Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Where did Titanic's quintet play during the sinking?

After several days on Carpathia, Titanic’s passengers arrived in New York late in the evening on April 18, 1912. Wireless messages from the ship had been limited, so this was the first time survivors had the chance to tell their stories of the disaster. The press sought interviews (or made them up), and letters written aboard Carpathia to relatives were finally posted.

One of the most compelling stories that emerged was that of the band’s steadfast performance as Titanic slowly sank into North Atlantic waters. To the best of their ability survivors described where they had heard music that night.

Certain themes developed in the passenger reports; some descriptive words and locations were identified by several survivors. To be specific, accounts mentioned hearing music on the A Deck promenade, near the gymnasium, outside on the outer deck, in a lounge and from lifeboats.

Did Titanic's bands play together as Titanic sank?

It has long been believed that Titanic's band moved several times during the sinking, first within the ship and finally outside without the pianist. The body of evidence explored in this post mentions music within a certain focused area of the ship, and leads to surprising conclusions.

Music by its very nature carries beyond the confines of the room in which it is being played. A performance in the First Class Entrance Hall (the Boat Deck entrance at the top of the Grand Staircase) would have been heard down several flights of the staircase. The open design of the staircase allowed the music to spill down to A Deck, B Deck, and perhaps even lower, not only inside the ship, but also on the promenade decks outside. A performance in the First Class Entrance Hall would also have been heard through the deck doors, outside on the Boat Deck where lifeboats were prepared, loaded and lowered, or outside on the starboard side beside the gymnasium.


First Class Entrance Hall. Titanic's musicians performed in this location.
Note the piano and musician's stand visible near the windows to port.

Normally when the quintet performed at the top of the Grand Staircase the ornate dome overhead glowed with midday light. But this performance was different. In the early morning of April 15, 1912 it was a star-studded sky beyond the glass, and the band read their music by electric light.

One of the bandsmen held up this performance, rushing from the Second Class entranceway along the Boat Deck, which was presently deserted. He was spotted by Second Class passenger Lawrence Beesley. The cellist's presence there suggests his destination was the forward First Class Entrance Hall, as this was the only location on that level of the ship with a piano where the five-piece band regularly played.

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. "Titanic", June, 1912:
"Soon after the men had left the starboard side, I saw a bandsman -the 'cellist- come round the vestibule corner from the staircase entrance and run down the now deserted starboard deck, his 'cello trailing behind him, the spike dragging along the floor. This must have been about 12.40 a. m."

When lifeboat 6 was lowered from the port side forward at about 12:55am, Margaret Brown, who was in the lifeboat, heard the band’s music. Second Officer Charles Lightoller assisted with the loading and lowering.

Margaret Brown, Newport Herald, May 28-29, 1912:
"While being lowered we were conscious of strains of music being wafted on the night air."

Charles Lightoller, Second Officer:
"I could hear the band playing a cheery sort of music. I don’t like jazz music as a rule, but I was glad to hear it that night. I think it helped us all."

DID THE BAND MOVE OUTSIDE?
Did the band eventually move outside? Second Class passenger Lawrence Beesley had not himself seen or heard the band, but included in his book information related from another survivor.

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. “Titanic”, June, 1912:
"It is related that on the night of the disaster, right up to the time of the Titanic’s sinking…the band grouped outside the gymnasium doors played with such supreme courage in face of the water which rose foot by foot before their eyes…."

It is easy to fully accept Beelsley's account as survivor testimony. But Beesley's statement seems to be an example of second hand misinterpretation. His friend, who had likely been standing outside the gymnasium at the Boat Deck level, would have said he had heard the band there. Strains of music from a performance at the top of the Grand Staircase inside the ship at the Boat Deck level would have been heard outside the gymnasium. The subtlety was lost on Beasley, and then his interpretation has been cited as evidence that the band moved outside.

PIANO OR NO PIANO
Logistically, it would have been difficult for the band to move outside. The upright piano was bolted to the ship. Even if it were mobile, it would have been next to impossible to move the bulk of it over the raised threshold onto an outer deck, and surely such activity would have been noticed and mentioned by eyewitness survivors.

May Futrelle heard the band playing with the piano very late in the sinking, at the time lifeboat 4 was put off at 1:55am. If the band was still playing with the piano at that time, it is improbable that they would have taken time away from performing to move everything they needed outside the ship -- chairs, stands, their stash of music and instruments.

The band’s sheet music was arranged to include piano. Although it has been assumed that the string players could easily have moved outside and adapted without the piano, classically trained musicians in 1912 who normally performed with music sheets (as Titanic's musicians did without question), were not trained to know how to improvise or "jam" together -- it simply wasn't done.

COLD AND DARK
Other logistical considerations: It is very difficult for musicians to perform outside in freezing temperatures as fingers need agility, and therefore ample circulation, to perform musical instruments. Most musicians loathe exposing their instruments to cold outdoor air for any amount of time. In April, 2012 on a Titanic centennial cruise, musicians played on the outer deck of a ship in an attempt to replicate the band's final performance. In the cold temperatures on that night the stringed instruments very quickly, and frequently, went out of tune, proving it was very unlikely the musicians performed outside in 1912 on a much colder night.

Also, the lighting on the outer deck would not have been sufficient for the musicians to read their parts. Especially at the forward part of the ship, outside lighting was kept dim to aid visibility at night from the bridge. Furthermore, Titanic sank on a moonless night.

Movie scenes shot in daylight on warm sets, acted by musicians
pretending to perform from memory.
On Titanic, the deck would have been freezing and dark,
and musicians would not have been able to read their music sheets.
Photo from the 1958 film A Night To Remember.

