Did you know, there are 8 feature films on The Titanic? Each of these 8 films has two things in common. The first is the scene as the ship has hit the iceberg (well technically speaking a blueberg, which is an iceberg that has turned over) and there’s chaos as the passengers try to save themselves and the band continue playing music. The second, that all of these movies got the last song wrong.
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the fantastic presentation given by Mary Amanda on board the Celebrity Solstice. She’s part of the Titanic Society and was part of the team that went out to the exact spot of the Titanic to commemorate the 100-year anniversary in 2012. By profession, she’s a forensic musicologist. No clue, what that is? I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but it’s a good thing it does, especially in this day and age. A forensic musicologist is someone you go to, if you’re a musician and have created an original piece of music, and you feel that someone else has copied it in his or her music. They do the research and determine who is correct.
This blog is going to talk about excerpts from this presentation. The story begins with a young man named Wallace Henry Hartley, the son of Albion Hartley who was the choirmaster at Bethel Independent Methodist Church. Albion had introduced, “Nearer, My God, To Thee” to the congregation. This was an important song in Wallace’s life. Growing up, Wallace was involved with music, which also became his profession. He joined numerous orchestras during the course of his career, until April 1912, when he received an offer to be the bandmaster on board the RMS Titanic. He was in a conundrum. He had just proposed to Maria Robinson, and had made the promise to his fiancé that after the end of his contract with his orchestra, they would get married. This offer to be the bandmaster, would delay these plans. Nonetheless he took up the role and promised Maria, that they would be married as soon as his contract with the Titanic had finished. And so he set off on board to fulfil his role to be a bandmaster for an 8-man band.
As an employee on any ship, in case of a fatality, in other words the ship sinking, the families of the crew members receive a substantial insurance policy settlement. Unfortunately this was not the case for Wallace and his band. None of them were employed by White Star Lines, they were hired by Blacks Music Agency in London. The result being, that none of their families received any compensation. On the contrary, one of the families received a letter from White Star Lines. Inside this letter was a bill for missing uniforms. White Star Lines sent this letter to the family just one month after the sinking of The Titanic.
Wallace’s body was found, clutching on to his music case. His violin was inside the case. There was no indication as to whether he tried using his case as a floating device or not. His violin was a gift from his fiancé, Maria Robinson. In fact, she engraved a little message and signed her name to it. Once his body was found and his violin and the case retrieved, these were given to Maria to keep. After her death, it was given to her sister. Finding no use for it, she gave it to the Salvation Army. For years it lay there, without anyone noticing it or knowing the value it held. A reason for that was the damaged condition it was in. The Salvation Army then gave these away to an orphanage. This orphanage conducted an auction and this violin and its case were sold for a rather low price, as was expected. The lady who bought it was disappointed with her purchase. One fine day, she’d decided to throw it away. But the light beamed through and shone upon Maria’s message on the violin. By this time a significant amount of time had passed, since the sinking. But she knew what that message meant. This violin was then purchased by someone else for a hefty price, and the Titanic Society requested this violin be donated to them. Alas, that wasn’t the case. Earlier this year, this violin was on display at a museum in Tennessee but it was for a very short period of time.
The important part of this presentation was, what was in fact the last song that the band performed as the ship sank. There are three songs in question. These are Bethany, Horbury and Propior Deo. Bethany was written by an American songwriter. The survivors of the Titanic, swore that this was definitely the last song they heard as the ship was sinking. Horbury and Propior Deo are both written by English men and sound very similar to each other. In fact Propior Deo is written by Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert & Sullivan. Bethany, raised red flags amongst historians and musicians alike. Why would an Englishman, play a song written by an American during the last few moments of his life?
The answer then to the burning question, what was the last song played on the Titanic as it sank was, in fact Nearer, My God, to Thee. Wallace was fond of this piece. In fact he expressed his wishes during the course of his life, that in the last moments of his life he’d want this piece of music to be the last thing he heard. As a matter of fact, if you visit his tombstone, you will see the first four bars of this song engraved.
Now, there is a lot I didn’t talk about in this blog such as the things that ensued before, during and after the sinking. But that’s purely because, this is a presentation that you should watch. If you get the chance to watch Mary Amanda Fairchild, present this keynote to you live, I highly encourage you to seize the opportunity to do so. If not you can buy this presentation from her website. I truly cherish the opportunity of watching this presentation live. It’s no surprise that I love history. She tells you facts that you’ve never heard before. This is my attempt at putting forward one of the most dramatic stories of a ship sinking. Please share this blog and share this story. Let the story of this iconic vessel, go on.
Until next time,
Please note: I have permission from Mary Amanda Fairchild, herself to share this blog and the images within it. If you'd like to use any of this content, please reach out to her directly via her website: www.maryamandatotalmusic.com.
You can also purchase this the DVD with this narration via her website.