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The Titanic Violin

“For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria.”

It was a gift of love. She had the instrument engraved. Her heartstrings inspired the music he performed. When she gave her fiancée this violin, she had no idea the symbol of their love would be one of the last sounds passengers of the RMS Titanic heard as they raced to find life boats while escaping the sinking ship.

One hundred and eleven years ago this week, the heroic bandleader Wallace Hartley led his eight member band on the deck of the massive vessel that soon became a submerged tomb for thousands of souls. He performed to promote peace. He attempted to help others remain calm with his music. His courageous sense of duty is inspiring.

How many of us can imagine being of service in that capacity, to heal, to soothe, to lead, knowing we are about to die? It is beyond my comprehension.

Perhaps the violin itself gave him strength. It contained the vibration of Maria’s love. He was sharing that love with all those on that deck. She was with him in that moment in spirit.

Survivors who slipped away in the night on the limited life boats recall hearing Wallace perform ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’ It is debated which was the final melody he performed, but some claim he ended the set with ‘Dream of Autumn.’ It is a haunting tune, a message of longing for another season, a season of change, of transformation, of death when the flowers of summer wilt and the trees lose their leaves. To dream, to enter the depths of the subconscious and wish for the change, this was an enlightened musician who knew how to read the room. It was an April night in the icy north Atlantic, and spring blossoms were awaiting the passengers in New York. But only a lucky few would see those colors again. To sleep, perchance to dream. He played for them a lullaby before they drifted off to another dimension, like a parent soothing their fearful child who has awakened from a nightmare.

I saw this symbol of love at the Titanic museum in Belfast a few weeks ago. The violin was found inside a case strapped to Wallace’s bloated body ten days after the ship sank. His life preserver kept his remains afloat. His initials were on the bag. Maria’s intentions were still engraved on the instrument. He was easy to identify, but hard to fathom. There are dishes, and chandeliers, and suitcases, and shoes, and jewelry, and bottles of champagne, and metal, and men that all went down with the ship. But the violin bobbed at the surface.

Love can’t be contained. Music never dies. This instrument had a story to tell and was determined to share it with the world. I am in awe of this object. I am in love with Wallace Hartley. What a generous musician. What an extraordinary soul.


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