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An excellent very short video about the instrument's history and how it's made, presented by a leading contemporary maker: Italian ocarinas are shaped like an airship.There is a windway feeding air to a soundhole, formed like the corresponding parts of a whistle or recorder, which connects to an internal cavity punctured with holes for the fingers and thumbs - two thumbholes underneath and eight fingerholes on top.Arrigo Mignani ocarina, mid-20th century Their acoustics is unlike a tubular flute (whistle, recorder, or transverse flute); instead of a standing wave along the tube, the whole mass of air inside the cavity pulsates in and out.(In the Sachs-Hornbostel classification used in ethnomusicology, which classifies instruments by their physics of sound production, they are given index number 421.221.422).There is no way to get higher harmonics as there is with a whistle; an ocarina has limited range. Instruments in the same family are the samba whistle and the referee's whistle; an ocarina isn't quite as loud as that, but usually more powerful than a tubular flute of similar pitch.The original idea of the instrument was as an outdoor one, playing Italian tunes for dancing and other public festivities - the same kind of role as the accordion and bagpipe, which are much less portable, more expensive and have much more to go wrong.Austrian EWA ocarina in D This is a German one: Advert from Carlo Rimatei, Dresden A later and astonishing Italian ocarina missionary in Germany was Idelmo Fecchio from Grillara in the Po delta, who used his ocarina making skills to survive when a prisoner in Germany during World War II.While sheltering in a bomb crater from an Allied air attack, he realized that the clay in the crater could be used to make ocarinas, and sold them to his captors to buy food. From Austria they made their way to the US, and were sold all across the country, as in this section from the 1895 mail order catalogue from Montgomery Ward, advertising Austrian ocarinas: EWA ocarinas? Romania probably made more of them than any country outside Italy and the instrument is still played there at a professional level.
These are the Mezzettis I have (all tunable: soprano in G, alto in B flat, alto in G): Another one: Tunable Mezzetti ocarina in fitted case; from Jafafa Hots's photo page Even further upmarket was this de luxe instrument, perhaps by Ercole Roda in France, which had silver-inlaid fingerholes: Tunable ocarina in fitted case with silver-inlaid fingerholes; from a 2013 auction at Gardiner Houlgate in Bath, England Tunability was achieved by pulling a metal tube out, increasng the internal volume of the instrument.
Here are two of my ocarinas from that time, one in pottery made in Vienna and one in metal made in Paris, in top and bottom views: Mathieu metal and Fiehn pottery ocarinas from around 1910 Either, but particularly the metal one, gets me the attention of airport security x-ray staff all over Europe.
But only in Italy have I been asked to demonstrate by playing a tune on it.
It wasn't very useful - the range it could usefully cover was only about a quartertone, and tuning slides are rarely made now.
Ocarinas were brought to Bavaria by Italian migrant workers and became a standard folk instrument there, and were made in Austria on a large scale.
Stefan Popescu, Romania, 2005; image from uk Here is one that made its way to South Africa, apparently used by a policeman in Namibia in 1921: Ocarina used in Namibia in 1921 In America, the Italian ocarina band was adapted (at least in one instance) into a version of the old military flute band dating back to colonial times: Wherever they went, they became an instrument of the proletariat or the peasantry because they were cheap and mass produced, and they attracted the stigma that all such instruments get.