what I have scheduled thus far:

Book launch: March 7, 1-3 p.m., Tatnuck Bookseller, Westborough, MA

My first event for Uncomfortably Numb is a March 7 book talk and signing at Westborough, MA’s independent bookstore, 18 Lyman Street, Westborough.

The event runs from 1-3 p.m. Light refreshments will be available.

I’ll be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Book talk: March 26, Northborough, MA Lyceum

I have been invited to talk about the impact the Southborough middle school music program had on two of my children as chronicled in my 2017 nonfiction book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears & Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.  

The book examined how a larger-than-life music teacher helped his grieving students in a small Massachusetts town find strength and peace through the creative expression in their music and the camaraderie of the band room.

The talk — whose details are still being worked out — will take place in Northborough, MA.

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Book talk/signing: March 28, 1 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

I will be heading back to western Massachusetts — where I grew up and went to college — to promote Uncomfortably Numb at the Barnes & Noble, 7 Holyoke Street, Holyoke, MA (near the Holyoke Mall).

The event begins at 1 p.m.

I will be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Southborough library event flyer

Book talk/signing: April 9, 7 p.m., Southborough Public Library, Southborough, MA

I will be discussing why I wrote Uncomfortably Numb and will read aloud from the memoir at the Southborough Public Library, 25 Main Street, Southborough.

The event starts at 7 p.m.

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I’m working on scheduling other events and will post them when plans are nailed down.

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

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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.

2017-2018 southborough middle school group continues in ‘mr. clark’s big band’ tradition

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*

 

signing sneakers & arms at a massachusetts middle school

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

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Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.

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.

 

 

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.

springfield newspaper covers ‘mr. clark’s big band’

the-republican-springfield-ma_largeThe newspaper for which I used to be a reporter, The Republican (in Springfield, MA), was kind enough to run a large piece about Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

When Meredith O’Brien’s son, Jonah, was a seventh-grade drummer in the Trottier Middle School jazz band in Southborough, 12-year-old trumpet player Eric Green died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment. The members of the jazz band were shaken to their core.

From the throes of his own grief, the Trottier Big Band’s director, Jamison Clark, became the children’s guide, their catalyst for healing. With a face resembling Santa’s, coupled with eyebrow-raising antics ranging from bathroom jokes to poking fun at his own girth, Clark coaxed the children to pour their grief into their music through a challenging year of mourning.

bloggers publish essay about mr. clark’s risk-taking, big-hearted teaching style

A number of blogs have published an essay I wrote about the advantages of having your child in a classroom taught by someone who takes risks, who puts his or her emotions out in the open, who is willing to give the students what they really need.

updated-header-november-2016Bernetta Style: This blog ran the article under the title, “Your Child’s Teacher May be Doing Right by Giving Students What They Want.”

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TwinMom: This site featured the piece which also highlights how school officials at a Southborough, Massachusetts middle school ditched their concerns about precedent in order to provide students the support they craved.

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Books By T. Smith:  This blog also published the essay whose main point can be summarized by these two lines:

To the children at Trottier Middle School, breaking down the emotional barriers between student and teacher–which many faculty doggedly maintain as a badge of professionalism, not worrying about precedent-setting in order to tend to the emotional needs of its students was just what these children needed to emerge on the other side of grief. What I learned by watching this school for a year: sometimes you need to set the rules aside and give the students what they need.

frugalmom.jpgReading with Frugal Mom: The Frugal Mom published this piece on its Reading with Frugal Mom website and promoted it on its Adventures with Frugal Mom Twitter account. Thank you!!

Image credits: BernettaStyle website, TwinMom website, Books By T. Smith, and Reading with Frugal Mom