It's been told so often, for so long, the story that the band kept playing on the deck of the Titanic has the feel of myth. Many people don't even consider it might be true.
In fact, as the ship sunk into the Atlantic in 1912, eight musicians did play music instead of hurrying into lifeboats.
Beyond that, and the fact that none of the band survived, little is known for sure – especially why they did it [source: Boltz]. The captain couldn't have made them, because they didn't work directly for the cruise line. Historians' best guess is that band leader and violinist Wallace Hartley, a religious man who adhered to a higher-than-usual moral code, thought the music might calm people in a time of crisis, and the others followed suit [source: Turner].
A musician who once worked with Hartley said the violinist believed music could create order out of chaos. Another said Hartley had thought about the possibility of being on a sinking ship and had decided he would, in that case, play one of two hymns: "Oh God Our Help in Ages Past" or "Nearer, My God, to Thee" [source: Turner].
We'll probably never know for sure what he chose. You'll read in lots of places it was "Nearer, My God, to Thee," but don't forward that. That's what the folks behind 1997's "Titanic" decided to use.