Did Titanic’s bands play together as RMS Titanic sank?

Titanic had a “saloon orchestra” of three men, and a “deck band” of five, according to Charles Black. He was one of the brothers who formed C. W. & F. N. Black, the agency that had hired the bandsmen and handled all musical matters pertaining to the voyage. After the sinking the public and press wanted to know more about Titanic’s musicians. Black had been asked to answer several questions about the band for London’s Daily Mirror.

The idea that the two bands played together to the last originated with Black:

“Probably they all massed together under their leader, Mr. Wallace Hartley, as the ship sank. Five of the eight, Mr. Hartley, P. C. Taylor, J. W. Woodward, F. Clark and W. T. Brailey were Englishmen. One, J. Hume, was a Scotsman, and the remaining two, Bricoux and Krins, were French and German respectively.” [Krins was Belgian]

This poster was produced in spring, 1912 by the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union

And so the tale of the two bands performing as one was launched. For one hundred years this story has been told with the faithful speculation that Titanic’s two bands came together to perform as an octet in the hours of the sinking.

But is this part of the story true? After all, the person who first suggested that the bands had come together never sailed on Titanic and had not witnessed the band’s final performance.

Passenger accounts may hold the clues. However, as it has been pointed out in previous posts, it takes a study of the ship to decipher which band was mentioned during the regular performances on the voyage, and where the events took place. This can be a difficult task as passengers tried to describe the public spaces on Titanic, but were not aware of the rooms’ names according to the ship’s plans.

If one could read passenger accounts of the night of the sinking – the ones that mentioned the band – and figure out where the music was heard, it might be possible to reach a conclusion on whether the two bands performed separately in their regular venues, or whether they played together.

In the last post it was confirmed that musicians performed in the First Class Entrance Hall at the top of the Grand Staircase on Ttanic’s Boat Deck throughout the sinking. This was a venue where the five-piece band, the deck band, had performed regularly on the voyage, so it can be understood that these five musicians played in this location on the night Titanic sank. But where did the trio perform in these two hours?

First Class passenger May Futrelle gave an account that lends interest to this subject. To understand her experiences during the sinking we must back up in time a little to Sunday evening’s dinner. In her account she mentioned that her party had dined in the “luxurious saloon after-deck.” This could be mistaken for the Dining Saloon on D Deck, except that Futrelle seemed to be attempting to explain something different. Her use of the terms “luxurious” and “after-deck” seem to point directly to the Restaurant, which was the most privileged place to dine, located as far aft as First Class passengers could go on the ship.

May Futrelle, Seattle Daily Times, April 22-23, 1912:

“There was not the slightest thought of danger in the minds of those who sat around the tables on the luxurious saloon after-deck.
“It was a brilliant crowd. Jewels flashed from the gowns of women. … The soft sweet odors of rare flowers pervaded the atmosphere. I remember at our table was a great bunch of American Beauty roses. The orchestra played popular music. … There was that atmosphere of fellowship and delightful sociability which make the Sabbath dinner on board ship a delightful occasion. … I remember Jacques and Mr. Harris discussing at our table the latest plays on the American stage. Everybody was so merry. We were all filled with the joy of living. We sat over dinner late that night.”

The points of interest to take from Futrelle’s account were the mention of the “luxurious saloon after-deck” and that she had heard the orchestra playing there. Whereas there was no music performed at the dinner hour in the Dining Saloon on D Deck, it seems as though passengers in the Restaurant did hear music through the dinner hour, perhaps because they ordered at a later time and then remained socializing at the tables.

To reinforce Futrelle’s account, Mahala Douglas, who had dined in the Restaurant at about 8:00 that night, also mentioned that she had heard “…the musicians who played in the corridor outside.” This band was the string trio, and they played just outside the a à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. The “corridor” was actually the B Deck landing of the Grand Staircase aft, which was a Reception Room for the Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. The musicians did not perform inside the Restaurant, but outside, in this comfortable, lounge-like public space.

Artist’s impression of Reception Room on B Deck, Titanic.

To examine the part of May Futrelle’s account that occurred after Titanic’s collision with the iceberg, again she mentioned being in a “saloon.”

May Futrelle, Seattle Daily Times, April 22 & 23, 1912:

“With our life jackets strapped in place we went into the saloon….
“The first rush of men with the fear of death in their faces came when a group of stokers climbed up from the hold and burst through the saloon. … In a moment we understood that the situation was desperate, that the compartments had refused to hold back the rush of water. … At this moment the band was playing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

Although it has been interpreted by Futrelle’s use of the word “saloon” that she meant the First Class Dining Saloon on D Deck, it is known by Olympic’s schedule that neither band performed in that location, for dinner or at any other time. Furthermore, D Deck would have been too far down on the ship for passengers to gather there at such a time. When Futrelle’s paragraphs are read side-by-side it seems as though she was referring to the same location both times and that the musicians she had heard performing during dinner in the “saloon” (née Restaurant) were playing once again, post-collision, in their regular venue.

