Story by Nicole Furlotte
The ocarina is a majestic and powerful work of art and instrument that is not only limited to affecting and inspiring people through the music and sound that it makes. It can bring excitement and anticipation to any budding musician’s life as they await the arrival of their very first pendant or sweet potato, and a feeling of confidence and accomplishment when their first masterpiece has been played. It can bring joy and happiness not only to those who play it, but also to those who hear the whimsical and yet beautiful sound that it makes, and the ocarina can make you as the musician feel as though you are a part of something – a community outside of your immediate surroundings – as you interact and speak with others who know of this amazing little instrument.
Even before it has arrived, the ocarina can bring profound excitement into any future – or existing – musician’s life as they anticipate the arrival of their very first one. As soon as the ocarina has arrived, a brilliant smile appears across the face of the one who has been waiting what seems like months to receive the magnificent work of art. Although the new musician may only be able to play a few, flat or imperfect notes, it sounds astonishing to their ears, the warmth that is felt in their heart obvious in the smile that they wear. This is only the beginning of the new world and journey that the musician has stumbled upon and now grasps carefully in their hand. All of the emotions that they may feel: excitement, happiness, joy, accomplishment, and anticipation are only faint shades; beginnings of what the little, round instrument will bring to them.
While I know most ocarina players to be very careful with their prized instruments – leaving them at home in someplace safe and only bringing them places when absolutely necessary – that certainly was not the case for me. After receiving my first ocarina, it was my constant companion, traveling alongside me wherever I went. At first, when I scarcely knew how to play a scale and could maybe manage only a few simple songs, I would play specifically when I was alone: perhaps adding my own composition – whether musically correct or not – to an empty forest landscape, or adding my own friendly tones to silence as I practiced by myself. Another thing that the ocarina can bring, especially to a beginning musician, is confidence. As ability in the little instrument grows, so does one’s confidence as they first are too shy to play to anybody, and then after much practice and patience can play as a part of a concert in front of many people. Soon, I found myself pulling out the small ocarina and playing for everyone who would listen, eventually even gaining myself the title of ‘pied piper’ at my middle school. I enjoyed playing the instrument in front of everyone possible, because then when they asked: “what is that?” or “Ocarina? Isn’t that from Zelda?” I could speak to someone whom I may have otherwise never spoken to. The journey that I began with my first ocarina in this way expanded my world and confidence: bringing me to be able to speak to other people and overcoming my fears of playing a wrong note.
While there are still many more ways that an ocarina is powerful and influential to the musician, another which is most prominent is that of the vast community that the ocarina opens you to. You may become friends with people from other parts of the world after joining various ocarina forums, or learn new songs and playing techniques through videos that other ocarina players have created. Through the ocarina – and the aid of the internet – you as the musician can feel as though you are now a part of something more. Ocarina players, makers, sellers, enthusiasts, those who have been playing for many a year and those who have only just begun to learn of the ocarina’s grace can speak freely with one another and learn together in this community when really they may be many miles in reality. After participating in an international ocarina contest, I now regularly speak to other ocarina players from around the world: commenting on videos of songs well played, or speaking with ocarina forum members of intense questions such as which type of ocarina is truly superior, or whether a clay or wooden ocarina is best. The ability to be able to belong to something beyond your surroundings is truly mystical. Especially the knowledge that you and someone who may live in another country, on another continent, or perhaps maybe even on the other side of the world has something in common with you – a love of the ocarina – seems magical.
While the ocarina can positively affect the life of the musician who has sought out to play the instrument; it can affect those who hear its sound as well. Many describe it as “haunting” or “graceful” but two encounters truly stand out to me of the effect that the ocarina can have on someone. The first of the two was during Christmas Eve of 2008, after playing in the Christmas service at my church. An elderly man came to me after the service and asked me if the instrument I was playing was an ocarina. He went on to tell me that his grandfather had given him a wooden sweet potato ocarina back in the 1940’s, and that my playing reminded him of his ocarina. The smile that my playing had brought to him made all of the practice and preparation for that performance worthwhile, for I felt as though I had a purpose more than simply playing a musical instrument that night. The second encounter was also at my church, but it was early this year, as I was a part of a musical production. While my part seemed miniscule and insignificant compared to the rest of the show, during the intermission, another man came up to me and asked if what I was playing was an ocarina. He told me that when he was young, all of his friends had ocarinas and they played in a quartet together. Once again the ocarina seemed to have a nostalgic effect on someone, its sound bringing the listener back to a previous time.
It is not surprising that in ancient times these instruments were thought to have mystical powers: all that they can bring into one’s life is truly enchanting. The small instrument creates excitement and anticipation, can strengthen confidence and broaden a musician’s world, while also making the world that we live in seem a little smaller in knowing that you have something in common with people across the world. In addition to affecting the player, it can make others who hear the sound feel happy, and remember earlier times and joyous memories. Although I do not bring my ocarinas with me wherever I go any longer, that first one that I received still holds many memories from a time when it used to be my constant companion. For me, the ocarina has become a passion and a very influential part of who I am, helping me to better myself while also reminding me of my past. For all of these reasons, and many more that are far too difficult to describe in words, the ocarina is a very powerful work of art and instrument, which holds immense magic no matter how small it may be.