The story of Wallace Henry Hartley is so moving to me because, in a situation in which death was imminent and certain, he did not abandon his post.
What was the band playing in those final moments? Their final song has been much debated. The hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was long a favorite. The Titanic chronicler, Walter Lord, originally thought it was another hymn, "Autumn." Maxtone-Graham says Lord later came to believe it was actually a waltz with a similar name.
"Thanks to Walter Lord, I think the real last tune they played was a little bittersweet waltz by Archibald Joyce," Maxtone-Graham says. "He gave it a French name, as many Edwardian creative people did. They thought if they made it French it would be a little more elegant, so he called it 'Songe d'Automne'-thoughts, or dreams, of autumn."
Whatever that final song, Maxton-Graham has come to think of Wallace Hartley, in those final hours on the Titanic, as a minister tending his flock. Encouraging them to continue playing focused their minds on the beauty of the music at the same time that it calmed others.
"His flock were those musicians," he says. "Hartley was taking care of their spiritual needs near the end of their lives by giving them a job they could do to fill the time. My conviction is it gave as much comfort to the men who were playing as to the people who heard them."