Simple Pleasures Book Review:
The Band That Played On- by Steve Turner
The story of the Titanic has been told countless times, as Steve Turner freely admits. He also admits that in virtually every telling of this tragic tale, at least a mention is made of the stalwart group of musicians that played as the mighty Titanic sank into the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the one element of the tragic tale that has remained consistent throughout the years. The unique aspect in Turner’s retelling of this epic tragedy is the focus. For the first time, the musicians that played that fateful night are the focus of the story.
For the countless readers of the Titanic story, those band members have been vague, faceless, sometimes nameless figures. In The Band That Played On they become real people with families, lovers, and dreams of a future that will sadly never come to pass. While Turner frames the story of these men against the historical backdrop of the times, the world of musicians who traveled the world on these luxurious ships, as well as the building, planning and launching of the most luxurious ship of all, it is ultimately the story of these eight men.
One thread of the band members story that appears in numerous places in the book is the hotly contested matter of what song the band played as Titanic sank. The common consensus was that the hymn, Nearer My God to Thee was played, while other accounts deny that vigorously- for a variety of reasons. Other songs are claimed to have been played, the confusion over this issue explained in a variety of ways. The issue is never settled in any definite way, but essentially it is of little importance. Each person’s theory tells more about themselves than the proof of which song played. In any case, grief, guilt and anguish make their own memories.
The most interesting aspect of The Band That Played On is that once the romantic veneer is stripped away from the story, you see these eight men as compelling figures in their own right. Had the fate of the Titanic been different there is no telling what paths they may have taken personally or professionally. That is just part of the great unknown… the great “what if” that is the legacy of Titanic. What you learn of them in the course of the book adds another layer of tragedy to a story that already had that in abundance, but it is just and right that they be given their own singular and collective place in it.
In closing, Stevens offers a wider view of the story. The legal battles over White Star’s responsibility, survivors claims and what the tragedy meant from a social perspective. He notes that a mere two years later those grand luxury liners where the band members had played: the Mauretania – Titanic’s rival, the Carpathia– the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors, the Olympic were all called into service in World War I, most to suffer their own tragic endings. He also tells the stories of the surviving families of the band members, all having their own poignant tales. Last, but certainly not least- he reveals an incredible footnote to the story of bandleader, Wallace Hartley’s story… but you will have to read The Band That Played On to discover what that is. It is well worth the journey to discover what is at the end, but then the journey is quite intriguing too.
Review by Brenda Seward
The Band That Played On by Steve Turner, published by Thomas Nelson is available now.