US immigration officer demands to see composer’s score

US immigration officer demands to see composer’s score


norman lebrecht

November 09, 2018

From the Czech composer Miroslav Srnka:

Some dreams come true, but you believe it first when you see it with your own eyes. tomorrow the first rehearsal with the musicians of LA Phil and Susanna Mälkki.

The conversation with the immigration officer:

– why do you come to LA?
– for a performance of my music.
– oh! how is your piece called?
– overheating
– why overheating?
– isn’t the world around us overheating?
– yeah. can I see the score?


  • John Smith says:

    … And?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Instead, it could have gone this way:

    – Why do you come to LA?
    – Pleasure.
    – Welcome.

    • SVM says:

      Lying to or misleading border control is a very bad idea; in many countries, it would be sufficient cause in itself for denied entry, irrespective of the legitimacy of the real reason for the visit. Assuming the business trip is being conducted in accordance with the conditions of the applicable visa (or visa-waiver scheme), it would be absurd to risk getting deported just to avoid the hassle of answering a few more questions than a tourist would have to answer.

      Another hypothetical conversation:

      -Why do you come to LA?
      -You are not conducting any business or undertaking paid work in LA?
      -No, none at all.
      -Only, according to the website of the LA Phil., they are performing a composition by a “Miroslav Srnka” this week. That you?
      -Oh, yes it is.
      -You going to the concert?
      -And will you be engaging with the orchestra before the concert, or giving a talk?
      -Um, well they invited me to attend a couple of rehearsals.
      -And you maintain that your trip is not a business trip?
      -Um, yes. It is nothing but pleasure to hear one’s work performed by a great orchestra in your great country.
      -You looking for a job in the US then?
      -No, I am not coming here to seek work.
      -So you are not getting paid anything by the LA Phil.? No transportation? No /per diem/ allowance? No hotel?
      -Um, not really. I mean, all I got was a commission fee to write the piece, but I did all that work in the Czech Republic. The piece is completely finished.
      -Yeah. Can I see the score?
      -Um, I checked it into the hold, actually.
      -And if I ask to see the contract for that commission, there will be no mention of you coming to the concert and rehearsals, right? Because if there is, that makes your visit a business trip.
      -I do not have the legal documents with me.
      -In that case, I am going to have to ask you to come with me. We will need to clarify the situation with the LA Phil. before we can make a decision.

      • MWnyc says:

        “it would be absurd to risk getting deported just to avoid the hassle of answering a few more questions than a tourist would have to answer.”

        That actually happened to the Hilliard Ensemble back in the 1980s.

        They were coming to do a one-off concert at a church in New York (St. Mary the Virgin), and since it wasn’t part of a tour, they hadn’t gotten a manager to obtain a professional visa for them. So the four of them told the US immigration official at the airport that they were coming as tourists.

        They got caught – and sent straight home.

        The poor music director of the church had to telephone every single ticketholder (of which I was one) the night before the concert to explain that it was canceled and why.

        • Scotty says:

          The consequences are worse than being sent home. Some artists who are caught trying to enter as tourists but actually intending to perform have received bans for future entry. I’ve read of bans lasting as long as 10 years.

  • James says:

    “yeah. can I see the score?”

    Sounds more like a friendly request than a demand. Clickbait.

  • Robert King says:

    There was a rather more pleasing result a few years back with a soprano colleague going through the same US immigration process.
    He: “What do you do?”
    She: “I’m a singer”
    He: “Yes, but why are you coming here?”
    She: “To sing”
    He: “That’s how you make your living?
    She: “Yes”
    A few more disbelieving exchanges until the officer suggested that she prove her credentials.

    By now somewhat irritated, the soprano drew a deep breath and issued, fortissimo, a substantial top C.

    The terminal went silent, save for the sound of the officer stamping her passport “admitted” and handing it back.

  • Ed says:

    how is your piece called?
    can I see the score?

  • John Borstlap says:

    We are reminded of Stravinsky’s border control experience in 1920 when his portrait as drawn by Picasso was seen as a ‘plan’:

  • Lance Hulme says:

    In all fairness, in the late ’90s I was quizzed at Schiphol on which instruments are found in an orchestra.

  • jaypee says:

    Why do people keep going to this god-forsaken, banana republic, soon-to-implode pathetic country?

  • Gus says:

    This is the chat I had a few months ago with a French security officer just before boarding a flight from CDG to Chicago:

    `What is your occupation?

    I’m a music teacher.

    Who is your favorite composer?

    Claudio Monterverdi.

    I’m fond of Monteverdi as well…
    Which opera of his is your favorite?


    Yes a fine work …I am partial to the other one…
    the one with that beautiful duet at the end…

    Have a safe flight…

  • Sharon says:

    I was told that the United States World Music Institute paid more than $10000 in legal fees for visas for the seven or so groups that made of their worldwide gypsy music tour, and this was a number of years ago. The costs associated with obtaining visas are ultimately added to the ticket price. Depending on how long a foreign orchestra or ensemble is going to say and how many performances it is going to do this may not be so trivial.

  • Weltschmerz says:

    “overheating” really? I’d imagine it’s an auditory assault. The politicisation of art is the mark of a leftist or a fascist.

  • jsot says:

    The Keller Quartet cellist once told me that long time ago, they made a tour in the US playing Die Kust der Fuge, when entering, the officer asked what will they play, and after their reply started to whistle the Contrapunctus I theme… Then, marvelled by the cultural knowledge of the custom officer, continued with their journey… Maybe everyone whistle this earworm in their workplace? 🙂