April 14, 1912: Sunday’s music on board Titanic

Until the morning of Sunday, April 14, 1912, Titanic’s two Dining Saloon pianos had stood silent. As the dinner hour was the band’s downtime, the pianos in the First and Second Class Dining Saloons had not yet been played. Although it has been depicted in movies that the band played during dinner, this was not the case on the ship in 1912.

The primary reason Titanic’s designer had called for pianos to be installed in the saloons was for Sunday divine service.

Many questions have surrounded these pianos and who played them. It has been suggested that perhaps the band provided music for Sunday services. No passenger accounts allude to the band being there. Evidence from several accounts indicates that Titanic’s bands performed as usual on Sunday, not taking a day of rest. This makes sense. The agency C. W. & F. N. Black was paying the band for the voyage, and would not want to lose a day’s work just because it fell on a Sunday. The bandsmen would have been motivated to play, regardless of it being Sunday, by the prospect of earning tips.

First Class Dining Saloon piano, taken aboard Olympic.

In the morning when services were held, Titanic’s five-piece band would have been playing as usual in the Second Class Entrance Foyer and then at the top of the Grand Staircase in the First Class Boat Deck Entrance. The trio would have been performing in the Reception Room on B Deck. It is interesting to note that the bands played out of earshot of the Dining Saloons, and their music would not have interfered with the services.

In fact, evidence suggests that the services were accompanied by willing and accomplished passengers. It seems as though each saloon was equipped with hymnals, both for the accompanist and for the congregation.

FIRST CLASS Sunday Morning Divine Service

Colonel Archibald Gracie, The Truth bout the Titanic”, 1913:

“The exercise and the swim gave me an appetite for a hearty breakfast. Then followed the church service in the dining saloon, and I remember how much I was impressed with the ‘Prayer for those at Sea,’ also the words of the hymn, which we sang, No. 418 of the Hymnal…. What a remarkable coincidence that at the first and last ship’s service on board Titanic, the hymn we sang began with these impressive lines:
O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.”

Margaret Brown, Newport Herald, May 28, 1912:

“Sunday services were held at ten-thirty, quite one-half of the passengers* attending.”
*First Class

SECOND CLASS Sunday Morning Service

Kate Buss, letter written on board Carpathia, April 16, 1912:

“We had a very short morning service by the Purser, but no address. Strange to say after that, although we didn’t quite realize it, every prayer and hymn seemed to be preparing us for that awful experience.”

Esther Hart, letter written on board Titanic, April 14, 1912:

“This morning Eva & I went to church & she was so pleased they sang Oh God Our Help in Ages Past; that is her Hymn she sang so nicely, so she sang out loud.”

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:

“Service was held in the saloon by the purser in the morning, and going on deck after lunch we found such a change in temperature that not many cared to remain to face the bitter wind….

Marie Jerwan, letter to her sister, May, 1912:

“We had at our disposal three walking decks, and a very large, well-arranged lounge where there were concerts twice a day…. Sunday morning there was Protestant worship in the dining saloon and a Catholic worship in the lounge.”

SECOND CLASS Sunday Evening Service

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:

“[Mr. Carter] next mentioned the absence of a service in the evening and asked if I knew the purser well enough to request the use of the saloon in the evening where he would like to have a “hymn sing-song”; the purser gave his consent at once, and Mr. Carter made preparations during the afternoon by asking all he knew – and many he did not – to come to the saloon at 8.30 p. m.”

Sidney Collett, Moody Church Bulletin, 1912:

“On deciding that we would have a service of hymn singing, I went down to our dear [Reverend John Harper’s] cabin to invite him to attend, but he had retired to rest early.”

Marie Jerwan, letter to her sister, May, 1912:

“In the evening, as usual, there was a concert in the lounge until 8:15, then a worship in the dining saloon. We sang several hymns, after which the minister finished with a beautiful prayer, asking God to protect forever this beautiful ship.”

Robert Douglas Norman, a “young Scotch engineer”

Kate Buss, letter written on board Carpathia, April 16, 1912:

“Sunday evening we had a hymn singing congregation; no set service; it was lovely. We met the Dr. P. who was told off by his friend to look out for my ship friend, Miss W., and took him in with us. Another acquaintance, a young fellow, so nice, Mr. N.[orman] (Edinburgh) played the piano.”

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:

“After dinner, Mr. Carter invited all who wished to the saloon, and with the assistance at the piano of a gentleman who sat at the purser’s table opposite me (a young Scotch engineer going out to join his brother fruit-farming at the foot of the Rockies), he started some hundred passengers singing hymns. They were asked to choose whichever hymn they wished, and with so many to choose, it was impossible for him to do more than have the greatest favorites sung. As he announced each hymn, it was evident that he was thoroughly versed in their history: no hymn was sung but that he gave a short sketch of its author and in some cases a description of the circumstances in which it was composed. I think all were impressed with his knowledge of hymns and with his eagerness to tell us all he knew of them. It was curious to see how many chose hymns dealing with dangers at sea. I noticed the hushed tone with which all sang the hymn, ‘For those in peril on the Sea.’

“The singing must have gone on until after ten o’clock, when, seeing the stewards standing about waiting to serve biscuits and coffee before going off duty, Mr. Carter brought the evening to a close by a few words of thanks to the purser for the use of the saloon, a short sketch of the happiness and safety of the voyage hitherto, the great confidence all felt on board this great liner with her steadiness and her size, and the happy outlook of landing in a few hours in New York at the close of a delightful voyage; and all the time he spoke, a few miles ahead of us lay the ‘peril on the sea.’”

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2 thoughts on “April 14, 1912: Sunday’s music on board Titanic

  1. Hi Rebekah,Can you please tell me if you know anything about a piece of music called 'Not Ten Feet Under' which i believe is featured in the White Star Songbook? I heard it during a recent titanic documentary that I listened to called 'Titanic – Minute by Minute'(but have been unable to find out who it was written by or a rendition of it. Thanks


  2. I've looked through my replica songbook twice and can't see 'Not Ten Feet Under' there. I haven't heard that documentary yet so I'm not sure how this music was used in relation to Titanic. But it doesn't appear in my songbook. Hope this helps!


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