Can the Titanic and Its Musicians Teach Us a Lesson?

Can the Titanic and Its Musicians Teach Us a Lesson? April 11, 2024

Titanic Boat in the Sunset
Titanic Sunset/Courtesy of Pixabay/David_Do

Can the Titanic and its musicians teach us a lesson 112 years later?

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This truly was a tragic event. When the “Unsinkable Ship” set sail, there were about 2200 people aboard. This was the ship’s maiden voyage. On the 4th night of the voyage, the ship struck an iceberg and 1500 souls were lost to the depths of the sea. It was indeed a tragedy. I once asked my Great, Great, Aunt Alma, who was born in 1899 (she lived until 1998, she was sharp as a tack even then), if she remembered hearing about the Titanic when she was 13 years old. She told me that she did indeed hear about it. She said it was such a sad story that even the “hill folks” heard about it. She lived in North Carolina at the time. 

The Ocean, The Statue of Liberty on a Grey Day.
The Ocean/Image Courtesy of Canva Pro

When I discovered that Aunt Alma knew about the Titanic, I was about 13 years old. Why in the world would a thirteen year old kid even know about the Titanic in the early 1990s? Well, as a child, my parents only allowed me to watch old movies. They said it was for religious purposes. While at the time I could not understand, now I am grateful for those cinematic wonders. In the mix was a movie called, “A Night to Remember.” This was as you can probably guess, about the Titanic. As the movie played, an interest was sparked in me that never left. Actually, an interest in the White Star and Cunard Line of Ships. Some of which, just like the Titanic, met a dreadful end. More information was needed about these lines of massive ships. The Titanic was at the top of the curiosity list. What happened to each of those souls both rich and poor?

As each passenger faced certain death, how did they feel?

I pondered each passenger that faced certain death, did they have faith? Were they at peace or in a place of dread? One such person was named Wallace Hartley. Wallace was the bandleader on the Titanic. He was known as a hip young man who loved to go to Tin Pan Alley to hear the newest tunes to include in his maritime band. He was often referred to as “Hotley” because of his love of the new and different. He was dedicated to his craft. As the ship sank, many survivors said that at first, the band continued to play inside until it was clear that others were abandoning ship. After that, with no lights, no piano, and only their musical memory to guide them; they played for the passengers. There are varying accounts as to what piece was played. Some said it was “Nearer, My God, to Thee” or a Waltz of some sort. Either way, Hartley and the other 7 musicians in the band were ministering to the passengers on the boat who were looking at the last moments of their lives. 

Violin and Music
Violin/Image Courtesy of Canva Pro

In their last moments, the musicians played on

Historian John Maxtone Graham referred to Harley as a minister trying to give solace and last rites to those who were facing certain death. In Graham’s writings about Harley he observed, “His flock were those musicians,” he said. “He was taking care of their spiritual needs near the end of their lives by giving them a job they could do that would fill the time. My conviction is it gave as much comfort to the men who were playing as to the people who heard them.”

What would we do in a Titanic moment?

In reading this sad account, a thought was born in my mind. What would I do in the face of certain death? I am a trained musician myself. It is easy to comprehend the musicians, knowing that the passengers who came first to abandon ship, went into the songbook of their minds to give their spirits solace as the dark abyss of the ocean approached. What a weighty thought. I am also a wife and mother of 6 children. I don’t know if I could just play some music. Family would be at the forefront of my mind. Bravery and the cold ocean would take a back seat to my husband, my children and my grandchildren. 

A Statue of an Angel praying
Angel Statue/Courtesy of Canva Pro

One day, we will all have a Titanic moment.

What would any of us really do at that moment? That is a hard question to answer. All eight of those brave souls died doing what they loved best. Performing their last pièce de résistance of musical life. In my imagination, they were welcomed to heaven by a glorious choir of Angels singing their most glorious tunes. 

Hartley’s violin survived the sinking of the Titanic

Hartley’s violin actually survived the sinking of the Titanic. Two weeks after the sinking of the boat the case was found strapped to Hartley’s body. The expensive violin was returned to his betrothed who had given the expensive gift to him as an engagement present. Eventually, the violin was sold at auction for 1.7 million dollars. If Hartley and his musician friends, William Brailey, Roger Bricoux, John Clarke, Jock Hume, Georges Krins, Percy Taylor and John Wesley Woodward could speak today, what would they say to us? I would hope they would say, Play your music to help everyone along, be kind, be gracious. This may be their last song. Go forth and pray and keep the faith and perhaps we’ll celebrate in heaven one day.


God Rest the souls of those lost on that cold night so long ago. May we learn from them 112 years later. 



About Kathy King
Kathy is the mother of six grown children. Five of which serve in the military. She is a trained pianist and opera singer who absolutely loves any old musical from the golden era. Kathy has written six children’s books and is currently finishing her first novel. Born and raised in the South, she is very familiar with life in the church each and every time the doors opened. Covered dish dinners were plentiful, the music was the old hymns passed down for generations, and “Bless your heart” was uttered quite a lot. Kathy has served as a church pianist, music minister, orchestra director, and an occasional scripture teacher for her churches. Several years ago, she decided to go to a (now defunct) Bible college and become a licensed minister of the gospel. Kathy’s hobbies include spending time with her husband of over 25 years, reading just about anything, and singing any and every show tune. You can read more about the author here.

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