Washington Dodge, The Loss of the Titanic, 1912:
"We were in semi-darkness on the boat deck, and owing to the immense length and breadth of the vessel...[we] only knew what was going on about us within a radius of possibly forty feet."

Margaretta Spedden, letter written on board Carpathia, April 18, 1912:
"The ship struck the iceberg at 11.55 Sunday night and we immediately got partly dressed and went up on deck but it was so dark that we couldn't see anything except ice on the forward deck and that the ship was listing a little bit, so we decided to go down and finish dressing."

If the outer deck was too cold for fingers to function and dark for eyes to see written music, it is best to look to the evidence in favour of the band remaining inside the ship to the end.

'Lounge' is a word passengers sometimes used to describe where they heard the band play, and it is rather difficult to interpret. However, the following account, related from some of the last passengers to have left Titanic, confirms that the orchestra remained inside until the end. Because the last lifeboats left Titanic from the Boat Deck forward, it can be believed that this account referred to a performance in this location.

William Sloper, letter written on board Carpathia, April 18, 1912:
"Some of the rescued people who were the last to leave the ship told me that when they left the orchestra was playing in the "Lounge," and that it was brave but ghastly to hear them."

Survivors heard the band's music from their lifeboats but no one suggests that the band was playing in a lifeboat. Why, then, is it interpreted that music heard outside on the ship's deck originated outside?

Perhaps it was because survivors had said they heard the band's music from lifeboats that the press and historians have pictured the band performing outside. One only has to watch movies to see this played out in dramatic scenes. One could ask -- if music was heard that clearly from the distance of the lifeboats, why couldn't Beesley hear it just aft on the deserted starboard deck? The music heard from lifeboats would have been quite faint, much fainter than depicted in the movies, perceptible only to passengers in the closest lifeboats and not clear enough for them to accurately name any of the tunes.

Yet, several newspapers printed survivor accounts that specifically said the band was seen on the outer deck. Even Harold Bride's account printed in the New York Times says, "...the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing "Autumn." In an otherwise believable telling, it is possible a reporter inadvertently substituted seeing for hearing ("...the last I heard of the band...").

Any survivor account that makes reference to seeing musicians performing outside should be handled very carefully, especially if printed in a newspaper. That information was filtered through a writer who had not actually been on Titanic or experienced the event first-hand. Newspaper writers interpreted survivor accounts, and if a survivor said they heard music in a certain place on the ship, the reporter would assume it meant the band had also been seen performing there.

In order to understand how several passenger accounts might have referred to the same performance, one should keep the idea in mind that music carries beyond the place of performance. Titanic was designed to maximize the band’s performances, and all its venues were designed to allow strains of the music to carry.

If it is true that these musicians performed exclusively at the top of the Grand Staircase, isn't it slightly comforting to think they remained together, with their pianist -- inclusive -- until the end?

The topic of 'where' the band performed on the night of the sinking will be continued in the next two posts. There is additional evidence that seems to focus on a second performance venue, which suggests the quintet and trio performed separately that night.
___

Related Posts
Did Titanic's bands play together as Titanic sank?
Evidence that Titanic's bands played separately
Titanic's final number: Grand acoustics

Sunday, 15 April 2012

April 15, 1912: Was Titanic's band ordered to play?

Titanic's bandsmen would have just returned to their berths from their regular Sunday night performances. Perhaps they were counting and dividing tips, filing away their sheet music, preparing for bed. At the stern of the ship on the starboard side of E Deck the members of the quintet would have felt and heard the impact with the iceberg more in their cabin than did the trio in theirs, which was further forward and amidships. All eight men would certainly have noticed when the engines stopped.

Then it is believed that Captain Smith himself paid a visit to the musicians after his assessment of the ship. Survivor Pierre Marechal was of the understanding that the captain ordered the band to play, and related such information to Secretary Williams of the Amalgamated Musicians' Union, who wrote, "Marechal declared that the musicians received an order to play all the time without stopping, so as to avoid a panic."

In fact the Captain had no authority to command them to play. In the early part of 1912 music agents C. W. & F. N. Black had negotiated with shipping lines to direct all music matters on board every seagoing vessel. After a complaint from the Amalgamated Musicians' Union just one month prior to Titanic's maiden voyage, in March, 1912, J. Bruce Ismay went so far as to remove the musicians from the ship's articles. Titanic's musicians were employees of C. W. & F. N. Black and officially sailed as Second Class passengers. But the time when a captain had had command over them was still fresh in their memories, perhaps so fresh that a command was given, whether it came from a place of authority or not.

Whether the Captain or another officer met with the band, or commanded or not, it seems the idea to play must have come from the bridge. Without speaking with someone who was aware of the situation the bandsmen might have wondered about the scraping sound and then gone straight to bed. So, it is likely that a conversation did take place. It would have been mentioned that there was a situation that might cause angst amongst passengers, and that passengers would likely gather to see how it would unfold. It would have been concluded that a little night music would help maintain calm through the present circumstance.

The eight men pulled on their regular uniforms with green lapels, White Star Line buttons and caps, and prepared to go back to work. Soon after his meeting with the band, Captain Smith was seen in a nearby companionway by Violet Jessop, First Class stewardess.

Violet Jessop, First Class Stewardess, memoires published 1997:
“…I passed a group of officers [Captain Smith, Bruce Ismay, Purser McElroy and Doctor O’Laughlin], still in their mess jackets, hands in pockets, chatting quietly on the companion square as men do who are waiting for something. They smiled at me and I waved back.”

Their nonchalant behaviour indicated that at that moment none of the officers took the situation seriously (they had all just turned to take notice of the attractive stewardess). By asking the band to play Captain Smith could not have known that he was asking them to choose music and duty over life.

