And The Band Played On; Music Played on Board the Titanic
It was meant to be one of modern history’s greatest marvels, an unsinkable ship of grandeur like the world had never before seen. Instead, the RMS Titanic turned into one of modern history’s most horrific maritime disasters condemning over 1,500 of its passengers to tragic deaths.
With the band playing and the lights of the sinking ship still burning, the doomed company awaited the end. They died like heroes, they died like men”.
-Henry Van Dyke, Princeton University.
Music Played on Board the Titanic
While much attention has been paid to narratives such as the Titanic’s aristocratic passengers, narratives of families and loved ones torn apart, and the ship’s doomed last few hours, attention should also be paid to another telling aspect of Titanic’s fatal story–its music.
From its frenetic send off to its final hours, music was a large component of life aboard the Titanic. While classic tunes were played in the first class halls and public decks, rhythms of more lively bagpipe and ragtime tunes sounded in the third class quarters (who could forget the scene in James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic when Rose pays a visit to Jack in the third class quarters where lively dancing ensues).
Musicians of the RMS Titanic
The ship’s now legendary band was composed of eight musicians, many with colorful backstories. Wallace Hartley, the English violinist and bandleader of the doomed ship was among the members who stood out most distinctly. Hartley, a young devout Christian, refused to abandon his post even as the ship sank feeling a powerful sense of conviction to continue his duty as bandleader.
When Music Met Doom
When the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, Hartley gathered his orchestra who bravely made their way to the boat’s main deck to serenade the panic stricken passengers.
Even as the ship split in half plumbing into the Atlantic, the band continued to played in an attempt to keep the men, women, and children calm as those around them were swept violently into the waters below. The eerie scene of an orchestra calmly playing to hysterical crowds is one of the most chilling moments in the narrative of the ship’s last hours.
“They kept it up to the very end. Only the engulfing ocean had power to drown them into silence. The band was playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ I could hear it distinctly. The end was very close.” Charlotte Collyer, Survivor of the Titanic
Although all eight band members met their end in the deadly Atlantic waters that night, their bravery, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice they made for their music will continue to stand out in the narrative of the ship’s tragic tale.