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Local musician writes memorial piece to honor Franklin teens

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When a friend asked Matt Burmeister to write a song about the five Franklin teens who went over the dam in the Big Blue River this summer, he didn’t want to do it.

Burmeister, 40, who lives in Franklin and makes a living as a musician, didn’t know the teens or their families. He wasn’t sure how to write a song that properly remembered the two teens who died, the two who survived and the one who remains critically injured.

“That’s a hard thing to do,” Burmeister said. “Not only is it so personal to all of the people involved, but as a songwriter, how can you write something that would be able to cover all of the aspects?”

But Burmeister’s friend, John Dunlap, told him a song is something that could help the families and the city of Franklin remember the teens as they healed. Burmeister understood that: When he was 13, his 16-year-old stepbrother died in Illinois after trying to save a friend who had been swept over a dam.

This was a chance to write something that would offer families going through a similar tragedy some comfort.

Burmeister wrote the song, “The Color Blue,” a few days after talking to Dunlap. Franklin Community High School used the song as part of a video on the first day of school honoring Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne, who died while trying to save Sarah McLevish, who was injured after being swept over the dam. Franklin teens Mark Nally and Trent Crabb also went after McLevish but were unharmed.

Burmeister, who wasn’t paid to write the song, didn’t expect the song would be used in the high school’s video; he simply thought it was something that would help people remember the teens who died or were injured. The song talks about a day that starts out ordinarily and within a moment is turned upside down. The title, “The Color Blue,” refers to the blue and white ribbons residents put up all over Franklin in honor of the five teens.

“It’s touching to think that, of the millions of songs they could have chosen, that (mine) was worthy enough to use,” Burmeister said.

Dunlap asked Burmeister to consider writing “The Color Blue” about a month after the tragedy.

Moran’s mother, Janet, works for Dunlap, and he saw the community respond instantly to the tragedy by conducting fundraisers to raise money for the Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish families. Dunlap also wanted them to have another way for the families to remember their children, which is why he asked Burmeister to write something.

“You know what (their deaths) have done to the community, and you can imagine what that did to a mom,” Dunlap said.

Burmeister recorded a CD of the song shortly after it was written, and he played it for Dunlap and Janet Moran a few days before Franklin’s first day of school. Dunlap remembers both Burmeister and Janet Moran crying as the song played.

When Burmeister was finished, Janet Moran asked to take the CD to the high school so it could be added to the video that was being created for students’ first day back.

“Songs are forever. They’re like photos,” Dunlap said. “And Matt has incredible skills.”

Now, Burmeister wants to use the song to help raise additional money for the families. He plans to perform at a benefit hosted by Mi Pueblo restaurant in Franklin later this month.

He has also printed about 100 CDs with “The Color Blue,” though he can make more if there’s enough demand. He knows that thousands of residents have been supporting the teens and their families, and he wants anyone interested in making a contribution to be able to get the music, he said.

Each CD costs about $3 to create, so Burmeister is asking for a minimum donation of $5 for the music to ensure there’s money that makes it to the families.

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