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]
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.
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.
- Evidence that Titanic’s bands played separately
- Titanic’s second band: Trio for Restaurant and Cafe Parisien
- April 10, 1912: Titanic’s band according to passengers
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).