If this is the case, Futrelle and her husband would have been standing with others in view of the orchestra with their lifebelts on, in the Reception room near the stairs when they became aware that stokers had rushed up from below. It is possible the stokers had arrived by a small staircase used by the crew, just forward between the reciprocating engine casing and the Nos 1 and 2 boiler casing. It was by this same staircase that the trio usually accessed the Reception Room from the decks below. The mention of the stairs reinforces the idea that Futrelle had heard music in this location, and that the trio had performed as a separate ensemble as Titanic sank.

There does seem to be corroboration from other survivor accounts on hearing music in this location. Emma Schabert’s mention of the ship’s orchestra is also very interesting.

Emma Schabert, letter to her sister, April 18, 1912:

“As we went down to our life boats the orchestra was playing in the drawing room. The men who played knew they must sink any minute. That was real heroism.”

Emma Schabert had entered Lifeboat 11, which was aft, in the vicinity of the trio’s performance. Her use of the term “drawing room” is fascinating, as this was the term used in the Victorian era for the room into which ladies and gentlemen withdrew after dinner. This term would not quite fit the atmosphere at the top of the Grand Staircase where the quintet performed, and seems to refer to the Reception Room outside the Restaurant and Cafe Parisien.

If Futrelle and Schabert were both recalling a performance in this location by Titanic’s trio, it seems as though the saloon orchestra’s three musicians played here for quite some time. Futrelle’s mention of the band came just after lifebelts had been ordered, and Schabert’s just prior to lifeboat 11 being lowered at 1:25am.

The Restaurant’s Reception Room had no access to the outer decks on the ship, so the following account given by Walter Nichols, which said the band was “cooped up in one of the reception rooms” matches the design of this area on the ship.

Walter Nochols, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 19, 1912:

“After we got in our boat and were waiting to be lowered to deck B I heard the band playing. I was looking sharp after what I was doing and I don’t remember what they played I could just hear a sort of confused sound of the instruments, enough to know that they were playing. Someone told me afterward that the last piece they played was “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” They didn’t have a chance, poor devils. They were cooped up in one of the reception rooms, and they were drowned like rats, every one of them.”

Nichols’ account is perhaps the most conclusive evidence that the trio played separately in the Reception Room on B Deck. He was one of Titanic‘s assistant saloon stewards. As a member of the crew he would have had a better idea than passengers of the ship’s design, and was able to identify the name of the room specifically as the Reception Room.

The next post, Evidence that Titanic’s bands played separately, will explore several more survivor accounts that suggest Titanic’s trio performed on its own the night of the sinking.

Related Posts


Image of Titanic‘s band available from Musicians’ Report and Journal LSE Library Archive

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).

30 thoughts on “Did Titanic’s bands play together as RMS Titanic sank?

  1. Rebekah, I am thankful to you for your research on subject. It's unbelievable, how the press created the false facts about the orchestras on Titanic. First, 'Nearer My God to Thee\” was debunked, now the \”two orchestras played as one\” thing.Also, I remember that you, in some post, quoted the account of some second class passenger, I don't remember who it was, about the band. I was wondering then, how the second class passenger, on the aft could hear the band playing in first class entrance foyer further to the bow. So now, I think he could hear this trio, but the next problem is, that second class passenger are not allowed to A deck, and the only way he could hear the music, was through the dome above the aft staircase, where the trio played. There was practically no easy way for the second class passenger standing on the boat deck to come into the aft first class staircase, where the a la carte reception room was. The other possibility was that this passenger moved further bow, and was talking about the quintet. Mhmm… I hope, that I remember well, and I really read on your blog something about the second class passenger…What about the Futrelle, she was surely saying about the a la carte restaurant. Frist, in dining room there was no flowers on tables. Second, there is an account of some stewards that when the Titanic hit an iceberg, there was no one in the dining room. Anyway, I doubt that any passenger would be allowed to dining room in time between the meals and after dinner.What about the Emma Schabert, I believe she really says about the reception room on B deck. The room was quite separated from the rest of the first class area, there was an atmosphere of seclusion. Women could come here after dinner. Actually, the real \”reading room\” on A deck was deserted.


