Titanic: The band that played on
The band of Titanic is one of the most mysterious and legendary tales that comes from the ill-fated ocean liner. Titanic’s eight-member band was led by Wallace Hartley, and upon panic of the passengers during Titanic’s sinking, assembled in the first-class lounge to play in an effort to keep everyone calm. As the ship continued to plunge, the band moved to the forward half of the boat deck, and continued playing even when their doom became apparent. All members of the Titanic band died that night while playing. However, the final song they played is still up too much debate.
Mrs Vera Dick, a first-class Canadian passenger reported that the final song played by the band was the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. However, reports indicate that Mrs Dick had left by way of lifeboat an hour and twenty minutes previously, and could not have been there to witness the final song played by the band.
Although, the band’s leader, Hartley, did say once to a friend that if he were on a sinking ship, “Nearer, My God, to Thee” would be among the songs he would play. Harold Bride, one of the wireless operators, reported in 1912 that he had heard the song “Autumn” just before the ship sunk to the depths of the sea. This account of Harold Bride was popularized in the Walter Lord book A Night to Remember. Despite this, neither the hymn “Autumn”, or the closest version to it, waltz “Song d’Automne”, were in the White Star Line songbook for the band. This still remains the best testimonial as Bride was the only person who could have possibly heard the band’s last song, as he floated off the deck just before the ship went down.
The questioning of whether or not the band played “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as their final farewell is thought to have originated as a myth from the wrecking of SS Valencia in 1906 in Canada, which may have had an impact on Mrs Dick’s selective memory.
Furthermore, two versions for “Nearer, My God, to Thee” exist, including a British version and an American version that have very different musical settings. In the film A Night to Remember, the British version is used; while the 1953 film Titanic incorporates the American version as its swan song.