In your opinion, what makes an exceptional ocarina?
Should I give you the short version or the long version?
Go ahead and give me the long version.
Okay, then. Well, I'm glad you said "in my opinion" because I'm obviously very opinionated when it comes to making ocarinas and also because ten different musicians could conceivably have ten different opinions about what qualities go into making the best ocarina. To a certain extent, itís a matter of personal taste.
With that said, to me, an exceptional ocarina is one that, in a sense, promotes virtuoso playing. In other words, itís accessible to the average guy who wants to learn to play but it also has a tremendous musical potential so the guy won't outgrow it as his skills improve.
For example, we make ocarinas that can produce a good strong sound relative to many others, an ocarina with presence. A lot of really fine ocarinas don't grab me personally because they are so quiet that when you play outside, or in a large hall, or perform acoustically with other musicians you just get swallowed up, you become an non-entity. So Iím not attracted to those ocarinas that you can only play very quietly or gently. This fact can be confusing for a novice ocarina player because sometimes these quiet ocarinas sound great at first, but in the long term I find them very limiting musically. Many ocarinas actually require you to blow quite softly, especially on the lower notes, or you lose the tone or make an attractive noise. If you're forced to blow softly, it affects the energy with which you can play and also prevents the instrument from responding as well to Celtic ornamentation like cuts and rolls, which again, is a personal concern of mine. Music, like human emotion, can be tranquil or energetic or plaintive or joyousÖ I want an instrument that can express energy as well as tranquility.
| I've seen/heard Karl play live, and I've also listened to his recordings many times. I've visited him when selling his ocarinas at a few of the shows in our area, and have repeatedly seen the astonishment in people's face where they can't believe that such beautiful, vibrant music can come out of such a small instrument. His ocarinas really are exceptional. I've been quite unimpressed with the sound samples that are on the most popular ocarina sites. You need to listen to the sound samples at Karl's site. Go to Mountain Ocarinas and press the sound samples button. I think you'll be as amazed am I am.|
I also personally prefer instruments with a linear fingering pattern because I believe that theyíre not only easier for the novice to learn but they also promote virtuoso playing. For instance, I love our little key of G ocarina. To my knowledge, itís the only little key of G that has a linear fingering. You can play a quick run on it effortlessly. Other small G ocarinas are four holed ocarinas, with one or two thumbholes. They not only play fewer notes but they also require you to cross finger up the basic scale. As an instrument maker, four holed ocarinas are the easiest to make, and in my early ocarina experience, I loved one of my four holed ocarinas for a while, but as I got more advanced, the ocarina couldnít keep up with me. You can only cross finger so fast, whereas a linear scale is not only more intuitive but it also allows one to reach far beyond the limitations of a four holed fingering pattern. Our little G ocarina is great for Celtic music and, although you can play it softly too, it has enough volume so you can sit in with other musicians.
Now, lots of folks would disagree with me on this, but I prefer to make instruments out of materials that are relatively light and fairly unbreakable. Part of the magic of the ocarina is that you can carry it with you and play anytime. That is one of the reasons why I've never been partial to clay instruments. A heavy or fragile instrument just doesn't grab me. I want something light enough to wear around my neck or in a belt case, and I don't want to constantly worry about breaking it every time it gets dropped or knocks into something.
I also favor ocarinas that play straight on like a clarinet instead of sideways like the transverse flutes such as the flute or fife. That's why I've chosen not to make ours following the pattern of the sweet potato or Japanese 12 hole ocarinas, which are transverse flutes. There are some very fine instruments of that type, but personally I find that position uncomfortable for long playing. If you go to flute sites, they sometimes discuss ergonomic issues for the neck, shoulder, and wrist that arise in part from holding your right arm up in an awkward position. To me, a comfortable playing position is important. For instance, a few years ago, I use to sell my ocarinas at a huge regional fair called the Eastern States Exposition. For seventeen days straight, from morning to late at night, I would sit at my booth and play my ocarina. With our straight-on blowing ocarinas, I've never had a problem with a sore neck or shoulders or wrists. Imagine if Iíd been holding my instrument like a flute for those seventeen day marathons!
Then, of course, there's range. On an instrument like the ocarina, a little extra range goes a long way in terms of allowing you to play a wider body of music. On the other hand, Iíve considered adopting more complicated fingering patterns like the 12 hole pattern to get another step or step and a half out of the instrument, but eventually I rejected the idea on the grounds that the losses outweighed the gains, that it would deter virtuosity. On the other hand, our patent pending two octave ocarinas gain that extra range and more while maintaining our super simple linear fingering pattern. But that's for the future. Maybe we'll talk about that later.
To be fair, though, I have to say that the personal tastes of a particular musician will ultimately determine which is the best fingering for them. Here's a case in point. I've had hundreds of people, including music teachers, tell me how much they appreciate our simple linear fingering pattern. It's like a simplified version of the recorder fingering. At the same time, I've been sharply criticized by a fellow instrument maker for not making our ocarinas finger exactly like a recorder. The truth is, when finances allow, we probably will make an alternative version of our instruments that will finger exactly like a recorder. In the meantime, though, I view the ocarina as a serious instrument in its own right rather than as the recorder's weaker sibling, so I have to go with what I believe to be an optimal OCARINA fingering, all things considered. Besides, itís so close to the recorder that recorder players, or woodwind players in general, pick it up almost immediately.
(Hard Times In The Ocarina Business)