Stringent new rules in the USA outlawing the selling, transporting and ‘owning with intent to sell’ of ivory may be good news for elephants, but they have serious implications for musicians. The Budapest Festival Orchestra had to borrow bows from New York musicians after their own were impounded at JFK Airport last month, with each bow only retrievable on payment of a $500 fine.
Members of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) said that Congress was making criminals of people who had an antique piano in the basement. ‘How does that possibly help the elephants?’ asked one member. Hollywood celebrities Meryl Streep and Billy Joel joined a growing chorus of those calling for an outright ban, even where ivory is only a small part of an antique instrument.
‘The preference for ivory keys doesn’t justify slaughter,’wrote Joel on his blog. Only a total ban on all ivory products, new and antique, would have an impact on the illegal trade, he insisted.
New Jersey politician Rav Mukherji praised Streep for her backing and said that the Al-Qaeda backed Al-Shabaab, responsible for the Nairobi shopping mall attack, made up to $600,000 a month from the ivory trade.
In response AMIS decided to ‘wave the honest flag of Saving Our Cultural Artefacts’. They claimed that, were the ban to be enforced, the US was in danger of losing not only hundreds of museum instruments but also such national treasures as Benjamin Franklin’s ivory day notebooks and George Washington’s false teeth.
The current law exempts instruments built before 1976 provided a certificate from the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) can be produced. Lack of documentation incurred the Budapest orchestra’s penalties and it is considered unrealistic to expect owners of an heirloom piano to be able to prove date of manufacture which certification requires.
Manufacturers of period instruments on both sides of the Atlantic are extremely concerned. The ban also includes rosewood, ebony, pernambuco and tortoiseshell. ‘Almost all the materials used in 18th- and 19th-century instruments are now regulated by CITES,’ said an AMIS spokesman. ‘The new rules foretell the destruction of the early music industry as no one will be able to travel with their instruments, have them repaired or upgrade them.’