Thursday, 29 December 2011

Titanic: What is a 'palm court' musician?

The Titanic sailed in the Edwardian era before World War I, when British high society made its distinctive mark on culture. It was a golden age when people aspired to put their best foot forward, sit tall, dress appropriately for every occasion and perfect their best manners over tea.

Set up for afternoon tea, Ritz Hotel, London

The name 'palm court' came from the unique setting in which musicians played. They were to be heard but not seen. A screen of potted plants (of the palm variety) hid them from view. Rather than a concert for an attentive audience, the purpose of the music was to soften the atmosphere and provide a backdrop for polite conversation. It was a clever arrangement because the sounds carried beautifully beyond the foliage.

Hotel palm court

Classically trained musicians found employment as live performers in all the usual places: orchestras, dance bands, pit orchestras for operas, operettas, ballets, and of course, a chosen few became concert soloists. Despite the recent advent of recorded music, there arose a demand for 'palm court' musicians.

Hotels and tea rooms at the time liked to indulge their patrons with the luxury of live music. Small ensembles were hired to perform on a daily schedule. The instrumentation usually consisted of strings, like a string trio or quartet, but could also include piano. The repertoire combined a variety of tastes: arrangements of classical music, numbers from operas and operettas, waltzes, as well as popular tunes of the day.

The listeners were usually of the finer cut of sleeve, those who enjoyed being pampered and served and liked indulging in illusions of grandeur. High tea at the Ritz Hotel in London was complete only with the strains of string music in the background.

Several of Titanic's bandsmen had experience playing in palm court settings in European and Caribbean hotels and tea rooms, as well as on other ships, prior to embarking on the Titanic.
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Related Posts
Did Titanic have 'palm court' performances?
Did Titanic's band play music by memory?
Did Titanic's bands share sheet music?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Rebekah Maxner Titanic enthusiast

Hello, fellow Titanic enthusiast! I share your keen interest in the grand liner. It is Titanic's music that interests me most. I've been researching Titanic music for several years now. My research began online and extended into a growing pile of books dedicated to the subject. At first I absorbed everything I read at face value and believed it all. The musicians performed their repertoire memorized, the musicians played all over the ship willy-nilly, the last piece performed on the night of the sinking was....

Then I noticed that Titanic's historians knew a lot about the Titanic but less about how music and musicians work in general. I noticed online discussions puzzling and questioning details that had simple answers to a trained musician. If you, too, have read some of these comments or posts online and wondered at their accuracy, I'm offering my perspective as a career musician to help you come to your own conclusions as you weigh the evidence.

To future Titanic authors and movie makers: I'm hoping this material will help you construct a more accurate telling of the story of music on board Titanic. I welcome your comments, questions and criticisms in the spirit of discussing a subject that interests us all.

Young performers present me with flowers and a gift
after a Titanic Tribute Recital, April 1, 2012

On the piano are my two TITANIC Piano books

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Related Posts
CBC Radio Titanic Interview with Rebekah Maxner
The art of arranging Titanic's music
Titanic's final number: Concise summary

Links
TITANIC A Voyage in Piano Music, two piano books by Rebekah Maxner
RED: Beginner to Elementary Piano solos with optional duets
GOLD: Early Intermediate to Intermediate piano solos