April 11, 1912: Day with Titanic’s five-piece band

On the morning of April 11, 1912, five musicians woke up together in an unnumbered cabin at the end of a Second Class corridor on Titanic‘s E Deck. The pursers and clerks were berthed in the next cabin, and beyond them, Second Class passengers.

The musicians’ cabin was in Second Class because officially they sailed as Second Class passengers. The day before, these five men had boarded Titanic in Southampton with three others, all on ticket No. 250654, and together they comprised the eight musicians who formed Titanic’s two bands. One had taken the job for passage to New York on a personal matter. Others were simply making a living on the sea.

Today Titanic was en route to Queenstown, Ireland, and it was the first full performance day. Outside the porthole all was calm and clear. After breakfast the five returned to their cabin. The reason it was unnumbered was because it was specially designed for musicians, and not to be available for other passengers. Just inside the door of the accommodation was a small hall with a door to the instrument closet to one side. This was big enough to store all the stringed instruments: violins, viola, cello and double bass. At the end of the private hall was the cabin which had six berths, five used on this voyage for the quintet.

While the rest of E Deck’s Second Class passengers shared bathroom facilities, it appears as though the musicians, pursers and clerks had private facilities set aside.

Wallace Hartley, bandleader of the quintet, would have worked a little in the morning on the day’s set list. Although passengers often made requests, it was his job as bandleader to have numbers chosen ahead of time in the absence of requests, or at least a few numbers to get them started before a crowd gathered. With the day’s music chosen, the musicians likely organized their sheets so transitions between set numbers would be smooth.

Did the quintet use the early morning to rehearse the day’s music? This is a good question because their music was arranged for piano and they would have needed to rehearse with one. All of Titanic’s pianos were public. Which one would they have chosen for rehearsal?

In any case, Hartley took time in the morning to post a letter he had written the day before to his parents at home in England. Titanic’s mail was going to be taken off in Queensland at around noon, but as his performance schedule started at 10:00am he needed to deposit his letter in the slot before his busy day began.* He wanted his parents to know he expected to have a good and lucrative trip.

Wallace Hartley, on board Titanic, Wednesday [April 10, 1912]:

“My dear parents/
Just a line to say we have got away all right. It’s [been] a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled. This is a fine ship & there ought to be plenty of money on her. I’ve missed coming home very much and it would have been nice to have seen you all, if only for an hour or two, but I could not manage it. We have a fine band and the boys seem very nice – I shall probably arrive home on the Sunday morning. All love, Wallace.”

Written on Wednesday, April 10, 1912. Hartley’s letter was posted from Titanic through Queenstown, on April 11, 1912.

The quintet’s first performance was in the After Second Class Entrance foyer on C Deck at 10:00am,* and they were to perform in this location for an hour. Just forward of the entrance was the Second Class Library. The foyer also opened to promenade decks on both the starboard and port sides of the ship. Passengers taking the stairs, out for a walk, or in the Library heard the music. Some may have even paused to listen, sitting in one of the chairs available in the entrance.

Second Class passenger Juliette Laroche passed the band on her way to the Library. She felt the Library would be the best place to write a letter to her father while her husband watched the children. She, too, wanted her letter to go with the day’s mail when Titanic reached Queenstown. She made note of the band but walked by too quickly to take an accurate count of the instruments (notice that she mentions only four out of the five, and mistakes the double bass for a second cello). From inside the Library she was still able to hear the band’s music.

Juliette Laroche, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:

“…I am writing from the reading room: there is a concert in here, near me, one violin, two cellos, one piano….”

At 11:00am the quintet carried their instruments and sheet music forward and up to the First Class Entrance Hall on the Boat Deck. This was at the top of the forward Grand Staircase. First Class passengers were out walking or coming and going from the gymnasium. Some may have been meeting for luncheon. At this time of day the noonday light glowed through the ornate dome overhead and cast a truly unique atmosphere over the performance.

