There was a second band on board Titanic, a trio that played in the First Class Reception Room outside the à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. The room itself was the B Deck landing of the aft Grand Staircase.
Originally on Olympic there had been a piano installed inside the restaurant, and apparently the band had played right in front of patrons. But when the restaurant proved immensely popular with passengers the piano was removed to make way for more tables.
On Titanic the band was stationed outside the restaurant doors. From the Reception Room the music filtered through the restaurant and cafe doors, and could also be heard up and down the aft Grand Staircase. It served to soften the atmosphere.
Records show that there never was a piano installed in this location, so by deduction this means Titanic’s second band was a string trio, with two violins and a cello. Given that the ship’s designer intended for the restaurant to have a continental flavor, the light sound of the string trio would have fit right in with the French ambience.
The three musicians were berthed in a small cabin on E Deck just off a long corridor known to the crew as Scotland Road (it ran nearly the length of the ship). Although the three sailed officially as Second Class passengers this accommodation was in the area of the ship where only crew were housed, along the corridor where Third Class passengers accessed their Dining Saloon. This was somewhat ironic considering the trio was the more exclusive band of the two.
The à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien were patronized only by the wealthiest passengers. Those travelling First Class could take meals that were included in the price of their tickets in the First Class Dining Saloon. But to dine in the Restaurant one had to pay the price marked on the menu, essentially paying twice for their meal. Only the richest passengers could afford such an indulgence. It was for this clientele that the trio performed.
Whereas the quintet seemed to perform from one end of the ship to the other and had to carry their instruments with them wherever they went, the trio played in only this one posh location. While more passengers got to know Wallace Hartley and the members of the five-piece band, only the richest passengers became familiar with the musicians of the trio.
Even though it would technically be proper to refer to Titanic’s band in the plural (bands), it has become the standard to refer to it only in the singular. It is possible that some First Class passengers never heard the trio, or even realized Titanic had a second band. It is almost certain that Second Class passengers would have been unaware of the second ensemble. It is also possible that for this reason it has been assumed for one hundred years that Titanic had only one bandleader.
The trio was an independent ensemble and would have had a bandleader assigned to it by C. W. & F. N. Black, the employers of the bandsmen. The bandleader was the public face of the band and would interact with the audience and take requests. This had to be a very special man, one who had his sea legs as well as the good nature and confidence to speak with Titanic’s (the world’s) elite men and women.
The microcosm of the restaurants on B Deck created a parallel exclusive society. It formed a kind of retreat for the rich, an upper tier within the First Class. It is thought by historians that the two levels of First Class didn’t often mix. So when these passengers referred to the band in singular form, it was because they, too, had experienced primarily one band on board.
The trio’s daily schedule is unknown, but it likely followed a similar pattern to that of the quintet. Because the trio provided music for the à la carte Restaurant’s patrons the timing may have been skewed slightly, having them perform from 11:00am to 1:00pm, then again from 4:00pm for tea for two hours, and then once again in the evening for late diners. Mahala Douglas dined in the Restaurant on Sunday, April 14 at 8:00pm and heard the music of the trio at that time. However, the musicians were free to perform beyond the set schedule, and as tips provided their true source of income, they were more than willing to do so.
There is very little documented in passenger accounts about the trio. It seems as though the world’s wealthiest passengers were less likely to write about the music, or less likely to talk to or write for the press. But there were some references to the second band.
Henry Julian, on board Titanic, April 10, 1912:
“The Parisian cafe is quite a novelty and looks very real. I do not know to what extent it is patronized, but it will, no doubt, become popular amongst rich Americans… There are two bands, one in the lounge and the other in the café.”
Henry Julian, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“The bands are unusually good….”
Mahala Douglas, affidavit for the Senate Titanic inquiry, May 2, 1912:
“As far as I have been able to learn, not a man in that room [was saved]; all those who served, from the head steward down, including Mr. Gatti, in charge; the musicians who played in the corridor outside….”
It is possible that other passenger references to the “band” were speaking of the trio, but because accounts often tended to be vague on location it is difficult to know for sure. One thing is certain, music was part of the ship’s luxury and the richest passengers were afforded this extra perk, reserved exclusively for them.
- Which musicians played in Titanic’s trio?
- Evidence that Titanic’s bands played separately
- Did Titanic’s bands share sheet music?
Reception Room image from TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews. All rights reserved. Many thanks to the authors for permission. Limited Edition here shown (two volumes).