Tuesday, 10 April 2012

April 10, 1912: Titanic's band according to passengers

On the morning of April 10, 1912 at the port of Southampton the first passengers boarded Titanic. Stewards and stewardesses stood in place to help passengers find their way through the myriad of rooms, corridors, staircases and elevator lifts. The size of the vessel was immense. It was the kind of floating grand hotel where one could easily become lost.

Titanic tied up at the port in Southampton, April 10, 1912.
Photo taken from the First Class gangway, the Second Class gangway visible.

Passengers of First, Second and Third Class all felt privileged to be part of the spectacle. To be a passenger on the world’s grandest ship on her maiden voyage was quite something. Their experience of the ship was sensual, exploratory and innocent. To read passenger accounts of day-to-day life at sea on Titanic, you almost feel as lost as they, themselves, felt at the time.

The advantage we have today over Titanic’s passengers is that we can look at ship plans that offer a clear overview of the ship. Each room is labeled with a name according to its form and function straight from the intentions of the designer. Titanic’s passengers saw brass letters identifying the levels deck by deck from each staircase but beyond this none of the rooms had labels.

Because passengers were not aware of the names of the rooms, their descriptions of shipboard experiences were often vague. It is therefore difficult to interpret where Titanic's bands performed based on passenger accounts alone.

To truly understand Titanic’s music one must understand the ship’s design. Music was an integral part of the design, the pianos placed in strategic areas where the band’s music would carry along corridors, up and down stairs and out onto the outer decks. Thomas Andrews had designed the locations of the pianos and band’s venues into the time and space of life on board the ship. The music was to reach as many passengers as possible at key times of the day.

One common misconception is that Titanic’s bands played in random locations throughout the ship. This was not the case. There was a set schedule for the quintet and trio and predictable venues where they would play throughout the day. The reason it seems as though they performed in odd places is because passengers were attempting to describe the rooms in layman’s terms, and often their descriptions were confusing.

It would have been impossible for the quintet to perform in certain rooms because of the absence of pianos. As the pianos were bolted to the floor, immobile, and as the quintet’s music arrangements called for piano (and ensemble musicians played exclusively from arrangements, not from memory), this ensemble was limited to performing only in areas where a piano was available.

According to the ship’s plan, on A Deck there was a room in First Class called the Verandah and Palm Court. It has been thought the band may have performed in this area of the ship based on an account by Colonel Archibald Gracie.

Verandah Cafe and Palm Court

Gracie wrote, “According to usual custom we adjourned to the Palm Room, with many others, for the usual coffee at individual tables where we listened to the always delightful music of the Titanic’s band.”

Some have believed Gracie was referring to this Verandah and Palm Court. But a study of the Titanic’s plan, as well as Olympic’s band’s schedule, reveals that the room he referred to was truly the First Class Reception Room. This was where Titanic’s quintet performed each evening, with the pianist sitting at the Model B Steinway grand, to passengers sitting around little tables sipping coffee amongst the scattered palm plants. With one look at the identical room on Olympic it becomes clear where Gracie got the idea to call this room the Palm Room – but it is not to be confused by name with the Verandah and Palm Court.

Titanic's First Class Reception Room

Another passenger who strived to explain where she had heard the quintet perform was Juliette Laroche, Second Class passenger. In a letter she wrote, “I am writing from the reading room: there is a concert in here, near me, one violin, two cellos, one piano.”

In the original letter, written in French, Laroche had called the room where she sat the “salon de lecture” which has been interpreted by at least one author as the Dining Saloon (salon in French being the source of the connection to saloon). However, the translation into “reading room” is much more accurate.

A study of Olympic’s band’s schedule and Titanic’s plans shows that Titanic’s Second Class had only one performance venue which was located in the Entrance Foyer on C Deck, just outside the Second Class Library.

The band played in the Second Class Entrance Foyer (photo from Olympic).
The Library door is visible behind the mast. 

So it was in the Library where Laroche had been writing her letter while the band had been playing in the entranceway, near her (but not in front of her). How fascinating that music played in the foyer reached so many. Such was the genius of the ship’s design.

Second Class Library on Titanic.

'Lounge' was another nebulous word used by passengers to describe one of the band's performance venues. First Class passenger Henry Julian remarked in a letter he wrote on board Titanic on April 10, 1912, "The Parisian cafe is quite a novelty and looks very real. I do not know to what extent it is patronized, but it will, no doubt, become popular amongst the rich Americans... There are two bands, one in the lounge and the other in the cafe." When the word lounge is used other clues must be considered, like time of day and descriptions of the room, to ascertain where on the ship the performance took place.

These examples demonstrate how important it is to know the locations of Titanic’s regular performance venues. Once these are known it is possible to read between the lines of passenger accounts to decipher where on the ship they heard the band’s music.

The quintet's first regular performance in Titanic's First Class Reception Room was noted by Adolphe Saafeld in a letter he wrote to his wife on board Titanic on April 10, 1912:

"The band played in the afternoon for tea, but I savour a cafe with bread and butter in the verandah cafe ...." (Did Saafeld mean the Verandah and Palm Court on A Deck or the Cafe Parisien on B Deck?) In any case, Titanic was large and luxurious and passengers enjoyed exploring and discovering everything the ship had to offer.

An anonymous correspondent to an Irish newspaper who toured the ship summed it up with these words:

“…the most fascinating feature, perhaps, of the Titanic today was the trips of ‘discovery.’ Men and women set out to explore. They were shot into the depths by splendidly-equipped electric lifts. They called at the post office for a chat with the postmaster on the sorting arrangements. They wandered to the swimming baths and the luxurious Turkish saloons… They touched the pianos on every deck in every corner of advantage, or listened to the band….”
(Irish Times, April 16, 1912)

And Titanic was on her way.


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Related Posts
Did Titanic's band play music by memory?
Maintaining Titanic's shipboard pianos
Did Titanic have palm court performances?


3 comments:

  1. I've always thought that musicians also played in first class lounge on A deck, but analysing the schedule of quintet, there is no time of a day, when they played there. There also was no piano there. I don't know about the trio schedule, but in all probability, nobody played any music in first class lounge. I've started to think about this, and "relationship" between the lounge and reception room on D deck. Now it seems to me, that reception room was disigned to be quite of a main salon onboard, also, many communication pathways crossed there so passangers going up and down, to their cabins and onto deck, they passed the reception room, and could stay here for talk or tea. It was busy, grand room with two purposes: the lounge, and the room which was providing communication. It was painted white, with palms, merry and sunny place. The lounge on A deck, was layed with brown panelling, the room was creating the atmosphere of calmness and rest, where passenger could sit and heel quite privacy, even when room was full of people. I think that it should be also called as library, as in second class, there was bookcase, and litle desks with lamps to write a letter. So, we have two lounges, but with quite different purposes. The reception room was quite of a entertain place, the lounge on A deck was rather the library, reading room, place to calm your thoughts. I think that's the ideas for these rooms which designers came into, and I think that's why music was not provided in lounge on A deck.

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    1. "Lounge" is a very tricky word to interpret in passenger accounts. It seems to have been used for any number of rooms on board. I think you are right that the D Deck Reception Room was the main gathering place. It was the biggest public space.

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