The main reason Titanic’s bandsmen gained the attention and affection of the public was because of their final performance. The tale of their sacrifice cast them as heroes, for in the tale they played a hymn of comfort for the souls doomed to die that night. Rightly so. Wallace Hartley’s name became forever associated with Titanic as the bandleader who led Nearer, My God, To Thee. The focus on Titanic’s band has always fallen primarily on him.
Indeed, from the very beginning Titanic’s second bandleader, Jock Hume, was completely overlooked and misplaced by the press. The following quote from the New York Sun correctly placed Krins and Bricoux in the trio, but omitted Hume in favor of a pianist.
The New York Sun, April 21, 1912:
“The other three men were Brailey, Krins and Breicoux, who formed a trio which played in the second cabin and when the other men were off duty.”
The only evidence for Hume holding the position of bandleader came from two individuals who knew him personally: his father and First Class stewardess Violet Jessop. The focus on Hartley as bandleader together with a lack of support for Hume in that position may make it some surprise that Hume had the better position of the two. A century’s worth of popular belief is not enough to change the reality of the work required of the two. Contrary to the claim made by the New York Sun that the trio played in Second Class and only when the other band was taking a break, the trio played only in First Class, in one of the most luxurious spots on board. It was Hartley’s quintet that played between First and Second Classes.
Any musician would rather play in the trio, and any bandleader would rather lead the trio. The trio had the posh position of playing in one venue only. That meant less bother moving place to place. Less packing and unpacking instruments. Less carting music sheets around. The trio likely set up for the day and more or less stayed set up for the day, only departing physically for their breaks.
Compare that to the ensemble led by Hartley. The quintet played six one-hour performances each day and had to move for each one. Each two-hour time slot was divided between Second Class and First Class, one hour each (except for the longer final performance in First Class each night). As the venues were quite far apart, all the way from the Second Class entrance foyer to either the Boat Deck level of the First Class Grand Staircase, or the Reception Room on D Deck, it would have been quite a scramble to pack up and move between venues each time. The timing was close. For example, they played in the Second Class 10:00am to 11:00am and then at the top of the Grand Staircase from 11:00am to 12:00 noon.
Not only was the trio’s job made easier by playing in one location only, the venue itself made their position better. As in real estate, a performance venue is all about location, location, location. They played outside the exclusive, luxurious First Class restaurants frequented by the wealthiest notables on board.
Read any list of Titanic’s richest passengers. It was from these people that the trio’s bandleader took requests, it was they who gave him tips.
If the bandleader played the crowd right, tips in this location would have been the best on board, and divided amongst only three musicians, it was possibly the most lucrative place to perform. It would have been a disappointment if the tips had to be pooled and divided amongst all eight musicians. The trio would have worked for their tips all on their own, and from a business perspective, deserved to keep them.
Wallace Hartley’s quintet played half their time in Second Class, and their late mornings in the First Class entrance location where most passengers would have walked by, less likely to make requests or give generous tips. While the quintet would have been heard and recognized by more passengers, their audiences were likely for the most part Titanic’s middle to upper-middle class travelers. Tips then had to be divided amongst five musicians. Or, perhaps the quintet’s larger reach made up for this with audience numbers, and the tips evened out between the bands. Although the restaurants were popular, maybe the Trio had a smaller audience overall.
Bandleaders would have planned a program of music, or “set” numbers, for each performance. Hartley would likely have planned a one-hour program each morning, and simply played through it twice, first for Second Class passengers and then again for First Class. Of course, if passengers made requests the set program would have been partially or wholly abandoned in favor of fulfilling requests. Hartley would have done this again in the afternoon and evening, planning a one-hour program and repeating it for both sets of passengers. In this way his job was slightly easier than that of the trio’s bandmaster, as he had to plan ahead for only one hour’s worth of music at a time.
As the trio played in only one location they would have had to play through more repertoire, with likely fewer repeats. The only reason we have any idea as to the quintet’s schedule is because we believe it was somewhat similar to the band’s schedule on Titanic’s sister ship Olympic, and that schedule is known. But as there is no known schedule from the trio that performed on Olympic‘s maiden voyage, there is no reference for Titanic’s trio’s daily performances. But it can be assumed that the trio played a similar number of hours as the quintet, six hours a day: two mid-day, two at around the time of afternoon tea, and two more for the Restaurant’s late diners. The trio’s musicians were indeed extraordinary and likely played through an impressive repertoire without rehearsing much at all.
Both bandleaders would have been capable musicians and natural leaders. But something must be said for the fact that Jock Hume, a young man who had left home at fourteen or fifteen to make his way in life, and had not studied in any international schools of music, was bandleader of Titanic’s trio. Jock Hume had been chosen to lead the band in the most exclusive dining area on the ship’s celebrated maiden voyage. He was chosen to interact on a daily basis with some of the most powerful men and women in the western world. Moreover, he was leader of two other musicians who had studied and won awards in very prestigious schools of music in Italy and France. Jock Hume must have been a musician of the finest rank to hold Titanic’s plum position. And he had accomplished this by the age of twenty-one.
The trio was not a junior or adjunct ensemble, a second fiddle, so to speak, to the quintet. The trio was a perk reserved for Titanic’s rich passengers, and was chosen to fulfill great expectations. Three strings to lightly complement the Continental flavor of the a la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien.
It is the belief of this author, considering the performance location, the audience, the educational background of his fellow bandsmen, and the nature of the workday, that Jock Hume held the better, the more coveted, position on Titanic.
- April 11, 1912: Day with Titanic’s five-piece band
- Titanic’s second band: Trio for Restaurant and Cafe
- Titanic’s saloon orchestra, deck band and leaders