Songbird Ocarinas began when I made my first batch of ocarinas on misty Moonstone Beach in Northern California in 1989. My teacher was a very talented artist named Rena, who made ocarinas in the shape of turtles and dolphins. I traded her a kalimba (thumb piano) that I had made, in return for teaching the basics of ocarina construction. I made a couple, and then fired them on the beach in a driftwood fire, and then cooled them in the ocean. I can still taste that salty, smoky pit fired ocarina, and hear that bright little sound. I was hooked!
I decided to drop my pursuit of a career in videography, and upset the apple-cart by leaving school and car camping for several years, making playing and selling ocarinas and kalimbas. I camped on a beach in Hawai'i, did work exchange at a healing arts school in California, shared studio space with artists in Bisbee Arizona, and lived on the Land in the mountains of the Lost Coast in California. When my parents invited me to join them for a bicycle tour of South France, I jumped at the opportunity. They returned to the States after 10 days, but I headed East.
From France, I tramped to Italy, and then to Greece, where I ended up on a island called Santorini, an ancient volcano island with dramatic red sand beaches. I met a master ceramacist there who could make incredibly tall vases with thin necks. I arrived at his studio, and played a tune on my ocarina. By the time I had dropped my backpack, he had thrown a hollow shape on his wheel, handed it to me to carve, and we were off to the races.
I lived there in his studio with him and his girlfriend for about a month, even though the only English word he knew was "OK", which turned out great. I would go to the touristic town in the evening and put my ocarinas out and play little Greek tunes I had learned on the radio. I remember the first time someone told me, "Hey, you're really good at that!" I was like, "really?"
I remember the girlfriend kept birds, in beautiful cages. One day someone brought her a songbird they had caught (found?). She kept it in the cage for a couple of days, but felt bad for it, being a wild bird and all, so she opened the cage and let it go. It flew out of the cage, down to a chair in the room. There was a cat sitting right next to the chair, and naturally it pounced! Feathers flying, girlfriend screaming, big commotion, as she grabs the bird and puts it back in the cage. I immediately thought, "how quickly we forget how to be free. Don't allow yourself to be put in a temporary cage."
From Greece I sailed to Israel, where I made ocarinas in a very old studio by the oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth (Jaffa). I got juried into an art show that happened in a farmers market twice a week, and sold ocarinas and honed my craft there for several months. I used to love to find different archetectural wonders to play ocarinas at, and enjoy their differing acoustics and ambiance.
From Israel I moved to India, and learned how villages in India work with ceramics, and their giant stone wheels for turning cups and pots. I also learned about pit fires, and using alternative fuels, like water buffalo dung. I studied Indian flute, and translated the songs onto the ocarina. Once I had learned what the local prices were, and learned some basic language skills, I found I was able to sell ocarinas to the spiritual tourists who would visit the Indian gurus for 100rupees, which is cheap if you are from the West, but plenty if you are living in India, and like that I was able to spend a year in India, absorbing the amazing culture, wisdom, and art of one of the most incredible civilizaitions on Earth.
From India I went to Turkey to study Turkish Sufi music, where they use very long reed flutes to evoke deep emotional states, along with spinning and prayer. I remember making ocarinas there, and firing my entire batch of 30 ocarinas inside 1 pot, that was amongst 200 pots inside a giant oven that you could have driven a small car into. It was really horrific however when I discovered the fuel for firing this giant oven: used tires. The smoke was so black, you have never seen such black smoke.
After Turkey, I returned to America. I purhased a van, which was quite a luxury after backpacking for so many years. I traveled to Colorado, and spent a season there studying meditation with a teacher I had met in India, and making ocarinas at my mountain campsite. From there I met a man named Diego, who ran a circus, and the next thing I knew I was singing, dancing, and selling ocarinas with a traveling circus called the Rainbow Gypsies.
After some time with the circus, I returned to my birthplace of Atlanta for the Summer Olympics, and sold ocarinas to people from every country under the sun. It was fun to guess their nationality and try to place a song from the native lands. It was immediately obvious when I hit the mark. I made enough from that adventure to upgrade from a van to a small motor home, and I traveled in that with the Rainbow Gypsy circus for several years.
Eventually I got tired of travelling and performing, and decided to settle down in Santa Barbara, California, because it had beautiful mountains, beaches, a university to study ethnic music, and an arts and crafts market on the beach each Sunday.
When the Legend Of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time was released, the demand for ocarinas expanded exponentially, and I hired my friends to help keep up with the demand. In 2007, I and the ocarinas moved to Los Angeles.
Songbird Ocarinas is continually striving to make more beautifully sounding and enjoyably playable ocarinas.