Song Inspired by the Ben Franklin

Composer Thomas Beckman loves writing music about local history. “When music has something to connect it to the real world, I far more enjoy the creative process.” His most recent work, “Submerged” for string quartet, was inspired by the Ben Franklin submersible on display outside the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Serious-looking man in dark clothing

Thomas Beckman aboard the Ben Franklin

“The Ben Franklin is an eerie and cool-looking machine that just begged to have something written for it,” says Beckman. The composer was also fascinated by the amazing scientific exploration the Ben Franklin undertook in 1969.

When Beckman approached the Vancouver Maritime Museum about writing a song about the Ben Franklin, we were thrilled. Beckman had composed other songs inspired by VMM exhibitions. His St Roch Suite, dedicated to the St Roch, our most popular exhibition, was premiered by the Prince George Symphony, the Nove Voce choir and with poet Jude Neale. Beckman was inspired by the heroic traverse of the Northwest passage and wrote a three-movement work that loosely followed Farrar’s account.  The third movement as a fantasia on Stan Rogers’ song “Northwest Passage.” He also composed a short piece for string quartet, performed by the Borealis String Quartet. Inspired by the engine room of the St. Roch, this piece was musical machination of a ship engine. At the VMM we were excited to hear how he would interpret the Ben Franklin.

We invited Beckman to come to the museum and explore the interior of the submersible. He says “I was immediately struck by the intimate and fascinating aspects of the craft, and imagined myself 2000 feet below the surface along the US east coast, observing marine life and vegetation, taking measurements, and interacting with the small crew in such close quarters over a span of 30 days.”

The end result was “Submerged.” Beckman wrote the piece for the Orchestra North Academie festival this August in Smithers, B.C. At the festival, the Beckman workshopped the piece with the Orchestra North Academie quartet that featured Erin James and Roxy Dykstra on violin, Julien Haynes on viola and Nicholas Denton Protsack on cello. The piece evolved during the workshopping process. The group decided to perform the entire song using mutes to lend the piece a watery and submerged sound. The restraint of the mutes enhances the eerie tension in the work as well.

Submerged premiered at the Orchestry North Academie fesitaval with a broadcast on Smithers Community Radio CICK 93.9 and was performed several times.

Beckman also made a gorgeous video for submerged with film maker Darko Sikman.

Big thanks go out to Beckman, to the Orchetra north Academie quartet musicians and to Darko Sikman for this beautiful song and video.