Flying With Your Cello

Flying with string instruments can be a stressful experience. With the number of horror stories clogging our news feeds in recent years detailing airline mishaps, it’s no wonder we get nervous taking our instruments with us when we fly.

However, things are beginning to look up; under the new Department of Transportation (DOT) ruling that went into effect March 6, 2015, airlines are now required to allow small instruments in the cabin as part of a passenger’s carry-on allowance. Just like any other luggage, as long as it can fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat the airline cannot refuse to carry the instrument. This ruling is a huge victory for musicians, in particular string players, everywhere.

But what about cellos?

While the DOT ruling is very clear in regard to smaller instruments, it is not as definitive when it comes to larger ones. With cellos, standard practice is one of two things: use a flight case and gate check the instrument or purchase another seat in the cabin. Both options have their benefits and disadvantages, so it is up to you to decide what you are most comfortable with.


Putting Your Cello in Checked Baggage

Airport

  1. Make sure you have a sturdy flight case or cover you can use. Covers normally go around a hard case, while dedicated flight cases are heavy-duty and designed to protect the instrument without additional parts. They can be purchased or rented depending on the type you are looking for. Just as you would a package, mark it clearly as FRAGILE, MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, or any other polite message that states it needs to be treated with care.
  2. Make sure your instrument is padded within the case. Use wadded tissue paper, cloth, or old clothes to support the bridge, fingerboard, and tailpiece as well as around the sides of the instrument to prevent any jostling around inside the case. If you are concerned about the tension, tune your strings down by a half step to a third. The safest option, if possible, is to have a luthier take down the entire setup and have another set it back up when you arrive at your destination.
  3. Understand that others will be handling your instrument and plan accordingly. There is a lot of baggage to handle and things are not always treated as delicately as they should be–we’ve all watched luggage being loaded onto a plane. It is also possible that the case may be opened, and non-players do not always know how to safely put everything back. Emphasize nicely that it is a delicate musical instrument, but make sure steps 1 and 2 are in place as well.

Bringing Your Cello Into the Cabin

Plane Interior

  1. When buying your extra ticket (which should always be done), make sure you are not buying a seat where the cello will block any emergency exits or signs. Airlines can make a case to have the instrument checked if it threatens passenger safety, so check sites like Seat Guru to maximize both your comfort and the safety of your cello.
  2. Contact the airline when you buy the ticket to make sure everything follows their safety policies. This will ensure you are in compliance and allow you to confirm you provided advance notice about the cello.
  3. Some cellists have been able to fit their instruments in the overhead compartments of larger planes. This is something that cannot be guaranteed, but if you are thinking of trying it there are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Board early. If you need to pay extra to do so, it may be worth it to ensure that you have enough space to get your instrument in the overhead first. Like the DOT ruling says, if it fits in the overhead compartment and you put it there first, your instrument is entitled to stay there.
    • Some cases work better than others. Most anecdotal evidence of cello cases fitting in these compartments happened with the Accord cases, specifically the Hybrid and the UltraLight.
  4. THE AIRLINE MAY NOT CHARGE YOU MORE THAN THE COST OF THE SEAT FOR THE INSTRUMENT. To quote directly from the final ruling: “…assuming all of the safety requirements are met, carriers cannot charge the passenger more than the price of a ticket for the additional seat….” This doesn’t mean that if you decide to upgrade your seat your cello gets a free bump. It also doesn’t mean that you are exempt from fees that are normally posed on carry-on items or cargo. What it does mean is that they cannot charge you extra just because a cello is occupying the seat instead of a human being.

General Advice for Flying With a Cello

  1. Check your instrument insurance. There is a limit to an airline’s liability if your cello is lost, damaged, or delayed. In many cases this only covers a fraction of the instrument’s value. Make sure you are covered for air travel by your insurance provider.
  2. Arm yourself with information: bring a copy of the DOT ruling and your airline’s instrument policy with you. Be firm but polite if an issue arises.
  3. Make sure you have a high-quality hard case, such as the ones found in our store or on our website. If you are purchasing a seat for your instrument, make sure it’s a lighter and less bulky case such as Bam, Accord, or Galaxy. If you have a flight cover for checking your cello, make sure the case will fit inside the cover.
  4. Check in as early as possible. It may take longer to do so and get through security because of the instrument. Make sure to leave yourself enough time so that you are not running for the gate. If you comfortable doing so, paying for early boarding will also give you a space advantage when getting your instrument situated in the cabin.

Hopefully with these tips in mind, both you and your cello will have a safe flight. Be sure to visit the DOT webpage for more information about traveling with instruments.


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Which Edition of Sheet Music Do I Buy?

Your teacher tells you you’re starting a new piece. You go to buy the sheet music, only to discover there are multiple editions to choose from.

Which edition do you choose?

