Cello On Board: Traveling

I love traveling. It's easily the best part of my job. In what other profession do you get to set your own hours, pick your projects, AND travel all over the world?! That's a rhetorical question, so don't answer.

Traveling with Cello Dougherty isn't always the easiest thing though, and let's talk about a few reasons why:

1. TSA Security. 
Have y'all seen the terrible thing that happened to Alban Gerhardt's bow in a security check at O'Hare Airport? It's terrible, but unfortunately a danger of carrying the cello on to the airplane. Apparently Mr. Gerhardt checks his cello in baggage on these trips and uses a Stevenson flight case to do so. I understand why he would feel secure doing this, as Stevenson cases are outstanding. One would never think that it would be TSA that would cause such damage to an instrument, rather than the baggage handlers who so often toss musical instruments on to the conveyor belt with little care. 

I've had problems in the TSA security line myself, carrying my cello on to the plane. For a while in 2011, I was flying in and out of Atlanta on a weekly basis for performances. I became very good at scanning security lines to find the shortest, fastest moving line. After a while, I noticed that the same TSA fellow was working the line that I always seemed to choose. He also started recognizing me as I came through his line each week. This fellow became interested in what I was doing and why I was traveling so much. Unlike other TSA people who would often force me to open the cello case and hand the instrument to them so that they could examine it - often in a very rough manner - this nice fellow seemed to appreciate the stress of traveling with an instrument.

2. Airlines.
There is nothing worse in travel than an airline. Nothing. They are the WORST. Here are a few examples of why:
-Paul Katz and his cello
-Lynn Harrell and Delta Skymiles
-Alban Gerhardt and his cello (even more from above)

I've been a loyal Delta Airlines traveler since 2008 when I moved to Boston. The sheer size of the airline makes Delta the easiest airline to travel. Unlike United, Delta has never forced me to check my cello at the gate - and then leave it on the tarmac - and they often upgraded both me and Cello Dougherty to first class on many flights. Until recently. In 2010, flying direct from ATL to BOS, I volunteered to put my cello underneath the plane to open a seat for a traveller flying on a standby ticket. I received a free flight and an upgrade in exchange. My cello was in a Stevenson flight case - kevlar AND carbon fiber - and I felt secure with the decision. Getting off the plane, I found the indestructable case destroyed and a large crack on the top of the cello. Delta paid for the repairs but not for the depreciation of the cello. 

Since then, Delta has removed Cello Dougherty from their SkyMiles program, often refused me the opportunity to board - claiming everything from a full flight (despite my holding two tickets) to seats that are too small to accomodate the poor cello - and never even offer Cello Dougherty a refreshing beverage if we both actually get on the plane! A cellist acquaintence of mine carrys his cello on to the plane in a soft case, without buying a ticket, in hopes that it will fit in the overhead compartment. Even though I hate buying a ticket for my cello, I'll take the general security of the boarding pass over the uncertainty of the overhead bin size any day of the week!

This is not to say that Delta is the worst airline to travel with; they certainly aren't. But there are pros and cons to each airline. For example, US Airways will NOT allow a cellist to check their instrument with regular baggage, whether or not a liability waiver is signed. We found this out when my teacher, Rhonda Rider, was forced to purchase a seat AT THE COUNTER for her Luis & Clark carbon fiber cello for a trip to Arizona. United DOES offer frequent flier miles to cellos, but is generally incompetent with baggage handling if you choose to check. Continental used to be the easiest and best airline to deal with, at least as far as onboard customer service was concerned. I find that Southwest (with their cattle call boarding process) and JetBlue (with their general awesomeness) are at the top of the heap right now, of course, I haven't flown either airline enough to make a decision quite yet.

3. Schlepping
This is pretty simple, really. As a recitalist, and a low-on-the-totem-pole one at that, I don't have a personal assistant traveling with me. There aren't private cars waiting for me at the airport. Therefore, I must be in complete control of all of my travel things, schlepping them from my apartment to the concert hall, no matter where in the world that hall is. For a recent performance of Queering the Pitch: music for soprano and cello in Houston, I schlepped the following things from Athens to Houston:
-Large sized rollaboard, carry-on suitcase
-Messenger bag with laptop, plugs, cords, cables, reading material
-Metal laptop stand, with tripod legs


-Cello Dougherty

This is a ton of stuff. For a typical weekend performing, that carryon is 30 lbs. The messenger bag is heavy, though not more than 5 lbs. The laptop stand though...ugh. No less than 15 lbs. When thrown on top of the rollaboard, I'm dragging almost 50 lbs behind me! Thankfully, Cello Dougherty is at home in a superlight Accord cello case, so that's no more than 8 lbs. Still, though, that's a lot of stuff to carry around an airport, on to subways, etc. I really would love that personal assistant...

Even when airplanes aren't in play, there's still a lot of schlepping. When a quartet is traveling, you've got four people, luggage, and instruments piling in to a rental car. Hopefully that car is a nice big SUV, but in many cases, that car is a Ford Focus. Yuck. Quartet musicians are really good at the game of tetris - that is, fitting everything in the trunk. As a soloist, a Focus is fine for me, just as long as the cello fits across the back seat!

Anyway, no matter what the negatives of travel are - and there are many - I love trekking off around the globe to play the cello. There's simply nothing better than exploring the world and playing music at the same time!