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Ivory Laws Make Being A Musician More Difficult

Ivory has historically been a part of musical instrument making: for piano keys, the tips of violin bows, guitar tuning pegs, and even the rings crowning the tops of bassoons. This sad fact is having repercussions that musicians are feeling now.

A new US law has banned Ivory harvested after 1976 from crossing its borders. The law is a good one; ivory poaching kills 96 elephants a day and I’m glad we’re doing something to help stop it. But the law has had unforeseen consequences for musicians trying to cross the United States’ borders. Seven violinists with the Budapest Festival Orchestra recently had their bows seized when their orchestra entered on a recent tour. The same happened to some priceless bagpipes belonging to two Vermont teenagers. Evidently, any musician traveling with old instruments is at risk of losing them.

The Musicians Union and other groups have been working to find a solution, but the shakedowns at airports have continued, and I’m now in the market for a modern double bass bow with a plastic tip.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.