Since ancient times, music has been a central element in human culture.
Whether as part of a spiritual or tribal celebration, or simply a means
of communication, meditation, or for personal enjoyment, music remains
an important form of creative expression. Along with percussion, simple
wind instruments are one of the earliest types of musical instruments,
found in cultures the world over.
What is an ocarina?
The ocarina is a simple whistle-type wind instrument, dating back
thousands of years in many cultures around the world. The term
"ocarina" is believed to have originated in Italy where the ocarina
became popular as a folk instrument. Since it has no moving parts and
has very simple fingerings, it is an instrument well suited to
beginners. Practiced musicians, too, will enjoy the ocarina for its
portability and earthy sound. Small ocarinas produce a high, bright
sound; larger ones produce rich, quiet, mellow tones.
What does an ocarina sound like?
The range of notes produced depends upon the size of the instrument.
For a sound file showing what a smaller ocarina sounds like,
How did I get started making ocarinas?
Although I have been an artist for quite some time, it wasn't until 1995
that I began taking more of an interest in clay as a sculptural medium,
experimenting with the potential of adding clay to enhance the direction
of my body of work. One of the unexpected results of this was my
re-introduction to the clay flute, or ocarina, which had been a favorite
instrument of mine many years ago. Since I was already in the process
of creating small natural forms in clay, the mention of ocarinas by a
potter friend piqued my interest in the possibility of creating small
sculptural forms which were also musical instruments.
How do I make my ocarinas?
My ocarinas are all made entirely by hand by me; they are not cast in a
mold, and I do not employ any 'helpers'; all steps, from sculpting to
tuning and firing, are done by me in my home studio. I use several
different clay bodies for my ocarinas, including stoneware, porcelain,
and terra cotta clays. Each ocarina is first built as a hollow shape,
and then the mouthpiece and finger holes are put in while the clay is
still damp. The notes produced are determined by the size of the holes,
which must be exact to produce the correct pitch. After the ocarina is
tuned, it is allowed to dry and then it is fired in a kiln. Depending
upon the ocarina and the glazes used, it may undergo as many as four
firings before it is completed. I use a variety of traditional clay
finishing techniques when firing my ocarinas. Most are either smoke
fired or raku fired following the initial bisque firing. Although the
ocarinas must be created and tuned while the clay is leather-hard, they
do not always remain intact through the firing; those which do not work
properly after firing are destroyed.
What do the ocarinas look like?
Thus far, I have made ocarinas in a variety of animal forms, including
cetaceans such as orca whales or dolphins, mammals, and other animals
including birds, fish, and amphibians. Most of the ocarinas I create
are simple pendant-type ocarinas, which are more portable and easier to
learn to play. These range from plain smoke-fired to intricately
decorated with raku or slip trailed designs. The patterns of coloration
are affected by flames and smoke in the firing process. Through its
evolution from clay to a finished piece, the four ancient elements-
earth, air, fire, and water- are combined to make each one a truly
How does someone learn to play?
Each ocarina I make is accompanied by a fingering chart which is simple
enough for children to use, but provides the musician with the basics
from which to perform many traditional folk, classical, or baroque
melodies. I have produced two booklets of music transposed for the
ocarina, including children's songs, classical melodies, folk melodies,
and Christmas music.
Where can I get one?
Some of my ocarinas are available for purchase in my Etsy shop. Click here to see current listings. Others are available by contacting me directly.