Ever since January’s regime change, musicians are finding it harder than ever to plan a US tour. Not only are visas and work permits taking longer to obtain, more and more complications are piling up.
Symphony orchestra with major sponsors usually have enough staff to get them through the process. But what about chamber orchestras and sting quartets? We asked Susanna von Canon of the Instant Composers’ Pool to describe her current efforts to get her group back to the USA.
WE WILL BUILD A WALL
by Susanna von Canon
Suppose you are an accomplished musician from a small European country, and your dream is to bring your band to the large audience of the United States of America.
You have your instruments, your CD’s, you have stacks of reviews (translated into English) you have concerts organised, thanks to years of direct pitching and ‘spraying and praying’ online. You even have the money for the plane tickets.
NOW THE REALLY HARD WORK STARTS.
In the jazz / improv / ‘world music’ scene (as distinct from classical) concert offers and tours are booked at relatively short notice, not two or three years ahead, so even if you can deal with a run-up time of four to six months without the expedited possibility (another $ 1,000) and have the US sponsor and the wherewithal and personnel to deal with the intricacies of the process, you might just get the ten days or two weeks of that one specific tour. An O1 visa for 3 years is rare these days because you have to provide the USCIS with contracts three years down the line.
Fees in the US jazz/improv world in the clubs and smaller venues are very, very, very low. And those places don’t have the staff to deal with the USCIS, so international artists must use specialized immigration lawyers (and they cost around $2,000 for a quartet.) Let’s also be aware that the people at the USCIS are spread thin and overworked, so the process is taking longer and longer.
Even if you do get your visa – after an appointment at the Consulate and an interview with a consular officer and another fee of $190 per person (the amount keeps going up) you may be turned back at the border, at the whim of whoever is looking you over at the point of entry.
In theory, the process is meant to protect US musicians from an influx of international competition, so the screening (by the musicians union) would weed out rank amateurs and performers who were no better in their field than a US performer…something hard to be objective about.
But I wonder whether there aren’t other reasons. The visa fees are high, the time needed to get a visa is long, the bureaucracy is complicated, and the border and customs people at airports are now in a heightened state of alert (old joke – is that a neutron bomb or a new trombone ?) – perhaps keeping artists out is keeping America ‘safe’ ?
The upshot is that many wonderful artists from abroad are cut off from US audiences for live performances – or rather US audiences are denied live performances from international performers – and thus ideas and inspiration – from beyond the border.
Suppose you are an accomplished jazz musician from the USA, and your dream is to bring your music to the large audience in Europe.
Just hop on a plane and off you go! Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.
That said, I am getting ready to send the ICP Orchestra from Amsterdam back to the USA in May 2018 – our 7th tour. We just have too much fun and too many fans to call it a day. I feel like a pole vaulter, the beam keeps getting set higher and higher, and we’re getting on in years here at the Instant Composers Pool.