What An Embarrassment, In My Hometown No Less

The Strad recently reported about an incident at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and cellist Alban Gerhardt that ended with Gerhardt’s Heinrich Knopf bow fractured into two pieces; in short, this is one of every string musician’s worst nightmares.

celloThere’s no official word yet on what Gerhardt plans to do next but it seems clear from his depiction that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is at fault.

According to Gerhardt, ‘The bow must have somehow moved halfway out of its cover (the tip was still in the cover), and when it was halfway out, [Transportation Security Administration workers] forced the case shut and the bow broke.’

Presuming Gerhardt’s account is accurate, I genuinely hope that the TSA will not only provide adequate recompense but institute training measures to help prevent musicians from suffering this sort of needless tragedy.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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9 thoughts on “What An Embarrassment, In My Hometown No Less

  1. Well, of course, the TSA must be highly vigilant, given the alarming prevalence, in recent years, of cellists having hijacked planes with bows and endpins. (To say nothing of the dozens of conductor’s batons I have had confiscated over the post 9/11 years by the TSA. Seriously.) Although I’m sure there are many orchestral musicians out there who would concur that some conductor’s sticks can be termed as weapons of musical destruction, hopefully mine have not been included in that assessment! 🙂

  2. Drew,

    Mr. Gerhardt routinely checks his cello as baggage- he doesn’t buy a seat for it, and did not in this instance (he confirmed this on his FB page). My understanding is that he wasn’t there if/when the TSA may have inspected it.

    I’m not defending the TSA here or anyone else, just pointing out what seem to be relevant facts.

  3. Very interesting Frank, I agree that it certainly doesn’t excuse the actions if in fact the TSA was responsible but I think it also goes to show that the basic business model for a cello soloist is perhaps producing too narrow of a ROI if the musicians can no longer afford to purchase the seat and generate a fair profit.

  4. I don’t know the specifics of his contract with the Madison Symphony. I do know it would be highly unusual for an orchestra (or chamber series) to hire a cellist of any stature without a discussion of two airfares, either as a travel expense or folded into the fee.

  5. About a year and a half ago I was flying into Midway from Aspen (going thru Denver) with my cello and didn’t find until a day or two later (it was the one time I didn’t open the case at the airport) that there was a huge crack in the front of it. Luckily the instrument was insured and the situation was sorted out, but what had clearly happened was it had been dropped on its end while OUT of its case, as in during a TSA check. I have to check my cello because I can’t afford to buy a seat for it, and I have ten times more faith in the strength and reliability of my cello case than in the competence of TSA workers.

  6. My personal experience is it’s about 50/50; some groups won’t consider it at all while others expect it. In its own way, that makes it even more difficult because it precludes a simple formula for simply folding the cost into the soloist fee; in the end, it ends up as a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

  7. I think the point is that unfortunately this is an occupational reality for cellists who fly. You either buy a seat or you don’t. Alban’s regular policy appears to be to check the cello as baggage even if he has the choice of buying a seat or having one provided by the presenter.
    So in that case one should not be shocked if there’s a problem.

  8. It’s true, checking is always a risk, no matter how well packed the instrument. Of course if one has insurance, one might feel that a certain amount of risk is acceptable to save the expense of an extra seat, but as this incident shows, there’s also the problem if one’s equipment is damaged shortly before an important concert. In my case, it was actually what happened the day before an audition and my subsequent failed struggle to make do that convinced me I need to fork over for an extra seat.

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