Still, All My Song Shall Be This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 4, 2013
“Mr. Hartley, you’re needed on the main deck.”

“At this hour?” The violinist put on his glasses and opened the door to his cabin groggily.

“Bring the band up to the main deck and do what you were hired to do, sir.” He thought back over his contract as the steward checked his pocket-watch.

“I was hired to entertain the passengers and keep them calm in case of-”

“Emergencies, yes.. So rouse the other musicians and get to it.” Mr. Hartley pulled on his shirt and vest, threw his sheet music case over his shoulder, and grabbed his violin.

“Sir, could you answer one question?”

“The situation really is not your business, Mr.-”
“They told me the Titanic couldn’t-”
“And she shall not, Mr. Hartley, so get on the main deck and convince the paying passengers of that.” The man left, and Me. Hartley left his room and gathered his fellow musicians, ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach. He saved his roommate for last. The two violinists had become very close during the voyage, and the bandleader saw his friend as a sort of younger brother that he had to protect and shelter. He gathered the band and led them back down the corridor to his room, then shook John gently and woke him up.
“Wallace, what’s-”
“I don’t know, Johnny, but you have to get up now. We have to go play on the main deck.”
“Is the ship-?”
“No, Johnny, everything is fine. It’s all just a rumor. We have to keep people calm until the captain settles things out.” The younger boy accepted the explanation, rolled out of his bunk, and grabbed his violin, and the bass player threw a jacket over his shoulders. They all walked up onto the deck together and began to play some of the more upbeat marches and dances they knew, then took requests from the other passengers.
“Wallace, what’s going on?” John repeated his question as the rich women and children boarded the lifeboats and the passengers were ordered to put on their floatation jackets.
“Nothing, Johnny, just keep playing.” They continued the songs until the water sloshed up and bit at their ankles. The first smoke tower fell with a loud crash, and for a few moments, the screams of the shocked and the dying overpowered the desperately happy melodies the orchestra was forcing out of their instruments. The musicians turned to Wallace Hartley, who untucked his violin from under his chin and looked on his band with a stoic grimace. “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.” Five of the musicians shook his hand and left, but four - Wallace, John, a viola player, and Frederick (the bass player) - hesitated on the deck.

The lead violinist watched Captain Smith lock himself in his control room and realized that there was nothing more noble than to follow his lead. (Wallace had signed a contract, and by God, he’d keep to it!) He lifted his violin and began softly fingering through his favorite hymn, thinking back to the night before, when the orchestra had celebrated John’s twenty-first birthday by drinking and lounging about in the room shared by the two violinists.

“What’s your favorite song to play, Friedrich?” John had asked the older bassist. Frederick had laughed.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic. I get to play the melody for a verse.” The drunken violinist had gone around the room, asking every band member the same question.

“How about you, Wallace?”

“Nearer, My God, to Thee,” Wallace had replied with a small chuckle. “If that’s the last song I ever play, I’ll die a happy man.”
He hadn’t known how soon he would be playing that melody.

John turned to face him, made eye contact, then joined on the harmony line. Fredrick and the viola player joined as the water sloshed higher against their legs.Around them, people were jumping off the sides of the ship, shoving each other into lifeboats, or simply sobbing and clinging to their lifeboats as they accepted their fates.

“-deliver us from evil. For thine be the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever-” A priest held the hands of those too poor to be saved on a lifeboat as he led them in prayer, and the viola player left to join the circle as Wallace, John, and Frederick played on. A small group had formed around the trio.

“Or, if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,

sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly.

Still, all my song shall be ‘nearer, my God, to thee!’

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!”

An old woman sang along with them, and the group joined her in this final verse. When the song was over, everybody was gone but Wallace, John, and Frederick, who set down his instrument and pulled a picture of a young woman and a toddler out of his pocket. “My daughter’s husband was killed in a naval battle last spring. She didn’t want me to leave. Thought I’d die on a boat like he did and leave her and Jacob alone.” He spoke softly, and tears began to roll down John’s cheeks.

“My Evelyn is waiting to marry me, back in Scotland. After this trip, we would have had enough money to buy her a nice dress for the ceremony.” The young violinist’s voice cracked with the effort it took to keep from sobbing.

“Maria will be having our first baby in August.” Wallace bit his lip and took John’s hand, and John took Frederick's. “We’re off to play in a greater orchestra, gentlemen.” He smiled at his friends, then let go of their hands as they sank under the water. Charles closed his eyes and held tight to his picture as he calmly went under, John desperately attempted to keep his head above the surface, and Wallace watched his violin float above him as the icy water slowly filled his lungs.

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