If you were performing on an ocean liner and suddenly the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, would you keep playing? As many know, that’s the story of what the musicians on the Titanic did 98 years ago this month, on April 15, 1912.
The eight musicians, led by violinist Wallace Hartley, died playing their instruments, according to Titanic survivors who heard ragtime and other upbeat music being played up until nearly the end.
Now the search is on for a missing plaque that commemorates the musicians.
It’s just possible that an Allegro reader has some clues of where it might be.
Here’s the story.
A little over a year after the Titanic sank, members of the original New York City musicians’ local – originally called the Musicians Mutual Protective Union and later AFM Local 310 – performed a benefit concert for the families of the deceased Titanic musicians, raising $1,800.
The union was then located at the Yorkville Casino at 210 East 86th Street.
Later that fall, the union commissioned a bronze tablet to commemorate the Titanic musicians.
The tablet was unveiled at a ceremony where eight union musicians – utilizing the same instrumentation as the Titanic band – performed a tribute concert.
The concert closed with the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” which some believe to be the last piece that the Titanic musicians played before they went down.
Both the International Musician and the New York Times covered the event.
But where is the Titanic musicians’ memorial plaque now? Local 310 ceased to exist in the 1920’s after a feud with the nascent Local 802.
And the assets of Local 310 may have been absorbed by the AFM.
Recently, Allegro received an inquiry from the Titanic International Society asking about the whereabouts of the plaque.
It was the first we’d ever heard of it.
If any member has heard of this tablet or even seen it, please contact Allegro editor Mikael Elsila at Allegro@Local802afm.org.
Otherwise, the spirit of the Titanic musicians must live on in memory.