R and his partner had long dreamed of hosting an epic dinner party - a recreation of the final dinner that those among the first class passengers enjoyed on the night the RMS Titanic sank. With a dining room full of guests in white tie evening dress, a full gourmet kitchen staff, and true to the time period place settings, the music had to be perfect.
"Initially it was upbeat ragtimes and waltzes from the repertoire they would have performed in the first class areas of the ship." - Hannah Ratcliffe, BBC News
I started with a billboard chart search - what were the top 40 most popular songs from the 1910s? Surely the passengers on board the fated ocean liner would have had the means to have the most up-to-date hits performed for them at various parties, in addition to their outings to enjoy stage performances and symphonic works. I gathered a sizeable list of contenders from these genres and set about finding the sheet music.
I was pleased to discover that there were college libraries in possession of the original sheet music for some of the greatest hits, which they had graciously scanned for public use. I carefully transcribed these scans into my music notation software so I could make solo arrangements of the popular pieces. I was especially excited to learn that the song we all watched Kate Winslet learn in the 1997 film, "Come Josephine, in My Flying Machine", actually was a top billboard hit of the time, and it was quite plausible that it would have been heard on board!
Next I turned my attention to the opera and symphonic works.
From Elgar to Debussy, Mendelssohn to Strauss, I selected some of the most popular pieces that these privileged few would have enjoyed, ensuring that they were arranged for a solo voice to perform. The use of backing tracks would have been inappropriate for this event, so I utilized only my acoustic violin. Once I had collected the songs, I arranged the flow of the evening to begin with upbeat popular selections and ragtime, sprinkling some classical music lightly at first. As the evening progressed, I included more classical, fitting a slower pace as the multiple courses that were part of the dinner service progressed. For the final 30 minutes I selected pieces that were melancholy, lyrical, and at times bordering on reverential. I knew that there was no other way to close out the setlist to this incredible reenactment than with the piece that those brave musicians on board the RMS Titanic played in their final moments.
Overlooking the balcony, serenading R's dinner guests with my hair up in the Gibson Girl style and wearing a gown and shawl of sequins in the new silhouette of the early 20th century, I closed out the two hours of music with "Nearer My God to Thee".
"The tune that by far the most Titanic survivors reported as the band’s final piece of music was, of course, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” a hymn manifestly appropriate in sentiment for the last moments of a doomed ship." - David Mikkelson, Snopes