Books

story behind the book | kate tuttle

Middle school jazz band learned to play through its grief

david wilson for the boston globe

When Meredith O’Brien’s son was a seventh grader, a fellow member of Southborough’s Trottier Middle School jazz band died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition. A recording of one of Eric Green’s trumpet solos played at his funeral.

Later that spring, O’Brien, a veteran journalist, watched the band perform at the school’s jazz night. “All the parents in the audience were worried about how our kids were going to make it through emotionally, and as l listened to them play, I was astonished at how mature those children were, how beautiful it sounded,” she said. “And I thought, ‘How did they get to this point?’ The answer became obvious the more I thought about it: It was the band director, Mr. Clark.”

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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 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.”

O’Brien didn’t just write about the children; Suzy Green, Eric’s mother, sat down for a long interview. “I hope that she absorbs the message that the book is about the impact her son’s life had on these students,” O’Brien said. “Her son is not forgotten by this class.”

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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.’ ”

O’Brien will be signing books at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 20 at Stax Discount Books, 193A Boston Post Road, Marlborough.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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