It seems as though Captain Smith didn’t need to convince the musicians to play. It was said that bandleader Hartley had once discussed the possibility of shipwreck with Lewis Cross, his fellow bandsman on Celtic. At that time Hartley had said, "Well, I don't suppose it will ever happen, but you know music is a bigger weapon than a gun in a big emergency, and I think that a band could do more to calm passengers than all the officers."

Violet turned from her sighting of the officers and bumped into the bandsmen. She was most familiar with John Law (Jock) Hume, as they had sailed together on Olympic’s maiden voyage only the year prior, in 1911.

Violet Jessop, First Class Stewardess, memoires published 1997:
“…I ran into Jock, the bandleader and his crowd with their instruments. ‘Funny, they must be going to play,’ thought I, and at this late hour! Jock smiled in passing, looking rather pale for him, remarking, ‘Just going to give them a tune to cheer things up a bit,’ and passed on. Presently the strains of the band reached me faintly as I stood on deck….”

It is believed that Jock Hume's string trio struck up in the Restaurant's Reception Room at approximately 12:15am, in the early morning hours of Monday, April 15, 1912. Little did they know that their performance would go down in history, perhaps as the most talked-about of the Twentieth Century.
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Related Posts
April 14, 1912: Sunday's music on board Titanic
Where did Titanic's band play during the sinking?
Was Titanic's last performance impacted by separate libraries?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

April 14, 1912: Sunday's music on board Titanic

Until the morning of Sunday, April 14, 1912, Titanic’s two Dining Saloon pianos had stood silent. As the dinner hour was the band’s downtime, the pianos in the First and Second Class Dining Saloons had not yet been played. Although it has been depicted in movies that the band played during dinner, this was not the case on the ship in 1912.

The primary reason Titanic’s designer had called for pianos to be installed in the saloons was for Sunday divine service.

Many questions have surrounded these pianos and who played them. It has been suggested that perhaps the band provided music for Sunday services. No passenger accounts allude to the band being there. Evidence from several accounts indicates that Titanic’s bands performed as usual on Sunday, not taking a day of rest. This makes sense. The agency C. W. & F. N. Black was paying the band for the voyage, and would not want to lose a day’s work just because it fell on a Sunday. The bandsmen would have been motivated to play, regardless of it being Sunday, by the prospect of earning tips.

In the morning when services were held, Titanic’s five-piece band would have been playing as usual in the Second Class Entrance Foyer and then at the top of the Grand Staircase in the First Class Boat Deck Entrance. The trio would have been performing in the Reception Room on B Deck. It is interesting to note that the bands played out of earshot of the Dining Saloons, and their music would not have interfered with the services.

In fact, evidence suggests that the services were accompanied by willing and accomplished passengers. It seems as though each saloon was equipped with hymnals, both for the accompanist and for the congregation.

First Class Dining Saloon piano, taken aboard Olympic.


FIRST CLASS Sunday Morning Divine Service

Colonel Archibald Gracie, The Truth bout the Titanic”, 1913:
"The exercise and the swim gave me an appetite for a hearty breakfast. Then followed the church service in the dining saloon, and I remember how much I was impressed with the ‘Prayer for those at Sea,’ also the words of the hymn, which we sang, No. 418 of the Hymnal…. What a remarkable coincidence that at the first and last ship’s service on board Titanic, the hymn we sang began with these impressive lines:
O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home."

Margaret Brown, Newport Herald, May 28, 1912:
"Sunday services were held at ten-thirty, quite one-half of the passengers* attending."
*First Class


SECOND CLASS Sunday Morning Service

Kate Buss, letter written on board Carpathia, April 16, 1912:
“We had a very short morning service by the Purser, but no address. Strange to say after that, although we didn’t quite realize it, every prayer and hymn seemed to be preparing us for that awful experience.”

Esther Hart, letter written on board Titanic, April 14, 1912:
“This morning Eva & I went to church & she was so pleased they sang Oh God Our Help in Ages Past; that is her Hymn she sang so nicely, so she sang out loud."

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:
"Service was held in the saloon by the purser in the morning, and going on deck after lunch we found such a change in temperature that not many cared to remain to face the bitter wind....

Marie Jerwan, letter to her sister, May, 1912:
"We had at our disposal three walking decks, and a very large, well-arranged lounge where there were concerts twice a day.... Sunday morning there was Protestant worship in the dining saloon and a Catholic worship in the lounge."


SECOND CLASS Sunday Evening Service

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:
"[Mr. Carter] next mentioned the absence of a service in the evening and asked if I knew the purser well enough to request the use of the saloon in the evening where he would like to have a "hymn sing-song"; the purser gave his consent at once, and Mr. Carter made preparations during the afternoon by asking all he knew - and many he did not - to come to the saloon at 8.30 p. m."

Sidney Collett, Moody Church Bulletin, 1912:
"On deciding that we would have a service of hymn singing, I went down to our dear [Reverend John Harper's] cabin to invite him to attend, but he had retired to rest early."

Marie Jerwan, letter to her sister, May, 1912:
"In the evening, as usual, there was a concert in the lounge until 8:15, then a worship in the dining saloon. We sang several hymns, after which the minister finished with a beautiful prayer, asking God to protect forever this beautiful ship."

Kate Buss, letter written on board Carpathia, April 16, 1912:
“Sunday evening we had a hymn singing congregation; no set service; it was lovely. We met the Dr. P. who was told off by his friend to look out for my ship friend, Miss W., and took him in with us. Another acquaintance, a young fellow, so nice, Mr. N.[orman] (Edinburgh) played the piano.”

