As a classical pianist who gave recitals on cruise ships for many years, I couldn’t pass the anniversary of Titanic’s sinking without any comment. It was 100 years ago today that the great ship sank beneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic Sea. I, like many others, have crossed that section of the Atlantic many times and can confirm that it is a most hostile environment and must have been terrifying beyond belief for all those poor souls involved.
I loved my job giving classical recitals for passengers but I did have a couple of ‘near misses’ myself (as well as many extremely rocky, uncomfortable trips); one was in the Atlantic and the other in the dreaded Bay of Biscay. They happened on small ships and on the first occasion the ship nearly tipped over – we were all up on top with our life jackets on! Even though we were close to impending disaster it never occurred to me to stop cruising because it’s generally a very safe form of transport.
What moved me about the Titanic’s sinking though, was the fact that the musicians played on right to the end. This is something that I could never have done so I have the utmost respect for those band members. A newspaper at the time reported “the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea.
Band leader, Wallace Hartley and his fellow band members (there were 8 musicians in all), played in the first class lounge to help the passengers keep calm during the lifeboat evacuation. They later moved to the forward half of the boat deck, where they continued to play until the very end according to many survivors. Reports suggest that the final work they played was ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee‘ which has since been forever associated with RMS Titanic; whether this is true is unclear but former bandmates have claimed that Hartley said if he was ever on a sinking ship he would either play ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee or “O God, Our Help in Ages Past“.
This memorial is dedicated to these musicians and it resides in Southampton, UK: Wallace Hartley (bandmaster,violin), Roger Marie Bricoux (cello), Theodore Ronald Brailey (piano), John Wesley Woodward (cello), John Frederick Preston Clarke (string bass, viola), John Law Hume (violin), Percy Cornelius Taylor (piano) and Georges Alexandré Krins (violin) who all lost their lives on the Titanic.
The clip below is apparently the only existing footage of the RMS Titanic;