Harry Wimmer

Harry's CelloBlogTM


Air travel with my cello used to be so simple: the airline would treat it like a child, sell
you a half-fare ticket, give it a seat belt extension, let it be next to you in a bulkhead seat,
and you would be on your way. The cello could demand its own meal. Since it had its
own name, Cello Wimmer was frequently offered its own credit card. It politely declined
since its birth date of 1728 would, in the end, never pass the final credit check.

Things have changed since those days - and one must learn to adapt. Years later, when
my dear father died and I wanted to play some Bach at his outdoor funeral in Berkeley,
California, I decided to leave numero uno at home and, instead, travel with my almost
equally beloved Hungarian cello. Naïvely, after packing it well with extra underwear and
socks, I checked it as baggage. As I was boarding the plane, I saw my cello flailing
helplessly in the brisk March wind as it leaned against the cargo door below, unattended.
Then it fell over and rocked on its belly until it was rescued by a supervisor. Fortunately,
my judicious packing had saved the day, and the cello arrived safely.

But there must be a better way. When I recounted this sad tale to my dear friend, the late
luthier Jacques Français, he took me aside and explained in his inimitable Charkes Boyer
French accent: "Dear 'arry, nevair, nevair let zem put ze cello on ze baggage belt. I
travel often to Europe vizz a fine instrument. I walk it to ze gate. Zei take it and put it in
ze baggage "hold". Zen, at zee ozzer end, I wait at ze plane exit door, and zei bring ze
cello öp to me."

Fast forward to 2012, the era of security checks, scanners, vast hordes of travelers. The
overworked airline employees have learned how to deal with wheelchairs, baby carriages,
strollers, scooters, but a cello in a hard case? What is it? What to do?

On this recent occasion I was teaching and giving master classes for a month in Italy.
Again I took along my old Hungarian instrument, by now affectionately nicknamed my
"Goulash" cello (since it was made up of so many mysterious ingredients of woods).
New York to Rome went O.K. using the Jacques Français method. The trouble began on
the return trip from Rome Fiumicino Airport. Trying to apply as much of Jacques' charm
as I could muster, the beautiful Italian lady at the ticket counter was unmoved. "We have
a special conveyor belt for oversized (like overweight people?) baggage. Your guitar
will be fine." "Not acceptable", I demurred. The supervisor was called and, after much
discussion, finally buckled. "Go to the gate. There they will give you a special receipt to
put the cello on board." "Grazie mille", I replied.

Ah, but I had not counted on the fact that a different company ran the security screening,
and they were not beholden to the individual airlines. "We cannot let the cello pass
without a seat ticket or a tag." It was classic
"Catch-22", finally solved when the original
supervisor was found and intervened.

More corridors and escalators. The cello, stuffed with underwear, was getting heavier by
the minute. At last I arrived at the check-in gate. Another beautiful young Italian lady at
the counter. I could sense this was going to be a long haul: Though she had gorgeous eye
makeup, her fingernails were far too long. This one never played a string instrument,
certainly not a cello. No simpatico there! As the waiting line behind me grew longer by
the minute, and between loudspeaker announcements of airline travel "specials," I
explained that I was promised a gate receipt for my cello so that I could leave it, and then
retrieve it at the end of the flight.

"We have no such receipt," she said. "Please stand and wait right here" she admonished
as she consulted with a series of bumbling supervisors. 45 minutes went by. It was near
boarding time of the huge fully-booked plane.

I was just about to start yelling, when she cooed, "I have a solution: it's in 2 parts. First,
we'll let you board with your cello. If the on-board supervisor has room for it in his closet
(fat chance!) you're all set. If not, he will tag it and take it below, and we'll bring it up to
you on arrival." Hallelujah!

And so it was that my cello was handed back to me safe-and-sound, with a geaming red
tag marked

Of course, all the New York customs agent could come up with was "what do you have in
there, a machine-gun?" But it was good to be back.


This blog created, written and maintained by Harry Wimmer (
Thanks to Shirley Givens
sgivens@juilliard.edu for her imaginative illustrations.
Design and content ©2006, 2007, 2012 by Harry Wimmer, Incidental Artwork ©2006, 2007, 2012 by Shirley Givens.
All materials on this blog are limited to personal, non-commercial use.

CelloBlogTM Trade Mark by Harry Wimmer


CHARLIE CHAPLIN - Left-handed Cellist and Composer
Confessions of a Would-be Page Turner
The Concert As A Meal
The N.Y.Times Misses Out Again! Quack!
Sir Michael Tippett in Carnegie Hall


BRAHMS: Sonata in E Flat Op.120 No.2 (Live)

MENDELSSOHN: Sonata No. 1 in B Flat (Live)

CHAPLIN-WIMMER: "Oh, That Cello! (Live)



The Virtuoso by Wilhelm Busch
The Cello Concerto (anon.)
Young Itzhak Perlman in Aspen
Leonard Rose in Colo.Springs
String Portraits by Shirley Givens
Bach's C Minor Suite Was Written This Morning.
Pablo Casals From Afar
Michael Tippett Arrives inShorts
Casals Lives On in Puerto Rico
The Golden Treasure of San Juan
Bach on the Bayou


Bio from the"Joy of Cello Playing" website