The ocarina is a very ancient sort of flute made for thousands of years especially in China and South America. It was the Aztecs who introduced the ocarina to Europe and an Italian who changed the concept of them from a toy to a musical instrument.
Ocarinas come in all shapes and sizes and are just a hollow sealed vessel with mouthpiece and finger holes. They are traditionally made of clay but they can be made of almost anything, including carrots and apples.
I was sent on a mission this week to learn how to make ocarinas. Pascale had a mad idea that a group of us should learn to make them and form a band. There are more artistically adept people in the village, in fact everybody is more talented than I, but I was the only one willing and available…..
The course was held in the Orangerie in the Parc Abbatial, a lovely setting next to the Mairie in Cluny. The teacher was Marie-Jo who, despite the wide ranging skills of the group, managed to ensure that everyone was successful in producing at least one working ocarina and left with some skill in modelling clay.
We were shown two ways to make ocarinas. The first is to roll out a circle of clay and drape it round a tennis ball to get the hollow shape. Remove the tennis ball and press the edges of the clay together. It’s rather like making a Cornish pasty.
The second way is to push your thumb into a round ball of clay and gradually fashion a hollow ball which can be brought together and sealed at the top.
The tricky bit is making the holes. The sound hole is made with a hollow pen top. Then a metal nail file is pressed on the side of the hole and slid upwards to make a slit above the sound hole.
Marie-Jo said not all ocarinas work. Three out of four of mine didn’t and I don’t really know why. The mouth slit is too big? Not in the right place? The clay too thick?
If you blow into the mouthpiece there should be a single note, the depth of which depends on the size of the ocarina. You can then put in some finger holes, two, four or eight, to give a wider range of notes.
I’ve left my single working ocarina to be fired. Hopefully when I get it back I will be able to replicate it. So you never know, there might be the Cortambert ocarina band one day.