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Articles in the Press

CITES – what musicians who travel need to know

a similar article to this blog was published this autumn in the UK dulcimer club’s Nonsuch News magazine

CITES – what musicians who travel need to know

why this blog ?

Flying with instruments has never been more difficult.  As well as airlines mistreating fragile instruments and Customs’ concerns over illegal importations, there is now a new challenge: CITES.  I would like to share what I know (at this point in time) and my understanding of the risks to help other musicians who cross borders with their instruments.  Why ? because, incredibly, Customs officials now have the right to confiscate and destroy instruments that do not comply with the new rules.

Please note: this article is written for musicians.  Makers & sellers who import / export instruments will need to undertake more relevant research.

what is CITES and what has changed ?

CITES is an international agreement that restricts the movement of plant and animal materials across borders.  Two of the aims of CITES are to help contain the spread of diseases and to help to protect endangered species (eg by restricting the movement ivory).

On the 4th January 2017 a new CITES agreement was implemented globally.  The new CITES lists now include many additional timbers, which are frequently used in the making of musical instruments.  For example: Rosewood is now on the CITES restricted lists and it is commonly used in guitars and mountain dulcimers for fingerboards and sometimes backs & sides.

why might you be exempt ?

Assuming your instrument does have restricted timbers in it (most mountain dulcimers and guitars probably will) – then, according to the UK CITES office, there are three reasons why your instrument would be exempt and you can probably safely travel across borders with it :-

  1. if the instrument was built before 4th January 2017 – or the timbers used can be shown to have been from stock prior to 4th January 2017
  2. if the total weight of restricted timbers in the instrument is below 10Kg
  3. if you intend to bring back the instrument with you – ie you are not exporting it, just traveling with it (although this might not be easy to prove on your outward journey)

 

At this point the reader might reasonably conclude that the CITES rules are for instrument makers and sellers who export, not musicians who will be returning home with their instruments.  Although all my current guitars and dulcimers do have restricted timbers in them, they would be exempt on all three counts above – so I should be safe, right ?  Well, unfortunately, perhaps not, read on …

what are the risks ?

Whilst the CITES timber lists have been agreed globally, the implementation of CITES rules will have been made locally; Each country may have interpreted the rules differently.  There is no guarantee that foreign (or UK for that matter) Customs or Border Control will honour the rules that the UK CITES office work by.  The UK CITES office therefore recommend you also contact the CITES officials in the country you are visiting.

You could be unlucky and be confronted by an over-zealous or miss-informed official and, even if they are wrong, there would be no come-back.  You can’t realistically sue a foreign Customs office for the loss of an instrument, nor is it likely that your insurance would cover such a loss.

With Brexit looming, EU Customs rules are still in debate and current speculation among UK politicians is that French Customs, in particular, may become deliberately obstructive to UK tourists post-Brexit.  It is not inconceivable therefore that French (or other EU) Customs may take a hard line on CITES regulations with British musicians traveling in the EU in the future.  There will certainly be confusion in the present.

I am not scaremongering here but simply applying best-practice risk analysis principles.  Yes, these risks are low and unlikely to manifest, as thousands of musicians safely cross borders with instruments every year (although I have heard some horror stories).  Should these risk manifest however, then the impact would be high.  It is therefore worth considering some countermeasures.  To what lengths you go to will depend upon :-

  • the value of your instrument(s)
  • which county(s) you are travelling to
  • weather you are using you instrument(s) for work or pleasure
  • what timbers are in the instrument(s) and how they are rated by CITES
  • your attitude to risk

 

what can you do to mitigate the risks ?

For years I‘ve been traveling with receipts of my instruments to prove that I’m not (on my return journey) illegally importing an instrument from abroad, avoiding import duties or VAT.  I’d recommend this as a minimum as the date on the receipt, if before 1/4/17, will prove that your instrument is exempt from CITES rules (see 1. above).

If the instrument is valuable, I’d also recommend finding out exactly what timbers (Latin names) are in it and if they are on the CITES lists.  Your maker might reasonably charge for a dated list of timbers included in your instrument and is probably best placed to do so.  Should your instrument contain listed timbers, I’d recommend you discuss your trip with the UK CITES office a few months ahead of travelling.

You could also apply for an MIC (Musical Instrument Certificate) from the UK CITES office.  MICs are like a passport for your instrument.  They are free and can be freely renewed every 3 years.  For the reasons outlined above you probably don’t absolutely need an MIC but it is another layer of protection.  Orchestras typically travel with MICs and the UK CITES office advise that their MICs have, to date, been accepted by US Border Control.

my experiences to date

I have made 3 trips to the USA since the new CITES rules were agreed without any CITES related problems and I will probably make more in the future.  It is unlikely however that I will travel across borders with my most valuable instruments from here on in.

I have MICs for two of my dulcimers – an acoustic and my electric.  The acoustic has two permits as it includes two listed timbers.  Technically, the MICs are only valid if stamped by Customs / Border Control upon arrival in the foreign country.  I do not request this however, so as not to draw attention to the matter unnecessarily.

I am currently buying a new guitar, to become my travel guitar.  The makers are providing me with a list of timbers in it and I will apply for an MIC for this instrument when it arrives.

to conclude

Many instruments, especially mountain dulcimers and guitars will contain CITES restricted timbers.  Mostly they will be excluded from the CITES restrictions and thousands of musicians have safely travelled with instruments since the new rules.  There are however some small but high-impact risks, which may prompt you to take precautions.

article on how to finger-pick the dulcimer

the following article was published in Nonsuch News, summer 2018, UK’s dulcimer club magazine

how to finger-pick the dulcimer

 

Those of you who are familiar with my music will know that I play the dulcimer (and guitar) mostly finger-style.  To me, fingerpicking is one of the prettiest ways of playing the dulcimer.  This article outlines what I see as best practice fingerpicking technique and it should help you play fingerstyle too, should you wish to do so.

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advice article for Nashville dulcimer club

the following article was drafted for and published by Nashville’s Grand Old Dulcimer Club:

‘A pro English dulcimer player advises beginners’

listening skills

Listening is hearing with intent to understand.  It is a discipline that requires patience and focus.  Listening is perhaps the most important skill a musician can acquire.  The more you develop your listening skills, the better you will understand music and the better you will play, both solo and with others.  Equally import perhaps, if you listen well you will win the respect of industry professionals.

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interview in Dulcimer Players News

the following interview, conducted by Linda Paulus, was published in the international Dulcimer Players News magazine spring 2018 issue 

Dan Evans: A Musician for all Seasons

 

Close your eyes and imagine mountain dulcimer history and the pros who play these beloved instruments on this side of The Pond. Now, open your eyes and meet Dan Evans, the UK’s premier English dulcimer player.  Dan shares his unique perspective on our beloved instrument and his history as a musician and composer. He returns to the United States in June for another international tour, starting with a concert for the players and friends of The Grand Old Dulcimer Club in Nashville.  So, sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy a bit of his story.  You’ll discover Great Britain’s leading dulcimer musician offers plenty to inspire beginners as well as advanced players and teachers. 

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