Titanic’s saloon orchestra, deck band and leaders

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence which helps divide Titanic’s musicians into the two bands is a quote that came from C. W. & F. N. Black, the brothers who managed Titanic’s music including the hiring of musicians. To begin with, Charles Black referred to the bands as a “saloon orchestra” and a “deck band.”

“Saloon orchestra” referred to the trio of musicians that performed for patrons of the à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. This was their only performance venue, and even though they played in the Reception Room, the intention was for their music to soften the air for the diners who supped and socialized in the luxurious saloon.

Reception Room on B Deck, outside the Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. Artist’s impression.

“Deck band” referred to the quintet that performed in three areas on the ship, two of which were entrance foyers inside the ship that opened onto Titanic’s outer decks, one in the Second Class Entrance Foyer on C Deck and the other in the First Class entrance Hall at the Boat Deck level of the Grand Staircase. Music would have been heard outside and inside the ship during the quintet’s performances in these areas.

Second Class Entrance Foyer on C Deck,
photo taken aboard Olympic.

But the most interesting part of the information Black told London’s Daily Mirror about Titanic’s bands was a listing of the musicians’ names.

The Black agency would have processed so many musicians in the course of a year that it is doubtful Charles Black would have been able to list all of Titanic’s musicians’ names off the top of his head.

Several posts back I suggested that the Black brothers must have had a document in their office where they had recorded Titanic’s musicians as they filled the positions within the bands. It is likely that Black pulled out this document and referred to it in order to list the bandsmen’s names for the Daily Mirror.

Black had been asked what he thought the bands had done during the sinking, and he answered, “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]

I find it quite significant that he began listing them by separating “five of the eight.” To repeat the quote, “Five of the eight, Mr. Hartley, P. C. Taylor, J. W. Woodward, F. Clark and W. T. Brailey were Englishmen.” Could these five musicians have been the quintet?

There is a small piece of evidence to support this from reporter Carlos Hurd, who mentioned the nationality of the band believed to have played Nearer, My God, To Thee. In describing the difficulty of putting the story of the sinking together, he said, “An instance of this difficulty was the incident, still remembered, of the playing of the hymn music by the English musicians in the sinking ship’s orchestra.”

English musicians. It is a curious way to identify the band. Was he assuming the musicians were English only by virtue that Titanic sailed out of Southampton? Or did survivors paint a picture for him based on accents that the quintet’s performers were English? This we may never know for sure.

Admittedly, this is fragmentary evidence from a man who was not on board. However, it raises an interesting point as to how the bands may have been identified during the voyage. A few First Class passengers would have been aware that Titanic had two ensembles. Perhaps these passengers distinguished the bands by nationality – musicians with English accents in the quintet and musicians with other accents in the trio. (The quote from Hurd could also support the theory that the quintet had performed on its own for the duration of the sinking.)

For the Daily Mirror Black then continued to list the remaining three musicians: “One, J. Hume, was a Scotsman, and the remaining two, Bricoux and Krins, were French and German respectively.” In a past Titanic Piano post it has already been proposed that these three made up Titanic’s trio. If so, it is interesting to note that Titanic‘s three youngest musicians performed together in this ensemble.

It may be significant that the two men traditionally identified as bandleaders were each named first of a group. Notice that Wallace Hartley was the first named of the five English musicians, and J. Hume named first of the remaining three. This placement suggests that Black had divided the musicians by band, with the leaders heading each list.

It has been suggested that perhaps bandsmen switched back and forth between ensembles. In musical terms this kind of activity would be highly unusual. It would be interesting to find out where this idea has come from, or whether there is any primary source evidence to support it. If not, the concept doesn’t deserve consideration.

Attempts have been made in the past to identify the musicians that belonged to Titanic’s two bands. Charles Black was certainly in a position to know who played in the saloon orchestra and deck band. The quote from him is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle found to date.

From this one succinct listing of names it may be possible to conclude that the quintet consisted of Wallace Hartley, Percy Taylor, J. Wesley Woodward, J. Fred P. Clarke and Theo Brailey, that the trio consisted of Jock Hume, Georges Krins and Roger Bricoux, and that both Hartley and Hume were in positions of leadership.

It has been interpreted by some that the quintet was the saloon orchestra, and the trio, the deck band.

While “saloon orchestra” could describe the five-piece band, or quintet, which played twice a day in the Reception Room just outside the First Class Dining Saloon on D Deck, this particular description omits that they played four times on deck: three times a day in a Second Class entrance foyer and once a day at the Boat Deck level of the Grand Staircase. To generalize, they played their two most exclusive concerts each afternoon and evening next to the First Class Dining Saloon (before and after the evening meal, not during), where the Steinway grand piano was located. Although it has been interpreted that they played inside the Dining Saloon, in fact, they did not.

Reception Room on D Deck, photo taken on Olympic.

This would leave “deck band” to describe Titanic’s trio. The trio played in the Reception Room outside the restaurants on B Deck, and only there. There is no connection whatsoever between the name deck band and their venue, which was cloistered inside the ship, nowhere near a deck door.

It makes much more sense to consider the band names as suggested in the article above. It works to refer to the quintet as a “deck band” because they performed four of their six daily sets in venues that opened onto Titanic’s outer decks, both in First and Second Classes. One of these venues was on the Boat Deck, itself.

Furthermore, interpreting the trio as the “saloon orchestra” makes the connection to the luxurious à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. There music was performed during the serving of meals and some First Class passengers did refer to the Restaurant as a saloon.

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Images 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).

4 thoughts on “Titanic’s saloon orchestra, deck band and leaders

  1. A deck band… actually, does it have something to do with the real place of performances of the band? – I am wondering… Also – for example – reading room – it doesn't have much to do with the real purpose of the room – this was a salon for women in Edwardian era, not strictly for reading like reading room in library.Or only it had to be something in the documents of the C.W.&F.N.Black. The first band is saloon band, so the other they named a deck band – only to have something to write down on paper. I don't know – I'm considering possibilities. Maybe on other big ships, where there were 2 bands (I don't know whether there were such ships), the one was saloon orchestra, and the other usually was \”a deck band\”, so the trio of Titanic also became \”a deck band\” (also I don't know where such band would play – on the open deck?? On some taracce, on the open deck cafes? – God knows). Maybe, because the trio was only made by strings, it could play anywhere – because string instruments are portable – so the orchestra could play even on deck – so they named it a deck band. The quintet had piano, so it could play only in particular places. There are many possibilites why there is divergence between the name of the band and the real job of the band. I've sent you an e-mail, as you asked to.


  2. I, too, have been doing extra thinking on the terminology since my post, and I may change my thinking. I relied on information from Steve Turner's book The Band That Played On. I still haven't tracked down the Daily Mirror to see the quote from Charles Black with my own eyes. I would like to see the language that surrounds the terms \”deck band\” and \”saloon orchestra.\” I believe it was an incorrect assumption on the part of Turner to say the saloon orchestra was the quintet and the deck band, the trio. It makes a lot more sense to put it the other way around: for the deck band to be the quintet – after all they played at the Boat Deck level of the Grand Staircase. It also makes a lot more sense for the saloon orchestra to be the trio, because they only played outside the restaurants. Remember that at least one passenger, May Futrelle, referred to the Restaurant as the \”luxurious saloon.\” Saloon orchestra would be an accurate description of them.This is my theory, but until I read the original article from the Daily Mirror I cannot confirm. When that happens I will update my post above. If any readers have a link to the article, please share. I didn't receive your email. :(R


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