***Let the record show, I have no excuse for not doing these each week. My bad.***
Before you read…I have a little bit of trivia for you…because I like knowing things. Ha!
I love stories about the Titanic. Morbid? Maybe. But here it is, nonetheless.
While the orchestra started playing in the first class lounge, they did move to the deck. They are often depicted as being a quartet, but there were eight musicians hired to play by White Star Line. The French cellist, Roger Marie Bricoux, was believed to be the youngest of the group, at 20 years old. The English violist and bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, was 33. He was engaged to Maria Robinson shortly before boarding Titanic. The violin he played was believed to be a gift from her at their engagement. You can read about the violin here. While ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ has been famously noted as the last song they played, the eyewitness to this occasion was in a life boat at least an hour before the Titanic actually sank, and therefore an unreliable witness to their last song. ‘Autumn’ is another contested option. Most survivors recall them playing lively ragtime music, but the sentiment of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ wins in my mind.*
Writing prompt: The orchestra on the Titanic famously kept playing as the ship went down. Describe the sinking of the Titanic from the point of view of the musicians playing in the ballroom-from their interactions to the sights, sounds, and sensations they experience as the ship sinks. *I added my own personal challenge of writing this at exactly 500 words.*
“How long will we play, then?”
He looked to me for answers I couldn’t give.
I turned from him and sighed, taking note the scuffling of people’s feet as they shifted positions to stay upright against another jolt of the ship. White knuckles gripped whatever immovable object one hand could find, the other grasped tight to loved ones. The rail was indistinguishable among the crowd clad in heavy overcoats as they crowded each other towards the boarding life boats. Ladies, who never dared utter a word over the height of casual conversation, let out shrill screams. Children joined them, protesting the forced voyage of the open sea. No one bothered to correct them. Desperate men yelled above the crowds, begging of mercy for their loved ones.
“What of my wife and child?” One yelled to anyone who would listen. “Where are the other boats?” But his voice could not be heard above the pleas of everyone else.
The lights flickered and the air smelled of the salty sea and fear. And ice.
“It won’t be long,” someone said.
Children cried for fathers as another boat lowered into the abyss of endless night.
My heart beat frantically against my chest in protest. This is death.
I made eye contact with him again. The youngest of our band stared back, eyes wide in fear, betraying his false bravado. What could I say to save him from his inevitable fate?
How long will we play?
I saw it then, the small measure of hope in his eyes. A sad smile formed on my face; pity for the dogged faith of the young who have not yet tasted the cruel irony of life.
But then, the boat slipped deeper and suddenly…he knew.
“Right.” His voice cracked. “Something light. Upbeat.” He didn’t wait for me to answer. His bow flew across the strings of his cello with the first notes of ‘To My Wild Rose.’
“No. Not that one.”
I settled my violin against my shoulder, acutely aware of its comfort and familiarity. I began the calming notes of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ My frozen fingers were somehow able to move.
And we played.
Frightened cries of those around us slowly faded into the background as the music took on a beautiful life of its own. Frigid water began to lap at my feet, rising as a crescendo. The melody drifted, steady and strong, silencing the fear within us all. If my first nature was to be a man, my second nature was to make music. And we would…not just for those around us as a selfless attempt to calm the souls of those soon to depart this earth, but for us, too. Together, we would soar on the melodies our love for music had born within us, to a place where hope can never fail and our hearts would be forever celebrated. The treacherous sea was calling, beckoning us…but our music was rendering us immortal.
How long will we play?
Until the end.