By Fiona Sinclair, General Manager of the Lancashire Sinfonietta
I first heard about the Titanic orchestra when I was a young violinist of eight. As a musician, I was absorbed by their heroic watery end and daydreamed about what must have gone through their minds.
Was it a sense of duty to his captain and ship that made Band Master Wallace Hartley order them to keep performing? What made them play cheery and trite ragtimes when destruction and fear was all around them?
How long did they play believing that the ship would be rescued? How must their fingers have frozen in the cold night air and terror make their bows shake?
And when they realised that all was lost, did they choose to continue playing, so that they would spend the very last moments of their lives playing the music that they loved?
There are so many fascinating psychological aspects of this heroic act which make all musicians consider "Would I have behaved the same?".
The stories and myths of the Titanic abound and a quick Google will give you all the intrigue you could wish for.
However, I'd like to reveal an unknown story which starts with the recovery of the bruised and battered body of the Titanic orchestra's leader, Wallace Hartley.
Hartley's body was found two weeks after the ship had gone down. His music case was strapped to his chest but as the body was being embalmed for shipping back to England, the violin disappeared. Most likely it was thrown away with the rest of the wreckage, considering the scale of the clean-up operation.
His devastated father collected the body at Liverpool docks and took his sons remains back to their home town of Colne. Friends refused to believe that the body could possibly be Hartley and broke into the chapel to steal a look. The poor man's identity was confirmed and the next day his funeral consumed the town, with 40,000 people crowding the streets to pay their respects.
There was music from brass bands and the Colne Orchestra, and one of the violinists who played that day was an old friend of Hartley's. Arthur Catton Lancaster had sat next to Hartley during his days as leader of the Colne orchestra and they were friends. Moved by the tragic heroism of his colleague, Lancaster who was also an accomplished violin maker, decided to build an instrument in memory of his lost friend. The instrument was finished with a delicate oil painting of the Titanic, a cameo of Wallace Hartley on the back and a carving of "Nearer my God to Thee" on the tailpiece.
The instrument was competed for each year by the leader of the Colne orchestra who kept Hartley's memory alive by performing on it.
For a long period during the wars, there are no records of where the instrument went or who owned it. We know from close examination of the violin that it was damaged and repaired by Voight's of Manchester in the 1950's. But then the trail goes cold again.
Until in 1974, one Saturday morning at the East Lancashire Youth Orchestra (now Burnley Youth Orchestra) an anonymous benefactor walked into the rehearsal and bequeathed the violin to the orchestra. The conditions were that it should be played by the leader each year, in memory of Wallace Hartley.
For nearly 100 years, the Titanic Violin has been kept all-but a secret, played in the early 1900's by leaders of the Colne Orchestra and for nearly 40 years by aspiring young musicians in Burnley. Those who have been fortunate to have played it have felt the magic of the story and certainly had the same thoughts about the musicians actions that fateful night.
In preparation for the performance of David Bedford's epic new work "The Wreck of the Titanic", we uncovered the story and have learned a great deal about this most unique Titanic Memorial. Now we can finally tell the tale.
The author of our spectacular Titanic CD Rom, Kevin Hamel, has captured the story in his work, available from www.tuned-in.org. This will be shared with primary schools through Liverpool, Lancashire & Cumbria Music Services. The resource brings the story to life for schoolchildren and preserves a fascinating chapter in the history of the North West.
The violin has since been beautifully restored by Paul Parsons of David Vernon Violins in Manchester. He has ensured the violin is fit for another 100 years of service.
The restoration revealed a very personal dedication written deep inside the body of the violin. It had never been read since the day the maker sealed the instrument in 1912.
The Titanic musician's story became one of the most recounted tales after the disaster and gave focus to a huge outpouring of grief across the country. Hundreds of memorial services took place, culminating in a massive charity concert given by all the London orchestras conducted by Sir Henry Wood and Sir Edward Elgar at the Royal Albert Hall.
In the approach to the 100-Year Anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the Titanic Violin is a unique living memorial to those eight brave musicians. They perished in an event which will captivate imaginations forever and they died in the ultimate sacrifice - to their beloved music.