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More on the ivory ban

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

OK, another post about the ivory ban. One question that naturally arises is: Why now? I briefly touched on these issues in the article but wanted to go into more detail here.

Poaching is not only an ecological problem but also a security issue, since selling wildlife materials is a way that militant groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabab fund themselves.

"At its most basic level, this is about exploiting natural resources for large amounts of money," said Craig Hoover, chief of the Wildlife Trade and Conservation branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That means the clock is ticking on several endangered or near-extinct animals. Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were poached for the illegal ivory market, according to the Wildlife Service. In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhinos in one year; in the past year, that number exceeded 1,000, said Mr. Hoover. There are only a few thousand tigers left in the wild.

In nations such as Vietnam and China, rhino horn, tiger bone and black bear gallbladder are believed to cure various illnesses, such as cancer, fever or hangovers, or to improve nail growth. Other animals, such as shark (which, while not endangered, is regulated) and pangolin, are used in cuisine. Elephant ivory is a status symbol, popular in decorations, statues and carvings.

There's no demonstrated medicinal benefit of those materials that has not been synthesized in Western medicine, Mr. Hoover said. The increased demand is the result of savvy marketing in those countries. These days, consumers in those booming economies have more resources to afford expensive wildlife materials.

In addition to banning or regulating these wildlife materials, reducing demand for them is another way to rein in poaching. During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. curbed demand for ivory "by essentially making it less cool" and "convincing people that only elephants should wear ivory," Mr. Hoover said. An educational campaign was part of those efforts, as consumers didn't know elephants had to be slaughtered to harvest ivory, said Christina Meister, public affairs specialist for the Wildlife Service. Indeed, that is a taller task for cultures that have used traditional medicine for hundreds or thousands of years.

No one I spoke with in the music community doubted the validity of curbing wildlife trafficking; indeed, Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy for the League of American Orchestras, said it fully supports those conservation efforts. Musicians argue, however, is that instruments — which contain small amounts of ivory that were, in general, legally harvested long before endangered-species lists and ivory bans — are disconnected from today's black market for elephants and rhinos. Mr. Hoover agreed; the Wildlife Service is trying to strike a balance between its own objectives and those activities that don't pose a threat or contribute to the illegal ivory trade. 

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Traveling as a classical musician

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In case you missed it, here's a story I wrote for Sunday's paper on the effect of an Obama administration elephant-ivory ban on traveling classical musicians: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2015/01/18/How-tiny-bits-of-ivory-snare-symphony-musicians-crossing-borders/stories/201501180065 

I think one of the reasons this is a particularly nightmarish subject for musicians is that for years, long before the enforcement of this ban, they have experienced countless hassles at airports. Of course, everybody has experienced countless hassles at the airport, but having an instrument (of high financial and personal value) seems to heighten those issues. I've heard and read stories of musicians not being allowed to check large instruments or bring smaller, fragile ones on board, and cellists often purchase extra seats to bring their instruments into the cabin. Jim Rodgers, the Pittsburgh Symphony's principal contrabassoonist, told me that his reeds were almost thrown away at an airport because an inspector thought they could be used as weapons. (Woodwind players spend untold hours making their own reeds; losing them would have been disastrous, especially since he was on his way to an audition.) In late 2013, one musician's handmade bamboo flutes, which he spends two years crafting, were seized and possibly destroyed. It should not come as a surprise that in the experience of my sources, these issues seem to have heightened since 9/11.

Although legally-acquired instruments containing elephant ivory are technically allowed to cross the borders with a permit, some players may be wary given experiences they've had bringing their instruments through airports and onto planes.

"In any given airport, what it comes down to is that person you come face-to-face with," said Kristen Linfante, executive director of Chamber Music Pittsburgh. "You're in their hands. It's in their hands, and you don't want it in their hands."

"Until that absolute guarantee comes, I'm not taking any chances [with bringing ivory-containing bows out of the country], and I doubt any of my colleagues would, either."

Still, musicians have reason to cheer on the travel front: The U.S. Department of Transportation recently approved final rules on traveling with instruments, and the policy requires airlines to accommodate musical instruments in checked or carry-on luggage. More from the League of American Orchestras on that development:

December 31, 2014, Washington, D.C. -- Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued final regulations to improve travel by air with musical instruments. The rules become effective within 60 days of being published and require major airlines to update their policies and practices. This action comes nearly three years after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act was signed into law, including a section mandating improved airline policies for musicians traveling with their instruments.