First class passenger Henry Julian had an ear for music. He, too, jotted a few lines for the day’s mail in a letter to his wife.

Henry Julian, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:

“We do not arrive at Queenstown until about noon, which gives me an opportunity of writing again… This is a brilliant morning and quite warm… The bands are unusually good….”

The set finished up at noon and the band had a bite to eat. It is also likely they took notice as Titanic dropped anchor just off Queenstown at 12:30. Tenders brought new passengers to the waiting ship and mailbags from Titanic were unloaded. At 1:30pm all transfers were complete and Titanic headed out for the open sea.

April 11, 1912: Last known photograph of Titanic.

The afternoon offered them free time, but, again, Hartley had to put in some time planning for the music of the next set. Again, the bandsmen organized the chosen sheets in order.

The next performance took place in the First Class Reception Room on D Deck at 4:00pm, the time afternoon tea was served. The quintet had already performed in this venue twice the day before. Here stood the art case Steinway grand piano that looked like a gem stone as the light caught the symmetrical and leafy patterns in the wood veneer. The musicians set up with their music stands in just the right places, tuned up together and performed for the teatime hour.

Then, without a break, the band returned to Second Class at 5:00pm, for the second performance of the day in the Entrance Foyer. Passenger Kate Buss wrote about her affection for the band as part of a lengthy letter to her parents. At least one bandsman demonstrated a special acumen for connecting with his audience.

Kate Buss, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:

“We have three promenade decks, one above the other. Each one has a sort of hall lounge and on the one above my cabin the band plays every afternoon and evening. The ’cello man is a favorite of mine, every time he finishes a piece he looks at me and we smile.”

When the band finished at 6:00pm they had a two-hour break. After the evening meal they prepared for the upcoming evening performances, which began in the First Class Reception Room on D Deck at 8:00pm. The previous evening’s performance had been noted by a newspaper correspondent:

Name unknown, writing of the evening performance of April 10, 1912:

“After dinner as we sat in the beautiful lounge listening to the White Star orchestra playing ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ selections more than once we heard the remark: ‘You would never imagine you were on board a ship.’”

Helen Churchill Candee described evening concerts by the five-piece band in her article called Sealed Orders which appeared in Collier’s Weekly on May 4, 1912:

“…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. The prettiest girl asked for dance music, and clicked her satin heels and swayed her adolescent arms to the rhythm.

“He of the Two who had walked the deck asked for Dvorak, while she asked for Puccini, and both got their liking, for the orchestra was adroit and willing.”

As this was the most popular time to hear the band the First Class concert lasted until 9:15pm, at which time the band made their way once again to the Second Class Entrance Foyer on C Deck for the third concert of the day to those passengers, which went until 10:15.

That night when Second Class passenger Kate Buss returned to her cabin she added a line to the letter she was writing to her parents.

Kate Buss, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:

“Tonight, after dinner, we first listened to the band, and then went up by lift to the top deck. It was glorious.”

The musicians were free to give extra performances, or play for passengers by special arrangement. Because tips flowed from performances, they were willing to do so. From Candee’s account it sounds as though the five-piece band returned to First Class for an encore performance which went late into the night:

“At eleven, folk drifted off to their big cabins, with happy “see-you-in-the-mornings,” until a group formed itself alone, and the only sounds the musicians made were those of instruments being shut in their velvet beds.”

  1. Performance times are based on a schedule available from Titanic‘s sister ship Olympic.

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5 thoughts on “April 11, 1912: Day with Titanic’s five-piece band

  1. “After dinner as we sat in the beautiful lounge listening to the White Star orchestra playing ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ selections more than once we heard the remark: ‘You would never imagine you were on board a ship.’”- also Countess de Rothes was listening to music there, and she remembered Barcarolle form Tales of Hoffmann. Then some day she was on dinner somewhere, and the band played this too, and, as she said, she remembered Titanic that moment… I've heard so.


  2. I think that answer is simple: such classical pieces were known much better for first class passengers than for example ragtime, which was something new for them.


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