of the Ocarina
For the oldest whistle known to man, “put your lips together and
blow.” Excluding that, looking for the oldest whistle is liable
to get you into an argument. Remains of whistles from China and India
are at least 7000 years old. One of the oldest is an egg-shaped whistle
from the Xun culture of China. This egg-shaped whistle is made of clay
and has six note holes and an embouchure to blow in.
Independent development of clay whistles most definitely occurred in
South America. There, clay whistles may date to 12000 years before present.
These ancient clay whistles take a variety of shapes. Usually in the forms
of reptiles or animals, most are in the form of birds. Some South American
whistles are shaped like people. There are even examples of clay whistles
shaped like people playing the flute. Blow in the embouchure and the figure’s
flue sounds. Still others are perfect representations of gourds and plants.
There are even whistling vessels. The air rushing in and out when the
vessel is filled and emptied of liquid cases it to whistle. The Europeans
were introduced to the Mesoamerican clay whistles when they invaded and
destroyed the Aztec Empire.
The actual term, Ocarina, is less than 200 years old. The musician/inventor/kilnman
Giuseppe Donati coined the word and is said to have invented the ocarina
in Budrio, Italy. Some of his original ocarinas still exist. They were
made of clay and shaped like doves, or were elongated egg-shapes with
a lateral embouchure (imagine Buck Roger’s Ray Gun made of clay!).
It is possible that Giuseppe invented the Ocarina independently. Or, he
may have been inspired from earlier examples.
Ocarinas are aerophones. They come in a wide assortment of shapes and
sizes. In general they share a few features. The embouchure is molded
to the clay body. The body is bulbous. There are only a few playing holes,
usually four to eight. Decoration and shape of the ocarinas varies.
Our Ocarinas come in three sizes and have glazed bodies. They have six
playing holes, four in the front and two in the back. Each ocarina comes
with a leather-braided necklace.
(ONLD) Ocarina necklace, Bass in D is the largest with blue glaze
(ONMG) Ocarina necklace, Bass in G is the middle sized with blue glaze
(ONSD) Ocarina necklace, Tenor in G is the smallest with blue glaze
Playing the Ocarina
The pitch of the tones varies with the size and dimensions of the ocarina.
Smaller ocarinas have higher pitches, while larger ocarinas have lower
pitches. When played, the ocarina is held in both hands. The thumbs cover
the bottom holes and the Index and middle fingers of each hand cover the
top holes. To play the ocarina, hold it at a 45-degree downward slope
from your lips. Angling the ocarina up so that your upper lip impinges
on the labium window will create sharps, or flatten the tones. Covering
and uncovering the holes with your fingers and thumbs changes the tones.
The six holes can be combined to provide more than a full octave.