Robert Douglas Norman,
a "young Scotch engineer"

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:
“After dinner, Mr. Carter invited all who wished to the saloon, and with the assistance at the piano of a gentleman who sat at the purser’s table opposite me (a young Scotch engineer going out to join his brother fruit-farming at the foot of the Rockies), he started some hundred passengers singing hymns. They were asked to choose whichever hymn they wished, and with so many to choose, it was impossible for him to do more than have the greatest favorites sung. As he announced each hymn, it was evident that he was thoroughly versed in their history: no hymn was sung but that he gave a short sketch of its author and in some cases a description of the circumstances in which it was composed. I think all were impressed with his knowledge of hymns and with his eagerness to tell us all he knew of them. It was curious to see how many chose hymns dealing with dangers at sea. I noticed the hushed tone with which all sang the hymn, ‘For those in peril on the Sea.’

“The singing must have gone on until after ten o’clock, when, seeing the stewards standing about waiting to serve biscuits and coffee before going off duty, Mr. Carter brought the evening to a close by a few words of thanks to the purser for the use of the saloon, a short sketch of the happiness and safety of the voyage hitherto, the great confidence all felt on board this great liner with her steadiness and her size, and the happy outlook of landing in a few hours in New York at the close of a delightful voyage; and all the time he spoke, a few miles ahead of us lay the ‘peril on the sea.’”
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Related Posts
Titanic's First Class pianos
Titanic's Second Class pianos
Titanic's Third Class music

Friday, 13 April 2012

Titanic's Third Class music

Titanic’s Third Class was divided into two groups of travelers. Single men and groups of male immigrants were berthed at the bow of the ship. Families, single women, and men traveling with women were berthed at the stern. These two groups didn't usually mix, and even had separate Dining Saloons.

Third Class passenger list
This post will attempt to create an idea of the soundscape of music in both areas of the ship. Apparently, it was quite lively.

Third class passengers were the most likely to travel with their own musical instruments, both familiar and unfamiliar to western ears.

THIRD CLASS AT TITANIC'S STERN
Passengers berthed at the stern had access to the Third Class General Room and it was here that passengers entertained themselves with music. There was an upright piano in this location, and it seems as though it was put to good use.

An Irish newspaper correspondent toured Titanic in Southampton prior to her departure, and remarked on the comfort Third Class passengers would enjoy:

Unknown correspondent, Irish Times, April 16, 1912:
"In the third class, or steerage, departments the loveliest linen, glass, cutlery were displayed ready for luncheon, while the easy chairs, card tables, pianos and settees reminded one of the first class accommodation on many liners twenty years ago."

For Irish passengers destined for Titanic’s Third Class, the voyage’s music began on board the tender America that ferried passengers from Queenstown at midday on April 11, 1912. Eugene Daly was travelling with his cousin, Maggie and another friend from their hometown, Katie Gilnagh. He played his uileann pipes on board the tender, much to the delight of his captive audience.

Eugene Daly can be seen on board America holding his uileann pipes, lower left corner.
Photo taken by Cork Examiner photographer Thomas Barker. 

Cork Examiner, May 9, 1912:
“He played many native airs on board the tender and as the latter moved away from the liner, the pipes were once more giving forth ‘A Nation Once Again.’”

On board Titanic, Second Class passenger Lawrence Beesley noticed the piper as he looked down into the next section of the ship.

Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic, 1912:
“Looking down astern from the boat-deck or from B deck to the steerage quarters, I often noticed how the third-class passengers were enjoying every minute of the time: a most uproarious skipping game of the mixed-double type was the great favorite, whilst ‘in and out and roundabout’ went a Scotchman with his bagpipes playing something that Gilbert says ‘faintly resembled an air.’”

On the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912, the music in the Third Class General room was jovial and went late into the night. In fact, it seems to have continued on even after the iceberg was struck, based on several accounts:

Gershon Cohen, letter written on board Carpathia, April 18, 1912:
“I will explain how the accident happened. At 10:30 we were all sent to bed, lively shouting and singing and doing everything. At 11:45 we were awakened, as about a dozen crewmen came by our decks. We did not take the slightest notice and went to bed again, but we were awakened by the sailors to put on lifebelts. I did not have any because I could not find one, and still I was making a lark of it, and people were singing and playing the piano, the band was also playing.”

This band was not the White Star orchestra, but a gathering of musicians from the Third Class passengers, Eugene Daly among them.

Athlone Piper’s Story of Titanic Disaster: Scene of Jollity, Westmeath Examiner, 1912:
“In a letter to a former colleague in the Athlone Piper’s Band, Mr. Eugene Daly describes the scene of jollity on board immediately before the Titanic ran into the iceberg. They were, he said, having a great time of it that evening in steerage.
‘I played the pipes and there was a great deal of dancing and singing. This was kept up even after we had struck, for the stewards came through and told us that we need not be afraid, that everything was all right. There was no danger, they said.
‘Most of those assembled believed them until it was too late… I lost my pipes….”

In James Cameron's 1997 movie, TITANIC, this evening was represented in a lively scene. The only thing missing was the piano, though it probably wasn't known that there was a piano for Third Class passengers when the movie was made. The pipes form a prominent part of the band:



Daniel Buckley, another passenger in Third Class described his experience on Titanic, including the music.

Daniel Buckley, letter written on board Carpathia, April 18, 1912:
“…we had a grand time on the Titanic. We got very good diet and we had a very jolly time dancing and singing. We had every kind of an instrument on board to amuse us, but all the amusement sank in the deep.”


THIRD CLASS AT TITANIC’S BOW
In the book Titanic The Ship Magnificent there is a diagram and description of the Third Class accommodations in the forward part of the ship. The ship’s postal clerks were berthed there on F Deck alongside Third Class. The experience of Olympic's postal clerks was likely also true of Titanic’s.

Apparently Olympic’s postal clerks “…despised the location of their quarters as the noise from the Third Class area often continued well into the night. The clerks complained of doors slamming and musical instruments being played, not always by the most talented musicians.” [TTSM p. 434]

It is possible that the postal clerks had not yet developed their taste for World Music.

