Hey everyone! I know this story has been barely covered in the media lately, but have you heard that Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster? <— just kidding. sorry.
Truthfully I’ve been enjoying all the Titanic commemorations, articles, programming, etc. Not “enjoying” that such a terrible tragedy occurred, but enjoying the history. I am a tremendous history buff, and the period around the turn-of-the-century and the early 20th is one of my favorite historical eras. The Titanic, as you know, went down in 1912.
So it was sometime early last week that I thought I might use the musicians of the Titanic as this week’s Music Monday topic. And lo and behold, New York’s classical music station WQXR, presented a superb program on that very subject, hosted by the esteemed Elliot Forest. It’s really outstanding, so I will just direct you to the show page, “Echoes of the Titanic”, where you can either listen or read.
The story of the Titanic’s musicians, their composure in the midst of chaos and how they valiantly continued to play as the ship’s passengers frantically sought lifeboats on the fast sinking vessel, is one of the most poignant of all the Titanic lore. One can hope that the soothing hymns provided even a bit of comfort for the frightened passengers. Regardless, the band felt it their duty to keep playing. All eight of those musicians, including the bandmaster Wallace Hartley, perished in the Atlantic that night. It is believed that not one of them wore a lifejacket. Hartley’s body was recovered two weeks later, his music box still strapped to his chest.
It was infuriating to learn that the White Star Line inflicted more pain onto the musicians’ already grieving families. They cut off the band members’ pay at precisely 2:20 AM when the ship sank, sent a bill for the brass buttons on the uniforms, and charged regular cargo rates to have the recovered bodies sent home. What dicks! Also, the musicians were hired from an agency as what we would call “independent contractors”, which means they were not “crew members” and thus not on the White Star Line’s payroll. Hence they were not insured and the White Star Line could claim that they were not technically responsible for the musicians, who rode the Titanic as regular second-class passengers. The employment situation was clearly a mess. No wonder musicians hate cruise ship work.
I found this image scan from the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union journal on this blog of British historical archives:
In November of 1912, a plaque was installed at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall to honor the heroic musicians of the Titanic. The inscription reads:
This Tablet is Dedicated to the Memory of
W. Hartley of Dewsbury
W.T. Brailey of London
R. Bricoux of Lille, France
J.F. Clarke of Liverpool
J.L. Hume of Dumfries
G. Krins of Liege, Belgium
P.C. Tailor of London
J.W. Woodward of Headington
Members of the band on board the Titanic; they bravely continued playing to soothe the anguish of their fellow passengers until the ship sank in the deep April 14th, 1912. Courage and compassion joined make the hero and the man complete.
Wallace Hartley and his men – true symbols of the phrase “And the band played on . . . “