Monday, 2 January 2012

Did Titanic have 'palm court' performances?

In my last post I described the advent of palm court performances. A small ensemble performed out of the audience's sight, behind potted palm plants, to provide background music in a social or restaurant setting. The music was part of the scenery, not the focal point of the outing. The public had the freedom to move about the room, to sit facing one another at tables and to carry on light social conversation.

Contrast the palm court atmosphere with that of a formal concert, where the musicians have traditionally sat front and centre. In this setting the musicians have typically always been set up on a stage or raised platform to make them more visible, and the audience has sat in rows arranged to face the music. It is usually considered to be disruptive for the audience to move about or enter or exit the room during the performance, or to talk, cough, or take a painfully long time to open crinkly candy wrappers. In formal concerts the audience is expected to be as still and quiet as possible, and to sometimes clap politely, but only at the right times.

When designer Thomas Andrews planned the performance venues on Titanic he envisioned a hybrid kind of concert, a cross between 'palm court' where the music would remain in the background, and 'formal recital' where the band would play to an attentive audience.

Naturally, some aspects of palm court culture carried into Titanic's design. The five-piece band's main First Class venue was the Reception Room outside the Dining Saloon. The room's overall atmosphere resembled a palm court setting, as the passengers sat in social groupings around small tables. Potted palm plants towered next to the room's pillars. Colonel Archibald Gracie even called it the Palm Room, saying he adjourned there "...with many others, for the usual coffee at individual tables where we listened to the always delightful music of the Titanic's band."

First Class Reception Room, taken on board Olympic.

Photographs of Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, show that the pianos held commanding positions in each room. There is no evidence that palm leaves hid the musicians. So, even though the band played to a socializing audience, the fact that the musicians were in full view turned each performance into a quasi-concert.

Steinway grand, First Class Reception Room,
photo taken early in Olympic's career.

Passengers described an attentive audience. But in true palm court style, it was perfectly acceptable to carry on quiet conversation or move about the room during a performance. First Class passenger Helen Churchill Candee described the scene, making note of conversations that took place while the band performed: "...after dinner there was coffee served to all at little tables around the great general lounging place, for here the orchestra played.

"Some said it was poor on its Wagner work, others said the violin was weak. But that was for conversation's sake, for nothing on board was more popular than the orchestra. You could see that by the way everyone refused to leave it. And everyone asked of it some favorite hit."

Related Posts
What is a 'palm court' musician?
Did Titanic's band play music by memory?
Titanic's First Class pianos

5 comments:

  1. Hi Rebekah,
    Very interesting research you are doing, keep it up.
    Listened to your broadcast with much interest via the web, after it was highlighted by a Canadian visitor to our museum - well done.
    Our museum is in Wallace Hartley's home town of Colne.
    You may be interested to know that both his memorial and headstone will be fully restored over the next few months and an new concerto has been written which will recieve it's world premier in June.

    All the best

    Nigel Hampson
    Curator
    Titanic in Lancashire Museum
    Colne
    Lancashire
    England

    titanicinlancs@hotmail.co.uk
    WWW.titanicinlancs.com

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    1. Nigel,
      Thanks for visiting my blog! I know about your museum and would love to see it in person someday. Thanks for letting me know about the concerto and I hope there are plans for posting a video of it on YouTube. I would embed it for my readers. Please stay in touch!
      Rebekah

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  2. Hi Rebekah,
    Sorry it took so long to get back (Almost a year to the day!!!)
    The concerto was not filmed I am afraid, but I am in discussions with its composer, Peter Young, regarding having it produced onto a CD (We have had a lot of people asking for it at the museum).
    Please keep in touch via email which is titanicinlancs@hotmail.co,uk

    Many thanks and happy New Year!!

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    1. Nigel,
      Please do keep me in mind if a CD is produced. We are planning a trip this spring and it would be great to meet you at the museum!
      Rebekah

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  3. Hi Rebekah,
    Do drop me a line via our email address shown above - it would be nice to meet up and have a chat when you are over. Do you have a date yet when you will be here?

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