Male immigrants were berthed in Titanic’s bow section. Several of these were Syrian passengers who were traveling to a new life in America. They had journeyed from Beirut to France and boarded Titanic at Cherbourg, several carrying along their own musical instruments, the darbukah and the ud.


In a book entitled The Dream and then the Nightmare, The Syrians who boarded the Titanic, author Leila Salloum Elias tells a tale of Syrian passenger Al-Amir Faris Shihab, who sailed on steerage ticket 2631. He was able to speak English and on the night of the sinking it is told that, because of this, he was able to understand the situation and lead others to safety.

During the sinking when his fellow passengers fell into panic and despair, he picked up his ud and played a melody that instilled calm and courage in the face of trouble. He played so long that his own life was sacrificed for the good of others.


On board Titanic was a cross-section of human experience, culture, language, skin colour, economic station, and music. Perhaps this diversity is one of the reasons the ship and the events which befell her continue to transfix the global human imagination to this day.
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Related Posts
Titanic's Third Class General Room and piano
Maintaining Titanic's shipboard pianos
Titanic's final number: Paddy Dillon's testimony

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Titanic's second band: Trio for Restaurant and Cafe Parisien

There was a second band on board Titanic, a trio that played in the First Class Reception Room outside the à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. The room itself was the B Deck landing of the aft Grand Staircase.

First Class Reception Room for a la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien, B Deck
The cafe doors are visible beyond the posts.  

Originally on Olympic there had been a piano installed inside the restaurant, and apparently the band had played right in front of patrons. But when the restaurant proved immensely popular with passengers the piano was removed to make way for more tables.

On Titanic the band was stationed outside the restaurant doors. From the Reception Room the music filtered through the restaurant and cafe doors, and could also be heard up and down the aft Grand Staircase. It served to soften the atmosphere.

Records show that there never was a piano installed in this location, so by deduction this means Titanic’s second band was a string trio, with two violins and a cello. Given that the ship’s designer intended for the restaurant to have a continental flavor, the light sound of the string trio would have fit right in with the French ambience.

The three musicians were berthed in a small cabin on E Deck just off a long corridor known to the crew as Scotland Road (it ran nearly the length of the ship). Although the three sailed officially as Second Class passengers this accommodation was in the area of the ship where only crew were housed, along the corridor where Third Class passengers accessed their Dining Saloon. This was somewhat ironic considering the trio was the more exclusive band of the two.

The à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien were patronized only by the wealthiest passengers. Those travelling First Class could take meals that were included in the price of their tickets in the First Class Dining Saloon. But to dine in the Restaurant one had to pay the price marked on the menu, essentially paying twice for their meal. Only the richest passengers could afford such an indulgence. It was for this clientele that the trio performed.

a la carte Restaurant, B Deck

Whereas the quintet seemed to perform from one end of the ship to the other and had to carry their instruments with them wherever they went, the trio played in only this one posh location. While more passengers got to know Wallace Hartley and the members of the five-piece band, only the richest passengers became familiar with the musicians of the trio.

Which musicians played in Titanic's trio?

Even though it would technically be proper to refer to Titanic’s band in the plural (bands), it has become the standard to refer to it only in the singular. It is possible that some First Class passengers never heard the trio, or even realized Titanic had a second band. It is almost certain that Second Class passengers would have been unaware of the second ensemble. It is also possible that for this reason it has been assumed for one hundred years that Titanic had only one bandleader.

Who was bandleader of Titanic's trio?

The trio was an independent ensemble and would have had a bandleader assigned to it by C. W. & F. N. Black, the employers of the bandsmen. The bandleader was the public face of the band and would interact with the audience and take requests. This had to be a very special man, one who had his sea legs as well as the good nature and confidence to speak with Titanic’s (the world’s) elite men and women.

The microcosm of the restaurants on B Deck created a parallel exclusive society. It formed a kind of retreat for the rich, an upper tier within the First Class. It is thought by historians that the two levels of First Class didn’t often mix. So when these passengers referred to the band in singular form, it was because they, too, had experienced primarily one band on board.

The trio’s daily schedule is unknown, but it likely followed a similar pattern to that of the quintet. Because the trio provided music for the à la carte Restaurant’s patrons the timing may have been skewed slightly, having them perform from 11:00am to 1:00pm, then again from 4:00pm for tea for two hours, and then once again in the evening for late diners. Mahala Douglas dined in the Restaurant on Sunday, April 14 at 8:00pm and heard the music of the trio at that time. However, the musicians were free to perform beyond the set schedule, and as tips provided their true source of income, they were more than willing to do so.

Titanic's Cafe Parisien, B Deck
There is very little documented in passenger accounts about the trio. It seems as though the world’s wealthiest passengers were less likely to write about the music, or less likely to talk to or write for the press. But there were some references to the second band.

Henry Julian, on board Titanic, 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 rich Americans… There are two bands, one in the lounge and the other in the café.”

Henry Julian, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“The bands are unusually good….”

Mahala Douglas, affidavit for the Senate Titanic inquiry, May 2, 1912:
“As far as I have been able to learn, not a man in that room [was saved]; all those who served, from the head steward down, including Mr. Gatti, in charge; the musicians who played in the corridor outside….”

It is possible that other passenger references to the “band” were speaking of the trio, but because accounts often tended to be vague on location it is difficult to know for sure. One thing is certain, music was part of the ship’s luxury and the richest passengers were afforded this extra perk, reserved exclusively for them.
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Related Posts
Which musicians played in Titanic's trio?
Evidence that Titanic's bands played separately
Did Titanic's bands share sheet music?

Link
Reception Room image from TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews. All rights reserved. Many thanks to the authors for permission. Limited Edition here shown (two volumes).




