Thursday, 31 May 2012

Evidence that Titanic's trio played separately during sinking

The tale of Titanic’s last performance usually goes something like this:

“…as the eight assembled to perform together for the first time, they risked everything for the sake of others. They played in a lounge and then at the top of the 1st Class Grand Staircase while passengers put on their lifebelts and awaited orders to enter lifeboats… Later they followed the passengers out onto the deck, and continued to play.”

That is a quote from the current edition of my own book, TITANIC A Voyage in Piano Music, from the page of historical notes. It would seem, then, like a contradiction for my blog to be one of the first proponents of the idea that Titanic’s two ensembles played separately throughout the night, and that each one remained in only one location, never coming together to play.

When I first published my piano books I looked completely to the information available, based mostly on press reports, about Titanic’s bands. Even at the beginning of Titanic Piano, in a post called “Was Titanic’s last performance impacted by separate libraries?” I was still unwilling to let go of the doctrine that Titanic’s bands had performed together in the last hours. However, press reports have proven to be unreliable in the details, and such seems to be the case once again with the matter of the band’s final performance.

Two books changed my thinking: first, TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, with detailed plans of the ship, and second, On Board RMS Titanic, with numerous first-hand survivor accounts. The cross reference between these books made it possible to gather a number of survivor accounts and analyze them for the timing and location of Titanic’s final performances. Interpreting location is perhaps the biggest indicator in figuring out whether the bands came together to perform as one.

During the voyage Titanic’s trio performed in the Reception Room outside the à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. On Sunday night, April 14, before the collision, Hugh Woolner was one of the last to leave the jolly scene at the Restaurant as patrons drifted off to their cabins. In a letter to his family written on board Carpathia, Woolner recounted how he and his friends had sauntered up the aft Grand Staircase from the Reception Room on B Deck to the Smoke Room just above on A Deck. Although he did not mention the band, it was Woolner’s account that caused me to notice how close the First Class Smoke Room was to the band’s regular performance venue.

The significance of the proximity of the Reception Room and the Smoke Room is realized in an account by Archibald Gracie which describes his experience after the iceberg had been struck.

Archibald Gracie, The Outlook, April 27, 1912:
“Now followed the firing of sky-rockets and the assembling of the passengers together to be loaded on the boats on the boat deck. … About this time I went into the smoking room, and, as usual, I saw there seated around the table four good friends... It was at this time that I also heard the band play with the evident purpose of instilling courage and stopping confusion.”

Archibald Gracie, 1912
The fact that Gracie mentioned hearing music while he was in the Smoke Room indicates that it was the trio’s music, carrying up one level of the stairs. This account by Gracie was the first evidence I had seen that suggested the trio performed in their regular venue during the sinking. This, in turn, suggested that the bands played separately, as there was already ample evidence to support the quintet’s prolonged performance on the Boat Deck level of the forward Grand Staircase.

It has been said that the band began to play at 12:15am, with the belief that all eight bandsmen had assembled and begun to play in the same place at the same time. But evidence now suggests that it was the trio that began to play at this early time, as passengers first gathered together.

Archibald Gracie, The Truth About the Titanic, 1913:
"…Mr. and Mrs. Strauss, Colonel and Mrs. Astor and others well known to me were among those here congregated on the port side of Deck A…. It was now that the band began to play, and continued while the boats were being lowered. We considered this a wise provision tending to allay excitement. I did not recognize any of the tunes, but I know they were cheerful and were not hymns."

Two stewardesses noticed men tapping their toes to music on A Deck, the topmost level in this aft area of the ship. The fact that these two ladies eventually went off in lifeboat 11 suggests their experience centred near the performance of the trio, which played one level down on B Deck. It was the open design of the after grand staircase that allowed strains of music to carry up one level.

Kate Gold, Annie Martin, stewardesses, Western Daily Mercury, April 30, 1912:
“On deck… the bandsmen were playing “rag-time” music as the crew were getting out the boats, and it was a noteworthy fact that so interested and engrossed in their duty were these gallant musicians, that they would not stop playing to put on the life-belts which were brought to them.”

Annie Martin, stewardess, Liverpool Daily Post, 1912:
“They were playing. When we left the side of the ship [in lifeboat 11 at 1:25] the men were sitting on the companionway on the A Deck forward with lifebelts by their sides. They were making no attempt to put the belts on. Many of them were smoking. Others were beating time to the music with their feet.”

Kate Gold, stewardess, 1912:
“When we left the ship men were sitting on A deck, smoking cigarettes and tapping time with their feet to the music of the band. These passengers and the bandsmen, too, had their lifebelts beside them, and I was specially struck by a glimpse of a violinist playing steadily with a great lifebelt in front of him. The music was ragtime just then.”

It is important not to get thrown off by certain details in these accounts, for the stewardess's accounts were interpreted and written by reporters, and may have been inadvertently changed by them. Notice that "on deck" paints an image of the bandsmen playing outside. It is possible that a stewardess said the bandsmen played on deck (a common way to refer to any level of the ship inside or out) and that the reporter assumed this meant the outer deck. The version that specified that "...the men were sitting on the companionway on the A Deck..." places them inside the ship.

Although one version says "A Deck forward," and seems to point directly to a performance location at the front of the ship, everything else that is known about Gold's and Martin's experience points aft: the presence of smoking men places them near the First Class Smoke Room on A Deck, as well as their places in lifeboat 11, which was lowered from the Second Class area of the starboard deck, aft.

Another clue as to whether the musicians performed separately is mention of the number of men in the band. In the following account Washington Dodge, who had seen the five-piece band perform earlier on Sunday evening in the First Class Reception Room, noted that he saw the same band performing after the collision.

Washington Dodge, The Loss of the Titanic, 1912:
“Following the collision the band which had earlier in the evening given the usual Sunday evening concert, continued to play. They played ragtime and other lively music. But a few moments before the steamer sank, when the danger was apparent to all, they were playing “Lead Kindly Light.” There were five musicians, all of whom were lost.”

Washington Dodge
Dodge’s account is interesting because he pinpointed the number in the band, which suggests the quintet performed on its own. It seems by his words that he did see the band's performance at some point, because he was able to say it was the same five-piece band that had performed earlier. However, he went off in boat 13 at 1:25, so he wouldn’t have seen or heard the quintet’s performance at the last, nor would he have heard the music clearly enough from the lifeboat to identify the hymn he mentioned.

It does seem as though there is evidence that the bands never performed together as Titanic sank. If so, they would have reached more passengers through two performances. The calming effect of their music would have covered more area on the ship.

The idea that the bands came together to play in Titanic’s final hours had originated with Charles Black, of C. W. & F. N. Black, employer of Titanic’s band; originated with a man who had not set foot on Titanic nor witnessed the event. Yet this idea gained traction with the press and public and became part of the legend of the sinking of the great liner. A close inspection of survivor accounts and a knowledge of the ship’s design suggests otherwise: that the quintet and trio performed as separate ensembles.

In the next post: Did any Titanic survivors hear both bands during the sinking? What time did the band stop playing?


Related Posts

Did Titanic's bands play together as Titanic sank?
Titanic's second band: Trio for Restaurant and Cafe Parisien
When did Titanic's bands stop playing?


On Board RMS Titanic , George M. Behe

TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Did Titanic’s bands play together as 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
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).