The easy answer? The one your teacher tells you to buy! They like that edition and want you to get it for a reason. If they don’t have a preferred edition, it’s up to you to decide. While finances sometimes dictates that choice, here are a few things you should know about choosing sheet music:

Everyone has different priorities when choosing an edition, but here are some things to keep in mind while browsing sheet music:

  • Is it easy to read? Can you read the notes? Are articulations clearly marked? It’s a good idea to look at different editions in person. Compare them side-to-side and see which one is easier for you to read.

  • Are there a lot of marked bowings and fingerings? These are easily changed with a quick pencil scribble. However, if too many are already marked in the part it can start to look messy if you need to fix them. Some people prefer to get sheet music with the least amount of bowings and fingerings so they can clearly mark their own.

  • Does it lie flat? Does the sheet music lie flat on the stand, or would you have to secure it? Would you have to break the binding to get it to stay where you need it to?

  • Price: More expensive editions cost more for a reason. You may find it helpful, or you may not notice a difference.

  • Is it Urtext? This only applies to certain pieces, but sometimes it’s helpful to use an urtext edition instead of a more modern one.

urtext-graphic

 

We pride ourselves on our sheet music selection at Johnson String. Stop in to compare in person or visit us online.


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The Bach Cello Suites: A Brief History

Written between 1717-1723 and popularized by Pablo Casals in the 1930s and by Yo-Yo Ma in more recent years, the Bach cello suites have become standard in many repertoires. 

Origins of the Bach Cello Suites

A suite (pronounced “sweet”) is a collection of dance pieces. Though not standardized at first, a German composer and keyboard player named Johann Froberger (1616-1667) ended up forming what is known today as the classical suite style. It consisted of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigueKing Louis XIV (1638-1715), an accomplished dancer, was also heavily influential in the development of the suite. He was the patron for many composers who wrote many dance suites on his behalf, including Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and François Couperin (1668-1733). He even founded the Académie Royale de Danse, Europe’s first school dedicated to dance.

Bach and the Classical Style Suite

Johann Sebastian Bach

When you look at the number of suites in Bach’s catalog, it is soon apparent that he was at least familiar with the French dance styles.  However, when you take a closer look at his dance music, you can see that he not only knew how many measures a piece needed to be (and their respective time signatures), but he also had intimate knowledge of the physical dance steps for each piece based on the meter, and which beats in the measure were emphasized. Not bad for someone who spent his life living in Germany!

The cello suites themselves more or less follow the form established by Froberger, except that each one begins with a Prelude and there is either a minuet, a bourrée, or a gavotte in between the sarabande and gigue. While each suite has its own unique character, arguably the most noteworthy one is Suite no. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012.  This was written originally for a five-string violoncello piccolo (strung C-G-D-A-E). With the higher E string at his disposal, Bach took advantage of that higher range. Since modern cellos do not have the higher E, this suite requires players to go into higher positions while navigating Bach’s highly technical passages.

Sheet Music for the Bach Cello Suites

Because of their popularity, there are numerous editions of the six suites available in our catalog. You can find versions ranging from the high-quality Bärenreiter and Henle edition, to the more affordable Carl Fischer editionInternational Music Company also has an edition that includes scans of Bach’s autograph manuscript. In addition to cello, we have versions for viola and bass as well.

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Beginning a Lifetime of Musical Memories

student with viola

They may have walked in with some doubts, but they left as budding musicians, ready to begin an amazing journey that may last a lifetime.

That was the feeling in the air at the instrument rental event held at Canton High School in Canton, MA on September 14. Coordinated by the Performing Arts Program, the event matched up students with the stringed instrument of their choice. Johnson String Instrument sales staff were on hand to answer questions and help parents complete the necessary rental paperwork, while their children waited patiently for their instrument, handed to them in a padded black carrying case.

“For the last few days my daughter has talked about nothing else but getting her first violin,” one parent remarked. “But when she saw the viola displayed at the Johnson table, she fell in love with it and that’s what she ended up choosing.”

Ensuring equitable access to a high-quality stringed instrument is part of Johnson’s core mission. We know from decades of experience that if a child isn’t happy with their violin, viola, cello, or bass, then the less likely they are to practice or enjoy the experience of playing. Even if it means swapping out the instrument for a different size — or for a different instrument altogether — Johnson is ready to assist.

“Tonight is about more than just renting instruments,” said Joe Heffernan, Director of Sales at Johnson String Instrument. “It’s about introducing students to their first stringed instrument, which in turn can help them develop a deeper appreciation of music. Our staff understands this because many of us are string players who started out at rental nights like this one. We want to help students experience the joy of making music.”

Many students were beaming as they headed home with their instrument. “I can’t wait to get my viola home,” said one Canton student, who proudly hugged her new instrument against her chest. “My brother plays violin, and I want to be as good as him some day.” 

That’s exactly what we like to hear from new string players, and we wish all of them the best of luck as they begin making a lifetime of musical memories. •

Learn more about Johnson String Instrument’s rental program. We are happy to provide instruments for students of all ages and levels of experience.


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