A budding classical musician canceled his audition Monday for a chance to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony.
It wasn’t worth the risk that his $10,000 instrument could be confiscated by the U.S. government.
Taddes Korris, a 25-year-old masters student at the Manhattan School of Music, owns a 1940s-era bow for his string bass with — what he assumes to be — an ivory tip. And the mere speculation, the off chance that border agents would take his instrument, was too big a scare for Korris.
At issue is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crackdown on the import and export of ivory products made from elephant tusks as part of the Obama administration’s larger effort to stop wildlife trafficking. There are exceptions made for antique items, as Korris’s bow would seem to be, and the opportunity to acquire a musical instrument passport or traveling exhibition certificate if it can be proven that the ivory was legally acquired prior to 1976.
In all likelihood Korris’s bow would meet the exception criteria, but legitimizing the ivory is very difficult, he told the Loop on Tuesday.
“The ivory could have been replaced – experts could give their advice whether it is indeed original or not, but these things can be disputed,” he said. “The problem with this whole situation is there isn’t enough information. They didn’t give any specification of what information is sufficient.”
Korris is not alone. Musicians across the country are worried. Country star Vince Gill has said he’s concerned about traveling with his instruments, according to an NPR segment about the ban. Korris stressed he is not opposed to conservation efforts, but simply wants the Obama administration to reconsider the impact the ban has on musicians.
Craig Hoover, who heads the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wildlife trade and conservation branch, told the Loop that the issue is one of lack of communication and awareness between the music industry and the regulatory agencies. Apparently under a 40-year-old international treaty, musicians have always required a permit to move across borders instruments crafted from protected species parts. But the Obama administration’s recent attention to the trade of ivory has made musicians more aware of the rules, he said.
“Essentially it’s because unfortunately the music industry world and the regulatory agencies have been missing each other for some time,” Hoover said. But if a musician goes through the permitting process, the requirements are not that difficult to meet for noncommercial items, he said.
But even if the rules have been on the books for some time, they weren’t strongly enforced, Korris said. And now that it’s come a head, the process of determining whether his bow does have ivory to then request a permit is a costly and laborious process.
Hoover said Korris probably made the right call to skip the audition since he didn’t have the necessary government exception. There would be a risk that his bow could become contraband, which would be a little like taking the brakes out of a driver’s race car.