Origin 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.
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.
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