Wednesday, 11 April 2012

April 11, 1912: Day with Titanic's five-piece band

On the morning of April 11, 1912, five musicians woke up together in an unnumbered cabin at the end of a Second Class corridor on Titanic's E Deck. The pursers and clerks were berthed in the next cabin, and beyond them, Second Class passengers.

The musicians’ cabin was in Second Class because officially they sailed as Second Class passengers. The day before, these five men had boarded Titanic in Southampton with three others, all on ticket No. 250654, and together they comprised the eight musicians who formed Titanic’s two bands. One had taken the job for passage to New York on a personal matter. Others were simply making a living on the sea.

Today Titanic was en route to Queenstown, Ireland, and it was the first full performance day. Outside the porthole all was calm and clear. After breakfast the five returned to their cabin. The reason it was unnumbered was because it was specially designed for musicians, and not to be available for other passengers. Just inside the door of the accommodation was a small hall with a door to the instrument closet to one side. This was big enough to store all the stringed instruments: violins, viola, cello and double bass. At the end of the private hall was the cabin which had six berths, five used on this voyage for the quintet.

While the rest of E Deck’s Second Class passengers shared bathroom facilities, it appears as though the musicians, pursers and clerks had private facilities set aside.

Wallace Hartley, bandleader of the quintet, would have worked a little in the morning on the day’s set list. Although passengers often made requests, it was his job as bandleader to have numbers chosen ahead of time in the absence of requests, or at least a few numbers to get them started before a crowd gathered. With the day’s music chosen, the musicians likely organized their sheets so transitions between set numbers would be smooth.

Did the quintet use the early morning to rehearse the day’s music? This is a good question because their music was arranged for piano and they would have needed to rehearse with one. All of Titanic’s pianos were public. Which one would they have chosen for rehearsal?

In any case, Hartley took time in the morning to post a letter he had written the day before to his parents at home in England. Titanic’s mail was going to be taken off in Queensland at around noon, but as his performance schedule started at 10:00am he needed to deposit his letter in the slot before his busy day began.* He wanted his parents to know he expected to have a good and lucrative trip.

Wallace Hartley, on board Titanic, Wednesday [April 10, 1912]:
“My dear parents/
Just a line to say we have got away all right. It’s [been] a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled. This is a fine ship & there ought to be plenty of money on her. I've missed coming home very much and it would have been nice to have seen you all, if only for an hour or two, but I could not manage it. We have a fine band and the boys seem very nice – I shall probably arrive home on the Sunday morning. All love, Wallace.”


The quintet’s first performance was in the After Second Class Entrance foyer on C Deck at 10:00am,* and they were to perform in this location for an hour. Just forward of the entrance was the Second Class Library. The foyer also opened to promenade decks on both the starboard and port sides of the ship. Passengers taking the stairs, out for a walk, or in the Library heard the music. Some may have even paused to listen, sitting in one of the chairs available in the entrance.

Second Class passenger Juliette Laroche passed the band on her way to the Library. She felt the Library would be the best place to write a letter to her father while her husband watched the children. She, too, wanted her letter to go with the day’s mail when Titanic reached Queenstown. She made note of the band but walked by too quickly to take an accurate count of the instruments (notice that she mentions only four out of the five, and mistakes the double bass for a second cello). From inside the Library she was still able to hear the band’s music.


Juliette Laroche, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“…I am writing from the reading room: there is a concert in here, near me, one violin, two cellos, one piano….”

At 11:00am the quintet carried their instruments and sheet music forward and up to the First Class Entrance Hall on the Boat Deck. This was at the top of the forward Grand Staircase. First Class passengers were out walking or coming and going from the gymnasium. Some may have been meeting for luncheon. At this time of day the noonday light glowed through the ornate dome overhead and cast a truly unique atmosphere over the performance.

First class passenger Henry Julian had an ear for music. He, too, jotted a few lines for the day’s mail in a letter to his wife.

Henry Julian, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“We do not arrive at Queenstown until about noon, which gives me an opportunity of writing again… This is a brilliant morning and quite warm… The bands are unusually good….”

The set finished up at noon and the band had a bite to eat. It is also likely they took notice as Titanic dropped anchor just off Queenstown at 12:30. Tenders brought new passengers to the waiting ship and mailbags from Titanic were unloaded. At 1:30pm all transfers were complete and Titanic headed out for the open sea.

April 11, 1912: Last known photograph of Titanic

The afternoon offered them free time, but, again, Hartley had to put in some time planning for the music of the next set. Again, the bandsmen organized the chosen sheets in order.

The next performance took place in the First Class Reception Room on D Deck at 4:00pm, the time afternoon tea was served. The quintet had already performed in this venue twice the day before. Here stood the art case Steinway grand piano that looked like a gem stone as the light caught the symmetrical and leafy patterns in the wood veneer. The musicians set up with their music stands in just the right places, tuned up together and performed for the teatime hour.

Then, without a break, the band returned to Second Class at 5:00pm, for the second performance of the day in the Entrance Foyer. Passenger Kate Buss wrote about her affection for the band as part of a lengthy letter to her parents. At least one bandsman demonstrated a special acumen for connecting with his audience.

Kate Buss, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“We have three promenade decks, one above the other. Each one has a sort of hall lounge and on the one above my cabin the band plays every afternoon and evening. The ’cello man is a favorite of mine, every time he finishes a piece he looks at me and we smile.”

When the band finished at 6:00pm they had a two-hour break. After the evening meal they prepared for the upcoming evening performances, which began in the First Class Reception Room on D Deck at 8:00pm. The previous evening’s performance had been noted by a newspaper correspondent:

Name unknown, writing of the evening performance of April 10, 1912:
“After dinner as we sat in the beautiful lounge listening to the White Star orchestra playing ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ selections more than once we heard the remark: ‘You would never imagine you were on board a ship.’”

