USA. Three little letters that fill any orchestra’s planning department monkeys with dread. For the players this means a nice little jaunt to see our American cousins, perhaps some cricket in Central Park (using period timp legs for stumps – it has been done!), or a chance for a cheeky holiday, but the process for getting them all there is a nightmare.
The first part of the process is getting the ‘petition’ and we do this about six months before the trip. We have to submit everyone’s details (passport details, date of birth, nationality, address, place of birth, inside leg measurement…) to the concert hall who submit them to the federal bureau for something-or-other who submit them to the department for making sure that no-one dodgy is let into the land of the free.
Once they have decided that they like the look of everyone and we get an approved petition back, we can then get the ball rolling. Each person has to have an appointment at the American embassy. To book the appointment you have to phone up Scotland (yes Scotland!) at the price of £1.20 per minute and give them all the aforementioned details, answer endless questions about the rehabilitation of offenders act, if I am authorised to use the company credit card to pay the £60 fee… 38 times. Thank goodness we are not a symphony orchestra and don’t have a choir going with us!
Then there are the forms to fill out. All those details need to be checked with the players, making sure we get the right passport details if they have two different ones, where are they staying, when are they arriving, how long are they going to be there for, when was the last time they went, how long for, when was the last visa issued, does their grandmother’s second cousin’s pet dog reside legally in the US, are they going to the US with the intention of engaging in terrorist activities, do they have a dangerous mental disorder…
For all the men under 45 there are even more forms (the minute you turn 46 you are no longer such a high risk of being a terrorist!). This includes asking which tribe they belong to and every country they have visited in the last ten years. For the average Joe Bloggs, this is probably not too difficult a question, but for a professional musician with a busy touring schedule, the list seems almost endless.
We eventually make it to the day of the appointment, no lie-ins here, you have to be at the embassy at 7.30am for an 8am appointment. You are not allowed to take anything into the embassy with you, no mobile phones, laptops, musical instruments, electronic car keys, mp3 players etc. (You never know what you might find if you take a metal detector to the gardens in Grosvenor Square – people have been know to bury things they have brought with them by accident!) They also take a full set of finger prints so if you have cuts or blisters you have to come back another day (but don’t worry, they tell us this in advance, when we are on the £1.20 a minute phone call to Scotland).
Once the interrogation inside the embassy is over, they then take your passports off you for a couple of day and eventually we get them couriered back to us at £14.20 a time. The best bit is when the passports start being delivered back to me at the office we can heave a sigh of relief as we know that everyone is set for the big trip (until someone pulls out at the last minute and we tear our hair out trying to get all this approved in two days!).
Did I mention this was all just for a 36 hour trip?
Megan Russell, Projects Officer