Musician’s Tips for Traveling with your Instrument

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity here in the Admissions Office as we prepare to host on-campus Audition Days. We look forward to the opportunity to meet all of you promising young musicians and to welcome you to our campus. For applicants, the first step to a great audition is simply getting there. You may have lots of travel coming up, or you may already have a few auditions under your belt, but I wanted to share a few thoughts and suggestions to help your audition travel go more smoothly.

First, you need to plan ahead about transporting your instrument. For some of you (pianists, singers, and small woodwind instrumentalists) this is a non-issue. You really don’t have to give much thought to getting your instrument to the audition. However, it can be a very big issue if you play a larger instrument such as cello or double bass!

You’ll want to educate yourself about the latest rules and restrictions for traveling with musical instruments and know the specific policies for the airline you book your travel with. Plan to arrive at the airport early to allow extra time for security screening. If you fly with a large instrument, you may need to purchase an extra seat for it. I recently spoke with one double bassist who told me that he not only had to buy a seat for the instrument, but the only way he could fit the bass on board was by stowing in the seat upside down! Shipping your large instrument separately can also be an option as long as you have an extra secure shipping case, but many musicians find this nerve-wracking to do.

If you play double bass, percussion or harp, be sure to check with the various schools where you are auditioning to find out what equipment they provide for you. You might discover that you don’t need to bring your own instrument along to every audition. Although playing on an unfamiliar instrument may be a little bit uncomfortable at first, it can be well worth the adjustment if it allows you to take an audition that you otherwise could not attend.

For musicians who play medium-sized instruments such as guitar, violin and viola, you generally won’t need to purchase a seat for your instrument for air travel. However, you will need to be very careful to make sure you can secure a safe space for your instrument on board. One of the best ways to do this is to be ready in the boarding area early, and position yourself to board at the start of your ‘boarding group’ as soon as it is called. Don’t wait until the end of the boarding process, because you will very likely find that all of the storage space on the plane has been filled. Boarding early can be difficult if you have a tight connection or experience delays, but do the best that you can. If you need help finding space for your instrument, ask a flight attendant.

For instrumentalists traveling internationally, you will want will want to be extra cautious if your instrument contains any rare or endangered materials such as ivory. Recent restrictions have made it risky to travel with these materials, and they could be confiscated. Although we have not yet heard from any applicants who had problems with this, the danger exists.

Reed players will need to take a bit of extra care with their travel as well. Reed knives are not permitted in your carry-on items on U.S. flights, so be sure that they are safely checked to avoid having them confiscated at the security checkpoint.  If you play an instrument that is impacted by climates with a different altitude or humidity level than you are accustomed to, be sure to discuss the necessary precautions with your teacher. (Reed players, bring along a wider-than-usual array of reeds to give yourself some options.)

Regardless of the particular challenges of travel with your instrument, always strive to be patient and courteous to your fellow travelers and airline staff. Keep yourself well-hydrated, and try to eat good healthy meals on the road when possible. When I was auditioning for colleges, I made the unwise decision to sample a bacon cheeseburger in every city where I had an audition. Although it was a fun project and I didn’t suffer any ill-effects at the time, it probably was not a very smart way to fuel myself for good performances! Wash your hands frequently avoid germs, and try to avoid getting overly sleep-deprived or run down. Remember that the audition process is more like a marathon than a sprint, and you need to pace yourself to stay in it for the long haul.

We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to the Eastman campus. Safe travels!