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Q+A: Travelling with instruments: five musicians speak out, 3/5

Q+A: Travelling with instruments: five musicians speak out, 3/5 featured image

(Pictured above: How Lara St. John fits her violin case for security inspection.)

October 18, 2017


Instrument(s) and other: violin, label owner, video editor, reptile enthusiast, anecdotalist

Main gig: Recitals and concertos, recordings, and travel, travel, travel.


What frustrates you most about travelling with an instrument?

Every time you think it can’t get any harder, it does. The latest nefarious invention by the universally unbeloved airport security is an arbitrarily-sized box that everything you are carrying on must fit into. A normal violin case (which fits the bows and shoulder rest) is a few inches longer than the box (naturally) which necessitates, for some reason (even though the case is length-wise and so is the belt), airport security giving it the manual once-over.  Sometimes this happens without you being able to explain what not to do. Having someone inexperienced manhandle your instrument without you there is pretty much what I imagine a cavity search to be like – invasive, stressful, and painful.

So far I am aware of this in Newark, JFK and Toronto Pearson. My solution these days is to take the Baby Bam case (please see photo) which fits in those dumb boxes diagonally! Of course, this means taking the bows, rosin and shoulder rest separately, but so far I have found it worthwhile to avoid the above nightmarish situation.

Generally, the airlines are getting better about overhead violin storage – perhaps due to some recent bad publicity they have decided to be more helpful.  It is, of course, great if you have a high status and can pre-board, but I have a few tricks should this fail:

Tricks for Getting your Violin On a Plane

Have you ever cancelled a concert because the travel was too risky for your instrument?

Nope! There’s always a way. That being said, I’m not a cellist.

Yo-Yo Ma once infamously left his cello in the back of a New York City cab. (He got it back.) Have you ever misplaced the sheet music, crucial paraphernalia, or, god forbid, your actual instrument?

I have been very lucky in this capacity and none of these things has ever happened to me – knock wood! However, the opposite sometimes happens; on the rare occasion I find myself in an airport with no violin, I freak out every five minutes that I left it somewhere. It just feels so weird! (And yet so wonderful…..) I never use music for concerts, so unless I misplace my brain, that’s never a problem!

How many instruments have you ever stuffed into a car or van?

I’ve ridden in a back seat completely covered by a dance board (for fiddling stepdancer Stephanie Cadman) and squished in with bass, guitar, accordion and drums and all their amps for shows with Klezmer band DanzaNova, but if you are pretty good at tessellation, there is always a solution! Plus, I fold up quite well. (Editor’s note: Lara is six feet tall.)

Tomorrow: pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Pianists have travelling issues, too. 

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