September 14, 2006


Over at La scena musicale, Norman Lebrecht has posted a column of unusual inanity.* See, there's been an outcry among musicians in the UK over new, stringent prohibitions on carry-on items for plane travel, since it means that musical instruments now have to be checked into the plane's hold. So plenty of players have opted for trains, boats, or just plain staying home, rather than entrusting their axe to the airline industry. You selfish, awful, privileged people! Canon Lebrecht has words for you.
The ones who are affected are the international premier class of violin and cello soloists and a handful of jazz musicians whose instruments are insured for upwards of half a million pounds or are so personal to the players that they cannot be replaced.

This elite – we are speaking of no more than 200 or 300 artists – have found a way around the restrictions by taking Eurostar to Paris or Brussels and catching an onward connection. Inconvenient, true, and a terrible waste of time and money but surely preferable to a breach in the security firewall that protects everyone else who flies.
First of all, just how much of a "security firewall" do we need for musical instruments anyway? It seems to me that any instrument out there can be inspected and x-rayed to a point that would satisfy even Dick Cheney. Is that special treatment for musicians? Sure is, because it's a special situation—musicians rely on their own particular instrument to an extent that's unparalleled in any other industry. If the airlines lost my laptop, I'd raise hell—but at least I'd have my data backed up. How do you back up a viola?

Besides, Norman, we're speaking of quite a few more than 300 people here. All performing musicians have to travel, and frequently by plane. And just because a non-famous musician's instrument isn't insured for a gazillion pounds doesn't mean that its loss would be any less catastrophic. What if you're an entry-level orchestral musician traveling to an audition? A young chamber group on tour? Are you going to entrust your instrument to an airline under the disconcertingly large probablility that it could get damaged or lost? I'd sure sweat over a $20,000 violin if I only made $30,000 a year.

I remember a few years back when an up-and-coming opera singer here in Boston had a fire at her apartment. Not only did she lose her music, she lost all her recital gowns—a staggering financial blow for someone trying to get career traction. How is that different from Cut-Rate Air redirecting her garment bag to Vladivostok? News for you, Norm: the big stars might be getting inconvenienced, but the future stars are getting screwed. Get a clue.

*Correction: this line originally referred to the column with the phrase "absolutely breathtaking stupidity." Upon reflection, I thought that to be a bit of a cheap shot—while I did consider the column stupid, at no time was my breathing adversely affected. Hence the change.

No comments: