In my last post I described the advent of palm court performances. A small ensemble performed out of the audience’s sight, behind potted palm plants, to provide background music in a social or restaurant setting. The music was part of the scenery, not the focal point of the outing. The public had the freedom to move about the room, to sit facing one another at tables and to carry on light social conversation.
Contrast the palm court atmosphere with that of a formal concert, where the musicians have traditionally sat front and centre. In this setting the musicians have typically always been set up on a stage or raised platform to make them more visible, and the audience has sat in rows arranged to face the music. It is usually considered to be disruptive for the audience to move about or enter or exit the room during the performance, or to talk, cough, or take a painfully long time to open crinkly candy wrappers. In formal concerts the audience is expected to be as still and quiet as possible, and to sometimes clap politely, but only at the right times.
When designer Thomas Andrews planned the performance venues on Titanic he envisioned a hybrid kind of concert, a cross between ‘palm court’ where the music would remain in the background, and ‘formal recital’ where the band would play to an attentive audience.
Naturally, some aspects of palm court culture carried into Titanic‘s design. The five-piece band’s main First Class venue was the Reception Room outside the Dining Saloon. The room’s overall atmosphere resembled a palm court setting, as the passengers sat in social groupings around small tables. Potted palm plants towered next to the room’s pillars. Colonel Archibald Gracie even called it the Palm Room, saying he adjourned there “…with many others, for the usual coffee at individual tables where we listened to the always delightful music of the Titanic‘s band.”
Photographs of Titanic‘s sister ship, Olympic, show that the pianos held commanding positions in each room. There is no evidence that palm leaves hid the musicians. So, even though the band played to a socializing audience, the fact that the musicians were in full view turned each performance into a quasi-concert.
Passengers described an attentive audience. But in true palm court style, it was perfectly acceptable to carry on quiet conversation or move about the room during a performance. First Class passenger Helen Churchill Candee described the scene, making note of conversations that took place while the band performed: “…after dinner there was coffee served to all at little tables around the great general lounging place, for here the orchestra played.
“Some said it was poor on its Wagner work, others said the violin was weak. But that was for conversation’s sake, for nothing on board was more popular than the orchestra. You could see that by the way everyone refused to leave it. And everyone asked of it some favorite hit.”
- What is a ‘palm court’ musician?
- Did Titanic’s band play music by memory?
- Titanic’s First Class pianos