This major policy development is the result of intense and prolonged advocacy efforts by the music community, reinforced by dozens of Congressional leaders, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

The new rules require airlines to adequately accommodate musical instruments in their formal policies for checked and carry-on baggage, and to ensure that front-line airline personnel consistently apply the policies. The next crucial step will be for the airlines to adopt new policies, make them publicly accessible, and thoroughly train airline personnel. The League continues to partner closely with the American Federation of Musicians, Chamber Music America, the Recording Academy, the Performing Arts Alliance, and other national music organizations in conversation with senior USDOT and aviation industry officials, advocating for swift implementation, and immediate relief for traveling musicians.

As the airlines take action to implement the new rules, the League will update our online hub of resources to explain the impact on travel with musical instruments.

See the League's Aviation Policy Guide for More Details!

 

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Introducing Quick Hits

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Happy New Year! I'm excited to introduce a new web-first (and web-friendly) series: Quick Hits will allow me to harness the grand powers of the internet to provide more concert previews and reviews — and to explore the digital possibilities of classical-music criticism. More on that notion, as well as the first Quick Hit, at this link: http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2015/01/09/Quick-Hits-New-look-on-Pittsburgh-s-classical-music-scene/stories/201501090220

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Happy 30th birthday, Pittsburgh Opera's RA program!

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Happy 30th birthday to Pittsburgh Opera's resident artists program! Read more about the program, including a new collaboration with Pittsburgh CAPA, at the bottom of this post.

In the September 2014 issue of Opera News magazine, the company's general director, Christopher Hahn, spoke with Brian Kellow about the program. Pittsburgh Opera, the article notes, casts resident artists in major roles, as well as in RA-only productions of early and contemporary operas (as in this season's "Rodelinda" and "Sumeida's Song").

"This practice of casting younger and cheaper is becoming more and more common at U.S. regional companies, which are forever searching for cost-cutting measures," Mr. Kellow writes.

But at Pittsburgh Opera, it is not a mere cost-saver, Mr. Hahn said in the piece. "I'm not one of those people who feel that the resident artists should be locked up in a studio," he told Mr. Kellow. "Having the full responsibility of a main role in a smaller environment can lead young singers to extraordinary advancements."

He continued: "I think we will continue to see a greater integration of young artists into the U.S. companies. I doubt there will be this slightly snobbish attitude of 'Well, they're only students — what are they doing on the mainstage?' Audiences are more interested in experiencing a fully integrated, satisfying cast that talks to each other, reacts to each other, rather than going for the circus element of a big name. I think it's a fool's errand for small regional companies to be running after stars just because they think they are going to sell tickets." 

First Resident Artist class with Tito Capobianco1984 class of resident artists, L-R: Deborah Dunn, Daniel Brewer, Ethelyn Enos, then-general director Tito Capobianco, Susan Nicely, Jay Taylor, John Daniecki.

From the company's press release: 

In 1984, the beginnings of today's resident artist program appeared at Pittsburgh Opera. It was a brief, intensive vocal training program led by then-Director Tito Capobianco. Evolving from a two-week program to a summer program, and then to today's nine-month program that offers unparalleled opportunities for young professional singers and stage directors, the resident artist program now attracts over 500 applicants per season, and creates two full productions per season for the resident artists. 

Continuing the part of its mission that mandates the development of tomorrow's artists, Pittsburgh Opera has also begun a partnership with Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 in 2014 to give high school theater students an intensive production experience. Over the course of the school year, culminating in working on the resident artist production ["Rodelinda"], Pittsburgh Opera production director Tara Kovach and other instructors conduct specialized sessions for high school students in areas such as lighting, props, special effects, and other stagecraft subjects. The students have hands-on roles in the production and are evaluated at the end of the session.

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Liner Notes Vol. XIII

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Looking for some reading this holiday weekend? Check out a few pieces of music and arts journalism below, including a feature in the Atlantic on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust: 

From the New York Times, a watery piano recital http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/arts/music/hlne-grimaud-performs-tears-become-streams-become.html 

From the Atlantic, how the arts drove Pittsburgh's renaissance http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/12/how-the-cultural-arts-drove-pittsburghs-revitalization/383627/?single_page=true 

From Haaretz, the American Jews who wrote Christmas songs http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/1.631657 

From the Guardian, the earliest example of polyphony http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/dec/17/polyphonic-music-fragment-origins-rewritten 

From the New York Times, a symphony orchestra conductor at NYC Ballet http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/arts/dance/andrew-litton-to-lead-new-york-city-ballet-orchestra.html 

From the New York Times, the fight for New York City Opera http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/27/arts/music/new-york-city-operas-name-and-other-assets-attract-suitors.html?smid=tw-share 

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