Killing Them Softly


Dec 2, 2000
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I have some mixed feelings about that article. On the one hand, it can certainly be argued that the band playing soothed a lot of nerves and helped keep a lid on things. On the other hand, I think Senan has made a good case that it may have been a little too effective at doing that in lulling people into a false sense of security. That article is certainly food for thought.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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As usual, Senan takes ten pages to say what I could say in one, but on the whole I agree with his general thesis. However, I must object to his claim that the band played under orders. There simply is no evidence. They may very well have played on their own initiative because they thought it might calm the passengers. Like other bad decisions, it 'seemed a good idea at the time'.

What the case does highlight is the general disorganisation that pervaded Titanic that night. The musicians were not the only ones left to 'do their own thing'.

I'm also with Senan on the way in which the whole affair was romanticised. This continues to this day. A liner of no particular distinction is made out to be 'the ship of dreams', for no reason other than her sorry end. I'm with Joseph Conrad.

'There is nothing more heroic in being drowned very much against your will, off a holed, helpless, big tank in which you bought your passage, than in dying of colic caused by the imperfect salmon in the tin you bought from your grocer.

And that's the truth. The unsentimental truth stripped of the romantic garment the Press has wrapped around this most
unnecessary disaster.'
 

Inger Sheil

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I don't think it's a new premise that the Titanic's band possibly did more harm than good - the suggestion that this was the case has been raised before. Most people just word it a bit more softly for fear of being seen to be tarnishing the halos of Hartley and his colleagues - Sen, as usual, is rather blunt.

I think it's an argument to be made, but the counterpoint could also be addressed - as Michael says, while it undermined the sense of urgency, it also kept matters calm. It did, as the article points out, contribute to the atmosphere that made it difficult to instill a sense of urgency in passengers about the necessity to get in a boat. Later, when the danger became more palpable, the reality set in and situations like that around the aft port boats developed, I doubt 'Muzak' would have had such an influence in that area at that time, but it is possible that the earlier atmosphere delayed and muted the effects of that later sense of realisation and latent panic. Perhaps, as Sen says, the band might have been responsible for a few passengers not following instructions to get into the boats. On the other hand, it might also have enabled all those boats to get launched. These are things we can never quantify.

I do agree with Dave, Senan and Joseph Conrad on the air of romanticism that has pervaded our interpretations of the disaster (so am in pretty good company there!). I'd add George Bernard Shaw as another contemporary who saw through the patina of glorious heroism to the agonising core of tragedy.
 

Pat Winship

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May 8, 2001
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Lightoller had a kind word or two for the band.

"Passing along to No 6 boat to load and lower, I could hear the band playing cheery sort of music. I don’t like jazz music as a rule, but I was glad to hear it that night. I think it helped us all."

Titanic and Other Ships

Pat W.
 
J

Jo Schulte

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I read Senen's article and felt incensed!!!

Wether the band were told to play on...or not...
...what those Men did was so, very, selfless!!!

Probably, knowing that many people were not going to leave on that fateful night, they stayed too...and tried in their own brave way to bring some calm!
I'm sure the "last" passengers to leave the Titanic would have thanked them for that!!!

Either way...we don't really know how those poor souls felt and is it right (Senen) we judge ???
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Jo, in all fairness, people make moral and value judgements all the time. It would be impossible and impractical to go through life without doing so. While Senan's article may seem like so much deconstrutionist rubbish to some, there's also the uncomfortable possibility that he may be right.

I have no quibbles with the courage displayed by the band, but there are two sides to this coin. While they may have prevented a panic and thus saved lives, I can't casually dismiss the possibility that the false sense of security they provided may have cost a few as well. As probable realities go, it may stink to high heaven, but it doesn't go away.
 

Susan Alby

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Oct 22, 2004
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I have thus formed my opinion on this subject and deem that it is pure poppycock to suggest that the musicians contributed in any way to the death toll on the Titanic. Blaming musicians for playing music is like "shooting the messenger". The music may lead some to a "false sense of security", but it kept the crowd calm and enabled the officers to load the lifeboats without too much distress. In my humble opinion a false calm is better than true CHAOS, which would have cost many more lives!

It does the Titanic musicians a great disservice to suggest that they were anything other than gentlemen who bravely died Heroes.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>It does the Titanic musicians a great disservice to suggest that they were anything other than gentlemen who bravely died Heroes.<<

And if the thesis can be demonstrated to be accurate, what then? Is being truthful about the sequence of cause and effect a disservice or are we offended merely because it's not in accord to the romantic mythos we'ed sometimes like to cling to?
 

Inger Sheil

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I think there's a basic misunderstanding about the premise of Molony's article. It is not his intent to blame the musicians for any effect their music might have had, including inducing a false sense of security. Indeed, he makes a very specific reference to their 'undoubted gallantry'. As I read the motivation of the article, it was the author's intention to develop a more well-rounded assessment of the effect that playing soothing music had on the passengers and crew. He does not suggest that the decision to play was that of the band themselves - as we do not know with whom the order originated, he opines that "whoever" asked for or instigated the music made a "terrible mistake". There is, as far as Molony concerned, no desire to impute blame to the musicians themselves:
The truth is, of course, that none of them knew what the final outcome would be, and there is no question of guilt.
As I said above, I think that this article has done a great job in moving debate on the role of the band and the music they played beyond the romanticisation of what they did (or endless discussions on what their last piece of music was!). I think there is a counterpoint to be made to Sen's arguments (as I stated above) and do not entirely agree with him, but I still think it is important that we look critically at the band as a factor in what was happening on the boat deck.

One of my favourite Conrad quotes is included in the text of the article:
“I, who am not a sentimentalist, think it would have been finer if the band of the Titanic had been quietly saved, instead of being drowned while playing - whatever tune they were playing, the poor devils. I would rather they had been saved to support their families than to see their families supported by the magnificent generosity of the subscribers.”￾
 

Susan Alby

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Oct 22, 2004
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Hi, Inger,

>>it was the author's intention to develop a more well-rounded assessment of the effect that playing soothing music had on the passengers and crew<<

Good to hear from you
happy.gif
According to the testimony of many survivors, including Charles Lightoller, the music the band played on deck was upbeat and Jazzy. It wasn't until close to the end, after the lifeboats had already left, that they changed and played more "soothing" music. I don't dispute the impact the band had on the passengers during their final hours, but I believe their positive influence far outweighed the negative.

I read in another post that a military band would often go down with their warship, playing till the very end.

Best regards,
Susan
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but I believe their positive influence far outweighed the negative.<<

And you may be right. However, I don't think it does the musicians a disservice to point out that having them play *might* not have been such a swift idea. One has to bear in mind that if you want to understand the history and it's dynamics as it actually is, have to be willing to critically examine the evidence for what it is and you can't shrink from calling a spade a spade. Even or especially if it's contrary to the popular legend.

In short, there can be no sacred cows in this sort of study.

My own take on it is that having them do their thing was the least of the evils on a night where the only choices were often between bad, worse, and downright ugly. I'm inclined to believe that in serving to prevent a panic, they helped to save more lives then they may have cost.

But I have to accept that possibility that I could be wrong.
 

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