  2. Good comments. I think in the past historians have been so caught up in the idea that all eight musicians played together that they had difficulty explaining \”hearings\” of the band in different places – so arose the idea that the band had moved several times. The simpler explanation is that there were two bands playing in two places, and from those places the music carried. This is all very difficult information to interpret, though. Passengers were vague at best on where they said they heard the band's music. Kate Gold Annie Martin both went off in lifeboat 11, like Emma Schabert above, and it is possible that they were referring to the trio in the reception room as well. If the trio had been performing in the Reception Room on B Deck, the men sitting on the floor above on A deck in this aft location would certainly have been able to hear the music. The difficult thing is that they said \”forward\” – so then it becomes a matter of accuracy. Did they really say forward or was that interpreted? Were they really on lifeboat 11? But I do believe there is enough evidence to suggest that the bands performed in their own venues, separately.


  3. I forgot to comment on the second class passenger – are you thinking about Lawrence Beesley? He had not heard the band himself, but mentioned that someone had told him they had heard the music outside the gymnasium throughout the sinking, and he interpreted that the band had been seen playing outside there.


  4. Probably you're right about the Beesley. I don't remember unfortunately… What about the Shabert and this Martin, I am not sure about what you say. When they was sitting in lifeboat, they could only hear the music when they were on the level of A deck, a deck above the B deck where the band played. On the level of B deck, they could not hear the music directly from this deck, because there was no windows to the reception room what so ever. Only windows of the restaurant, but, for me, the sound has an easier way going up and pour through the open door on the A deck promenade, than going from reception room through the corridor, and to the corner of restaurant and through the closed windows. So I think that the music could be hear much better on the level of A deck. But I think, it could be possible to hear it on the level of B deck as well, but very faintly. Anyway, it doesn't matter, the most important thing is that they hear the music. What about the lifeboat number, I checked a minute ago, and the evidence says (according to encylopedia titanica) that Mrs Shabert was in the lifeboat. No name \”Martin\” on the list…


  5. The only reason I mentioned the lifeboat number was because passengers in the aft part of the ship would likely have been standing around that area until they got onto the lifeboat, and would have heard the music over a period of time. I wasn't suggesting they were listening to the music from the lifeboat. There were doors from the A Deck level out onto the promenade, and people probably stayed inside to keep warm. Just down one flight of stairs were the musicians. Beesley stood on the Boat Deck, and at that level there was only the dome (after dome cover) above the stairs of the aft Grand Staircase. He didn't hear the music of this performance.


  6. \”As we went down to our life boats\”, oops, I missed this \”to\”, and read as \”in\”, so I understood this wrong. Sorry. I have to be more exact reading english texts.


  7. Rebekah, you are a professional musician, you produced the music book for children with musical pieces from WSL music book, now what do you think about producing a music album with music from Titanic? There are many albums to buy signed as \”Titanic music\” but many of these has nothing to do with the subject. Think about it Rebekah.


  8. Yes Rebekah, you are a good pianist, as I heard on youtube, why don't you produce a music album with you're piano recordings? There is completely no good album with music from Titanic on the market and also I would say that there is no recordings at all of some delightful music selections from Titanic era, especially from light operas and musicals. You have musicals skills, you also has knowledge about the subject of music played on Titanic. It would be good to make use of both of this.


  9. I just though to myself… if two bands played that night… so there was \”two the last pieces\”… maybe one played Nearer my God to Thee, and the second one the Songe d'Automne?


  10. Here's an idea, the quintet played for a while and then say 1:40ish the trio joined and they ended with Nearer My God to thee? And, Songe D' Autumne could have been played, but not as the last tune, only a hymn would have been aprroppiate near the end


  11. Harold Bride abandoned the Marconi room when water began to flood it. This was at the bridge level, and when he ran out he heard the band playing Songe d'automne. The location where the band was playing was only a few feet aft of the Marconi room at the top of the Grand Staircase, and it would not have taken the water long to reach them as the ship slowly settled. At this point the deck would have been at a slight angle, but not great enough to prevent the musicians from performing. According to Barkworth, who returned to his cabin just before he abandoned ship at the end, the band was playing a waltz with a jerky passage in it (Songe d'automne is a waltz with a jerky passage) , and then they abruptly threw down their instruments are were not to be seen. Another passenger who saw the band performing near the end said there were five musicians lost. All these accounts together suggest that the quintet performed to the very end, the trio didn't join them even at the end, and that there was no time after the eyewitnesses heard the identified music for the band to play a hymn. Whether a hymn would be appropriate is not the question, it is a matter of evidence from those who were closest, and none of them heard it.


