South American ocarina.

There’s a guy with a very excellent website on the Italian ocarina. He’s got tons of info, and he even covers some ocarinas from around the world. I think my only criticism of him is that he makes it sound like the Italian ocarina is the only “true” ocarina, and everything else is somehow inferior, for one reason or another.

For instance, he mentions a different fingering system, commonly called English, but then says you can get ocarinas from South America with a similar system, but the problem is, they’re in no scale known to Western music. Leaving aside the possibility that they might be tuned modally, let’s accept that they are indeed in bizarre scales, bizarre to us at any rate. Should we ignore them? This depends entirely on what we want to do with them. Clearly, if we want to play Western music, then we want an instrument tuned to play Western music. But the implication here is that these instruments aren’t really serious or usable.

Now I confess, I have a lot of shortcomings as an ocarina player. They generally use a lot more tonguing than I use when playing other woodwinds, and he is correct when he says that many times the fingering system is different from all other woodwind instruments. But so what? Every classical woodwind is different from simple system flutes like the tin whistle, does that mean we shouldn’t learn clarinet? Of course not. What it does mean though is that he has a point, if you’re used to other fingering systems, the ocarinas with dissimilar fingering systems are going to take a bit to get used to. I don’t play regularly enough to have the fingering system down yet. I probably push too much air through the instrument.

That having been said, here’s an improvisation I came up with about ten minutes of messing around with an ocarina from South America, probably Peruvian. I play the scale so you can indeed hear it is not a typical Western scale. What I’ve got is a chorus or refrain, you can hear I haven’t got the verse parts down yet, or their instrumental equivalent. But I’m hoping you can hear, especially in the refrain, how this could work as a dance tune. I also hope you can hear, problematic as it may be, that I did indeed get a tune out of this strange scale. So I hope I’ve dispelled the terror of non-Western scales.

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