Helen Churchill Candee described evening concerts by the five-piece band in her article called Sealed Orders which appeared in Collier's Weekly on May 4, 1912:
"...after dinner there was coffee served to all at little tables around the great general lounging place, for here the orchestra played.

"Some said it was poor on its Wagner work, others said the violin was weak. But that was for conversation's sake, for nothing on board was more popular than the orchestra. You could see that by the way everyone refused to leave it. And everyone asked of it some favorite hit. The prettiest girl asked for dance music, and clicked her satin heels and swayed her adolescent arms to the rhythm.

"He of the Two who had walked the deck asked for Dvorak, while she asked for Puccini, and both got their liking, for the orchestra was adroit and willing."

As this was the most popular time to hear the band the First Class concert lasted until 9:15pm, at which time the band made their way once again to the Second Class Entrance Foyer on C Deck for the third concert of the day to those passengers, which went until 10:15.

That night when Second Class passenger Kate Buss returned to her cabin she added a line to the letter she was writing to her parents.

Kate Buss, on board Titanic, April 11, 1912:
“Tonight, after dinner, we first listened to the band, and then went up by lift to the top deck. It was glorious.”

The musicians were free to give extra performances, or play for passengers by special arrangement. Because tips flowed from performances, they were willing to do so. From Candee's account it sounds as though the five-piece band returned to First Class for an encore performance which went late into the night:
"At eleven, folk drifted off to their big cabins, with happy “see-you-in-the-mornings,” until a group formed itself alone, and the only sounds the musicians made were those of instruments being shut in their velvet beds."

*Written on Wednesday, April 10, 1912. Hartley's letter was posted from Titanic through Queenstown, on April 11, 1912.
*Performance times are based on a schedule available from Titanic's sister ship Olympic.
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Related Posts
April 10, 1912: Titanic's band according to passengers
Titanic's First Class pianos
Titanic's Second Class pianos

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.


___

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


Monday, 9 April 2012

Maintaining Titanic's shipboard pianos

Titanic’s string musicians traveled with their own instruments and tuned them anew for each performance. Every time the band gathered, passengers would have heard the string players tuning up prior to the performance.

However, the pianist had to play the instruments provided by the White Star Line. Lucky for Titanic’s pianist, the steamer had only Steinway performance pianos. But even the most gorgeous instruments are at the mercy of the environment in which they stand. This post is devoted to musing on the technical aspects of installing and maintaining Titanic’s pianos, including the impact of environmental conditions like temperature and humidity on them.

Were the pianos bolted to the floor?
Based on Steinway upright models K and R, Titanic’s upright pianos would have weighed 600-700 pounds (272-318 kilos), the Model B grand, 760 pounds (345 kilos). Now imagine installing pianos of this weight on a ship designed to handle high seas on the North Atlantic.

Most large performance pianos are made with rolling casters to make it easier to move them. However, on Titanic, this feature would have been utterly impractical. It is most likely that Titanic’s pianos were bolted to the deck floors to prevent them from moving on rolling seas. This idea would quell any notion that a piano was causally moved out onto the outer Boat Deck as the band played during the sinking.

The idea of anchoring the pianos comes primarily from the reality that a loose piano on a seagoing ship had the potential of being a destructive force. Not only could it have been a danger to passengers and crew, a piano in motion could have damaged the ship and its furniture, not to mention the piano, itself. It would be conceivable that on rough seas, given the right conditions, an upright piano might have even listed and toppled over. Considering all these factors, it only makes sense that Titanic's builders would have bolted her pianos to the floor.

This photo shows how the Steinway grand was anchored to the deck floor
with three metal rods to keep the piano from moving on rolling seas.
Notice brass footings in the place of casters.
Taken aboard Olympic early in her career.

How would temperature and humidity have affected the pianos?
Today many professional pianos are kept at an even temperature and humidity with a system known as Dampp-Chaser. This is an integrated system installed inside a piano that humidifies or dehumidifies the piano should the room get too dry or damp, and heats the piano should the room get too cold. When the temperature and humidity within the piano are kept constant the wood is stabilized and the piano stays in tune. No such thing existed in 1912.

Constant flux in temperature and humidity is very hard on any instrument, much more so a piano because it requires such an intensive process to be tuned. The pianos on Titanic that were exposed to the outside air, located in entrances or rooms with outside access, were most vulnerable. These included the Steinway upright located in the First Class Boat Deck Entranceway (at the top of the Grand Staircase), the Steinway upright located in the Second Class Entrance Foyer (C Deck) and the upright in the Third Class General Room (C Deck). Each time a passenger opened one of these deck doors, cold, humid air would have had an impact on the nearby piano.

In the Second Class Entrance Foyer the piano could be exposed to North Atlantic air
from several deck doors, one visible in this photo (taken on Olympic).

Three of Titanic’s pianos were located in rooms with more controlled conditions: the Steinway grand located in the First Class Reception Room and the Steinway uprights in both the First and Second Class Dining Saloons (all D Deck). Yet, even in these more protected areas of the ship it seems the heating system on board was unable to keep a constant temperature.

Several passengers mentioned how draughty Titanic was, especially on Sunday, April 14, when the temperature dropped. That evening even the most stylish ladies refrained from wearing their fashionable frocks and donned warm coats for dinner to stave off the cold that permeated the ship.

It is uncertain whether it is possible to answer the questions that arise concerning White Star Line pianos and their response to environmental exposure. How often were they tuned? (With each crossing?) Was Titanic’s pianist capable of performing rudimentary maintenance to tune the pianos en route in the case of a badly out-of-tune string? It would have been unthinkable to perform for a classy clientele on an instrument that had slipped, and such was a likely occurrence on ocean-going vessels like Olympic and Titanic.