  12. Rebekah, I was analysing the White Star Line music songlist, and I noticed that for sure, in 'Selections', 'Waltzes' and 'Marches, cakewalks' categories, the first numbers are new pieces (from example, Alexander's ragtime Band was published in 1911, and in 'Selections' the first numbers are latest operettas and musical comedies). I remember that some time ago, you wrote me, that someone doubt that this copy of songlist was the one used on Titanic. And then I started to think about 'Passing of Salome', number one i 'Waltzes' category. The sources in the internet says that this waltz was published in 1912. I think it may cause the serious problem, because, if this songlist was used in april 1912 on White Star Line ships, so the only possible time for this waltz to be published is in January, February or March (assuming that the songbook was in use, for example, starting from april). If it would turned out that the waltz was published later than on march/april, it disqualifies this songlist as the one used on Titanic. Unfortunately, I can't reach the source of accurate date of publishing this waltz.


  13. This is a good observation. I just did a quick google search of that number and only found 1912, and no reference to the month. One of the albums said 191? so it was unknown whether the recording was 1911, 1912, or beyond. It could be possible that the number was performed by live ensembles and became a hit before the sheet music was published, and before recordings were made. It would be an interesting study to find out how music became popular in 1912. Nowadays there is a coordinated effort with publicity professionals who time the release of a product for the market. In 1912 it may have happened in a much more organic way. R


  14. The post above supports the idea that the Trio played separately during the sinking in the Reception Room on B Deck, just outside the a la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. I'm slowly working on part two of this theory, which I hope to post this week. I've had an unusual number of commitments in my professional life, and hope to get back to regular blogging soon!


  15. Band Lover, Today I better understand your question. You are referring to the passenger (I don't have the name in front of me) who said five musicians were lost. The two bands would have played quite a distance apart on the ship, the quintet at the Boat Deck level of the forward Grand Staircase, the trio on the B Deck level of the aft Grand Staircase, both regular venues for the two bands. It is likely that most passengers heard one OR the other, and the person who said \”five musicians were lost\” only saw that one band, and may not have even known the other band was playing. R


  16. Good question, but it is impossible for me to say for sure. I'll look closely at accounts that seem to be about the trio and other accounts that seem to be about the quintet to check out this idea.R


  17. Rebeca, one thing i must point out my friend is this. Had the bands played together, the problem would be what did the pianists do when the band played on the open deck as is commonly assumned, as far as we know Taylor could play Cello, but 3 cellists is out of balance. Theodore Brailey, according to the band that played on could play piano, cello and flute, so maybe they combined and Theo played Flute and very possibly, Taylor played cello?


  18. An interesting proposal, but somewhere the assumption has been made that the band played without sheet music, and therefore could substitute any instruments into the ensemble. I have never seen a classically trained ensemble that is that flexible, which means I for one don't believe, in 1912, Titanic's band was able to just \”jam\” with any assortment of instruments. Instead of viewing Titanic's band in hindsight, with our exposure within the past 50 years to mostly popular musicians who don't read music and play rather simple three-chord songs, and are open to jamming, view Titanic's band as having played less than 100 years after Beethoven, in a stream of highly trained, literate musicians who played music by reading it. There is no way a pianist could take their sheet music and play it on the flute. The piano has a range of more than seven octaves and pianists can play chords (many keys played simultaneously), whereas the flute is a one-note-at-a-time instrument with only a three-octave range. Piano music doesn't translate to a performance on the flute. If you read my past posts you will learn that it is very unlikely that Titanic's band ever played outdoors. The five-piece band stayed together with their pianist at the top of the Grand Staircase (inside) until they finished their performance. To the right of this post you can click to drop-down past posts and I have a series on where the band played. What did the pianist do? He stayed with the band, performing on the piano, until the band packed it in. They never abandoned their pianist. The band stuck together.I'm interested in Taylor's role and am working on a theory. R


  19. My apologies on the time it has taken me to bring forth part II. It is in the works. I'm hoping to have one or two posts within the next seven days, when my summer break begins. I've been very involved in several things lately that have taken my time. I used to stay up until midnight or later writing my blog but that lifestyle wasn't sustainable. My enthusiasm for Titanic hasn't changed and I've been reading up on the subject extensively. I have an entire series planned for upcoming weeks on the instruments, who played which instrument, and also a new theory on who played in which band, with evidence to back it up. Fingers crossed on the next posts within the next week.R


  20. Rebekah, don't worry, You don't have to apologise for anything, I just simply can't wait to read some new things about the orchestra! I have a much to do too, and I understand it completely. Greetings!


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