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.

talking books, writing, and music in hopkinton

The trio that make up the Hopkinton Coffee Break hosts — Darlene Hayes, Colleen Wright, and Patricia Duarte — recently invited me to dish with them about my writing, my kids, and journalism during their lively half-hour weekly talk show.

We discussed my latest book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band (2017), about a Southborough jazz band led by a risk-taking teacher, as well as my other books, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing (2013), about a fictional blogger who reveals way too much personal info online, and my collection of humor/parenting columns from when my three children were but wee youngin’s, A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum (2007).

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.

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’

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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.

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’

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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.

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.