If any readers have light to shed on this subject, or questions regarding the complex, fragile relationship of piano vis-à-vis ship, please share!
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Related Posts
Titanic's First Class pianos
Titanic's Second Class pianos
Titanic's Third Class piano

Links
How does a piano go out of tune?
Dampp-Chaser A system to protect your piano
Entrance image from TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews. All rights reserved. Many thanks to the authors for permission.




Friday, 6 April 2012

Titanic's Third Class piano and General Room

Perhaps you have heard it sung in The Titanic Song, "So they put them down below where they'd be the first to go...." Contrary to the belief that Titanic’s Third Class was kept below in suppressed conditions, there was actually a level of comfort provided steerage passengers that put Titanic a cut above other ships.

Class divisions ran vertically down through the ship in basically four sections. In the bow section was one group of Third Class. These were single men, many of whom were immigrants, who did not mingle with the other group of Third Class. These Third Class accommodations ran from D Deck to G Deck. Although this sounds "below," D Deck was the top deck level in this part of the ship.

First Class was situated on the ship just aft of the bridge beginning on the Boat Deck and down through E Deck, and was the largest section. Second Class was accommodated just aft of First, from A Deck down through to G Deck.

Then in the stern of the ship, the area that could properly be referred to as steerage, the second group of Third Class was berthed, from C Deck to G Deck (again, in this section, C Deck was the top deck). These were single women, mothers travelling with children, and men travelling with family or female friends. The purpose of dividing Third Class into two separate groups was to offer a degree of security to women travellers.

What does this have to do with Titanic’s Third Class piano? It is interesting to point out that the one piano provided to Third Class passengers was located in the stern, the back of the ship, for women and families.

Although Titanic’s band never performed in Third Class, it was believed that passengers had proficiency enough to provide their own entertainment. So a piano was installed in the Third Class General Room. This was the non-smoking public meeting place, located on the Starboard side of the ship (the Smoking Lounge was one room over, to Port). The walls were white, the floor was of red-and-white patterned tiles. There were potted plants here and there, travel posters on the walls, and wooden benches lined up as you would see in a train station.


Against the forward wall stood the upright piano. Records indicate that the White Star Line provided this piano (the First and Second Class pianos were contracted to Harland & Wolff), and it is possible it was a standard factory-made model purchased straight from a music store.

A photograph taken in Olympic’s Third Class General Room shows a large sheet of music open on the book rest and the top propped open. Large uprights can have the feature of opening the top across the length of the piano on hinges, similar to opening a grand piano, with the opening towards the player. A peg from inside the piano swivels and holds up the opened top to let the sounds out.

The presence of the piano in steerage was a physical testament to the White Star Line's dedication to afford the utmost comfort for all Titanic's passengers; to exceed expectations.
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Related Posts
Titanic's Third Class music
March 1912: Titanic's musicians and pianos in place
Titanic's Second Class pianos

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

To craft a Titanic Steinway

"A Steinway grand piano takes nearly a year to create. Nothing is hurried. Even the carefully selected woods that make up the rims, top, soundboards, and actions cure for months in our yard, kilns, and conditioning rooms before they stabilize at a rigidly specified moisture content. The rim of the instruments consists of layers of hard rock maple and with our bell-quality, full cast-iron plate, withstands the enormous amount of tension exerted by the strings." - Steinway & Sons*

The following YouTube video was made in 1929 by the Steinway Company to display how they manufacture their Style B Grand Piano, which was the style of piano that was installed in Titanic's First Class Reception Room on D Deck.

The process would have been the same in 1912 for Titanic's pianos, and according to Steinway, "Most of the techniques have stayed the same in the 80 year interim [since the video was made]." Titanic's Steinway pianos would have followed these preliminary processes until the cabinets were finished with their one-of-a-kind "art cases", designs made for and seen only on Titanic.


For more on Steinway, visit the La Guardia and Wagner Archives' website

In March 2012, 100 years after Titanic's pianos were anchored into place, I traveled to New York for the Music Teachers' National Association (MTNA) conference at the New York Hilton. One of the highlights of my trip was meeting several Steinway employees, both at the conference trade show and on a visit to Steinway Hall.

During the trade show Sante Auriti, an artisan at the Steinway booth, plied his trade before our eyes. He chiseled and sanded a grand piano cabinet which lay upside-down on a sawhorse workbench. Wood chips littered the red carpeted floor.


The craftsman explained that the cabinet of the piano is made up of many thin layers of maple that have been plied together, for ease of shaping the curves. The carved wooden appliqués and sculpted legs are individually machine carved then hand detailed to make a perfect fit. This takes hours of hands-on crafting,  the musical counterpart of the "slow food" movement - this is real take-time-to-do-it-right craftsmanship.

His shirt says, "I Build the World's Best Piano."

You can see the pedal lyre, here upside-down, with the three notches where the brass pedals will be fitted (top side).



Here is a look at the finished piano, Steinway & Sons Louis XV, at 5'7". While this style was not seen on Titanic, these photos give an idea as to the slow, hands-on process that pianos of this quality go through prior to the finishing touches that make a Steinway & Sons piano a superb musical instrument.


Titanic had five Steinway pianos on board, four of which were "art case." One appreciates the time and care that went into Titanic's pianos from just one meeting with a Steinway artisan.

This is me, dreaming...

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Related Posts
Titanic's First Class pianos
Titanic's Second Class pianos
Enthusiast turns commentator

Links
*Steinway Louis XV
Steinway & Sons Article, May 4, 2012 Read discussion on Titanic's pianos, how they responded to sinking and the possibility that some parts may still be there.