Why is the US Air Force buying a $75,000 Gagliano cello?

Why is the US Air Force buying a $75,000 Gagliano cello?


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2016

According to Time magazine:

‘The Defense Department posted a solicitation for a cello on Tuesday, saying it would be conducting an “online competitive reverse auction” to ensure taxpayers get the best price. …

‘An uunnamed Air Force official … specifies that it must be a cello “crafted by Joannes Gagliano 1787” … Captain Derek White, an Air Force spokesman, said procurement rules cap this particular purchase at $150,000. The final price, he added Thursday, will likely be around $75,000.’

Can anyone make sense of this?

air force cello


  • Scott Fields says:

    The US government is required to adhere to an open bidding procedure for items above a certain threshold. I imagine that a musician in one of the military orchestras needed a cello, tried a bunch, and found one he liked. Now the government has to specify exactly what it is to be bought and allow other bidders for the sale to have a chance to offer exactly the same thing (which won’t happen) at a lower price.

  • Roger Custer says:

    I can’t make sense of much that the federal government does these days.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Over to you, Congresswoman (and McCain protegee) Martha McSally. . .

  • Scott Fields says:

    Perhaps I misunderstood the question. It was really, why does a military musician need an expensive instrument, I guess. In that case, I speculate that sounding good is the reason and, in my opinion, that is money better spent than on, say, $20,000 toilet seats or another redundant battleship.

    • Patrick says:

      These are tremendously gifted musicians performing an important duty. They deserve the proper tools for their job.

    • Sam says:

      I’m happier to see the money go to cellos than to missile systems or whatever, but the statistic that jumped out at me was that the annual budget for military music is THREE TIMES that of the National Endowment for the Arts. That is ridiculous.

  • Peter says:

    The curiosity is the use of an open bidding arrangement for an item specified so narrowly that there are unlikely to be any alternative bids. Other Gagliano cellos there will be, some may actually be for sale, but other Gaglianos from 1787 also for sale at the moment would be quite surprising.

    Curious also that they say a price up to 150k is allowed, but they expect 75k, presumably because that price has been agreed already. But what would they do if the seller decides to insist on 149k ? The goods meets the exact specification, and is within the price range.

    Really just an example of how a commercial process (for buying commodity items where competitve prices for interchangeable items can be established) can be required in an inappropriate setting, and how the the administrators are willing to distort the process rather than point out that it is the wrong one.

    Sniping aside, I hope the player enjoys the Gagliano, and that audiences notice a difference.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    Actually, it looks like the requisition is from the US Navy – which, of course, explains everything…

    Can’t let this pass without noting that the US Department of Defense spends $437 million on 130 military bands around the world (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/us/military-bands-budget.html) – which is three times the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts ($148 million).