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    The ocarina is a very special music instrument. It is formally seen a flute, but the way the ocarina produces its sound differs than the popular, end blown flutes (like flute, recorder or whistle). In the ocarina, the entire closed air volume vibrates to generate the sound. The pitch is defined only by the area of the open holes, which means that the fingering could be freely defined, the position of the finger holes is free and the form of the instrument as well.
    The ocarina traces its roots tens of thousands years back, but the modern ocarina we know today, came first in 1853 from Budrio - Italy, where Giuseppe Donati invented and first produced the instrument. Then it quickly gained popularity and became integral part of the folk music of Tirol (Italy, Austria, Germany), but also some east European countries like Bulgaria and Romania. The instrument had some very important advantages:
  • Produced from clay, which is cheap and accessible;
  • Easy to learn how to play with instinctive fingering system;
  • Fully chromatic instrument, which can play not only the semitones, but intermediate frequencies;
  • Has mellow clear sound in contrary to most of the other folk flutes;
  • Is very loud, could be used in open spaces and be played with other loud instruments without amplification;
  • One of the most compact flutes compared to its pitch;
There are some weaknesses as well:
  • The range of a single-chamber ocarina is one octave and 5 tones (12 holes) or one octave and 3 tones (10 holes). Still, you will be surprised how many songs could be played within that range. Additionally there are two-, three- and more chambered ocarinas, which cover 2, 3 or even more octaves.
  • Keeping ocarina in tune with other instruments requires good breath control. Playing solo is not an issue, but some advanced breath technique is required when played in a group.

    The popularity of the ocarina remained high till the middle of the XX century, where some of its advantages were no more so important and the ocarinas quickly disappear from the music stores and the marketplaces. But still some people kept playing them, and only old novels were mentioning this almost forgotten mystical instrument, which when “played, the birds kept silence and listen to the magical music”. And it went like this till the ocarina gain dramatically popularity in Asia due to several reasons:
  • The very successful game series “Legend of Zelda” featured the ocarina as main game object, playing key role in the gameplay.
  • The traditional instruments from the same family – Xun (China) and Tsuchibue (Japan) were logically inherited by the more advanced ocarina;
  • The 12-hole ocarina was invented in Japan;
  • Some anime-movies (like “My neighbor Totoro”) featured ocarina as an object, but also as sound in their soundtracks;

    Today the ocarina is no more forgotten. It is around, being produced and played all around the World. Still mysterious and rare, but intriguing and unique.

A great overview of the ocarina history could be found at Jack Campin's web site.





(C) Yordan Tuzsuzov.