Down to the Sea in Ships - New Bedford Whaling Museum
Pianist Jennifer A. Maxwell
Pianist Jennifer A. Maxwell

Saturday, November 23, 2024
Doors Open at 6:00 PM
Film Starts at 6:30 PM
Tickets are $10 for Members or $20 for General Public 

Down to the Sea in Ships

Saturday, November 23, 2024 at 6:00 PM | Tickets are $10 for Members or $20 for General Public

Experience the film just as audiences would have in the silent film era . . . with live piano!

Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), directed by Elmer Clifton and filmed in New Bedford, is a full feature silent film (1:34) that’ll be screened in the Whaling Museum’s Harbor View Gallery with musical score performed live at a grand piano by Jennifer A. Maxwell, a Classical Concert Pianist nominated for a Grammy in 2016 and 2018.

Using some archival material and some original material, Maxwell created a theme for each character (hero's theme, villain’s theme, etc.) and each type of action (love theme, whaling theme, etc.), timed them to occur exactly for the durations of the scenes, and composed them in keys and such that would segue appropriately from one to the next. She also utilized a couple of vintage tunes that would have been recognizable in the day, weaving them in with the original music. All with the purpose of underscoring the narrative and providing cohesion in a medium in which there is no dialogue. With its theme of whaling, and its inclusion of the only legally filmed whale hunt in cinema history, the film is a brilliant record of New Bedford history. It also is notable for featuring the debut of the inimitable flapper girl movie star Clara Bow—and she is indeed delightful!

Doors open at 6:00 PM for a lite bite and cash bar service in the Harbor View Gallery (Upper Level), with limited cabaret style seating, and rows of chairs. for film viewing. Remarks and film screening will begin promptly at 6:30 PM. The event ends at 8:00 PM


Down to the Sea in Ships contains semi-documentary footage of whalers at work, and was shot on historic locations in Massachusetts, most notably in New Bedford, and at the Apponegansett Meeting House and Elihu Akin House in Dartmouth. The film's title cards are notable for having quotes from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Alexander Starbuck's History of the American Whale Fishery.

The authenticity of the whaling scenes is noted in the opening screen credits, which praise the bravery of both A.G. Penrod and Paul H. Allen, the cameramen, "who, in small boats, stood by their cameras at the risk of their lives to photograph the fighting whales. The Charles W. Morgan was one of the whaling ships used in the film.

The fictional story features Captain Charles W. Morgan (William Walcott) is a well-respected businessman who owns a fleet of whaling ships in the Quaker town of New Bedford. He is very close to his shy, obedient daughter, Patience (Marguerite Courtot), and tells her that she must marry a man who is a whaler and a Quaker, like him. His son and daughter-in-law were lost ten years before while on a whaling expedition; eventually, their baby, his granddaughter Dot (Clara Bow), was found "in a chest on a raft bundled in sail cloth." He has raised her ever since. Dot is a mischievous, rebellious child, who wants to be a whaler when she grows up, an ambition that is not acceptable for a female among her people.

Pianist, Educator and Scholar

American pianist Dr. Jennifer A. Maxwell has earned acclaim for her versatility as a performer, educator, and scholar. A 2016 and 2018 Grammy Award Nominee, she has performed thousands of concerts of solo and chamber repertoire across the country, been featured in television and radio interviews, written a film score, and judged competitions.

Maxwell has held professorships at Roger Williams University and the University of Rhode Island, and she is faculty emerita at the Nantucket Music Center. Previously she held positions at the University of Chicago, Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Center for the Arts, and University of Louisville.

Maxwell earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Boston University, where she was in the studio of the legendary Anthony di Bonaventura and was granted a special dissertation scholarship to research and write Tracing a Lineage of the Mazurka Genre: Influences of Szymanowski and Chopin on the Mazurkas of Thomas Adès.  Read the full biography HERE.