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.
The 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.
The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.
Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”
The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.
Parents 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).
Several 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 was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.
And my first sneaker.
And a slightly sweaty palm.
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.
Later, 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.
I 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.
My book talk/book signing at the Southborough Public Library–located in the town where Mr. Clark’s Big Band is set, not too far from the Trottier Middle School–has been rescheduled for a third time. Hopefully there will be no snow or flu complications on the new date: Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. (*knocking on wood*)
I’ll be discussing how I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band and what the writing and researching process was like. I’ll read several select excerpts and, afterward, have copies on sale.