Archive for the ‘Auditions’ Category

Traveling with a Viola by Jill Valentine


Violas are “sort of” travel size. They aren’t too suspiciously large, so air travel is (usually) painless, but they’re big enough to merit a few precautions when toting them on foot and storing them. Speaking of which, Happy Holidays, because it’s the most wonderful time of the year: audition season. As in winters past, many of us will be taking auditions for schools, summer programs, and everything else in the next couple of months, and I thought it would be timely to discuss traveling with an instrument. Thank you to teachers and peers for informing and adding to my observations. Travel safely this winter, violists, and be glad you don’t play something bigger.

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Air Travel: TSA, Airline Policies, and other Joys of Flying

Violas are just small enough to make it generally painless to smuggle them through the airport and into overhead plane storage bins (when we all know they’re much bigger than that carry-on sample size box they always have next to the gate). In writing this post, I reviewed the instrument policies of major US and international airlines. I am going on the assumption that even though the airlines all have policies regarding small instruments that are checked, nobody actually wants to check a viola. With that, here’s the condensed version:

First of all, everyone has probably heard about . . .

Section 403 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

This states that all airlines must allow instruments of reasonable size to be carried onboard with no fees or fuss about the dimensions. The catch you need to worry about is that this only holds true if there is space; this new law has nothing to do with the risk of getting planeside-checked if the flight is full and you get on last. So having never been asked to pay a fee for carrying my viola onboard, this law doesn’t help me much.

With that, having referred to instrument policies of major domestic (United, Southwest, US Air/American) and international airlines, our alternatives are to pay extra and board first, beg the ticket scanner to let us on with the special assistance/small children call, or hope that we will have room when we board at our assigned zone. The bigger the plane, the less likely there will be problems. When you reserve your ticket, look at what kind of plane you will be boarding, and if it’s anything smaller than a Boeing 737, save yourself the worry and pay to board early. Southwest flies almost entirely with large planes, so I have never wished I had paid the extra ten dollars. Airtran, however, uses many smaller planes. Use your discretion. 

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At least I got overhead storage. Nothing else matters.

The airport isn’t just the plane, however. Whenever you’re in a long line—at security, customs, boarding, or at Starbucks—get in the habit of taking the instrument off of your back. It won’t run away if you put it on the ground, and once you board, your back will be in the same position for much longer than it should be. Give your back a break while you still can! If you have a case with wheels, use them.

After the Plane: Traveling by Car and on Foot

We are again lucky that our instrument is small enough to avoid the many inconveniences suffered by cellists and bassists in these modes of travel. Still, some small precautions can save you a lot of time, energy and pain:

1. Don’t put your instrument in the trunk of a car if you can help it. This goes especially for shorter trips where comfort isn’t so important and you travel on city roads with frequent stops. A teacher of mine had a friend whose violin was badly damaged in the trunk because the car was rear-ended on a city street. In general, If I’m commuting somewhere close, I will keep my instrument in the back seat, on the floor between the seat in front and the back seat, or, if I’m not driving, with me in my own seat. The trunk also gets very hot, so take caution in warm climates.

2. Keeping my instrument with me also prevents me from forgetting it when I exit the car. It sounds impossible, but we can all be absent-minded (me especially).

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Yo Yo ma after getting his 2.6-million dollar cello back from a garage somewhere in Queens, having left it in the trunk of a taxi the day of the concert. If he can, my friends, so can we.

3. When you travel for an audition, expect to walk more than you think in your nice shoes (I look at you, ladies), and especially in the cold weather. Lighten the load on your back as much as you can; limit what sheet music you bring and don’t carry it in the music pocket of your case if you have one. Your back will thank you. Try to carry the case with both back straps, but if carrying it on one shoulder is more comfortable (it is for me), switch shoulders every other block.

4. Have a midsize padlock (and the key!) in your suitcase all of the time. If you have to travel alone to a new city and can’t store the viola with a friend, you may have to run the risk of hurting your back (a LOT) carrying it literally everywhere you go, in the cold. Do your research: find a hostel with bring-your-own-lock lockers for storage rather than the pay-per-lock lockers, and look for the rooms with lockers inside the room so that you have one extra obstacle between the instrument and potential thieves. Regarding locks, I say midsize because the small size padlocks will be too small for most locker locks, and the large size is an excessive giveaway that you’re hiding something worth trying to steal.

This may be mostly common sense, but we could all use a bit of reminding sometimes, and with so much traveling coming up for many of us, I hope you can go with less stress having prepared for the little things. Travel safely, and good luck on your journeys! 

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photo sources: accesbackcare.com, nytimes.com, sessionville.com