Forming A Commission To Set Standards for the Ocarina

Starting in 2021 I have had discussions between me and several other makers on the TON (The Ocarina Network) forums, three different ocarina groups on Facebook (TON, Ocarina Makers, and Global Ocarina Community) which have led me to want to form a commission to set standards for the ocarina. In the current state of affairs there is a great deal about the ocarina that is inconsistent. There are few standards that are maintained in the written sheet music, there is no standards naming convention that is held between makers and there is no well defined sense of how to classify and recommend different types of ocarinas. This goal of this commission is to create standards that many contributing members of the ocarina community agree to that can in hopes be more widely adopted and used to make it easier to understand, read sheet music for, and compose for the ocarina.

The goal of this paper is to start a discussion about setting standards for the ocarina. I will make an argument here that it is in the best interest of ocarina makers, composers, and players to come up with a set of standards for the instrument and to begin implementing them throughout the ocarina community. These improvements should help bridge the gap between instrumental composers, folk music, and other music scenes that play the ocarina. It should make writing music for the ocarina easier. It should also make picking out, buying, and knowing the properties of different ocarinas easier.

I will also present the idea that we should form an ocarina society, one that will assist by being able to publish and distribute reliable information about the ocarina. This society will be able to also advance ocarina education and campaign to rehabilitate the image of the ocarina, to one that is taken more seriously in the music world.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of issues with the ocarina I have identified.

Standardize Ocarina Naming Conventions

Currently there is little standardization for what the naming convention for an ocarina is. When a composition calls for a tenor ocarina what could they mean? What about a soprano or an alto? Composers, orchestra arrangers, and conductors prefer there be exacting details when writing a part and the fact that an alto or tenor ocarina can indicate several sizes, types of instruments, and ranges doesn't help. There are multiple places where this could go wrong, from the composer being confused on if the instrument they are calling for will be possible, the arranger not knowing what instrument the composer specifically wanted, and the conductor not knowing if the musician showed up with the correct instrument for the part. This has the potential to be quite the disaster overall, especially considering that in many contexts none of these people will be experts on the ocarina as an instrument and another woodwind player will likely be doubling to play the ocarina part. We cannot continue assuming that everyone who wants to compose for the ocarina is as obsessed with the instrument as we are and that they know every esoteric detail about it. Considering this, unless we do something to set very clear standards on how we name ocarinas, composers are likely to be too confused by all the inconsistent options we currently have and will end up choosing not to use an ocarina at all. We need to clean up and standardize how we name ocarinas. And we need to make it more clear what the capabilities of each type of ocarina are. This will be for the benefit of both players and composers. It would be greatly helpful to make these much tighter categorizations so that whenever any one kind of instrument is asked for it is understood to as close of a margin as possible, making clear distinctions will also help as well as working to get ocarina makers to adopt the new standards.

Set Recommendations for Instrument Choice

Much like the issue of finding clear and concise naming for different types of ocarina we should also start to make specific recommendations for the kinds that are used. As it stands composers do not know what range the ocarina is expected to have. They do not know how well an ocarina should be expected to work, how loud they typically play, if any specific maker is any good, and whether or not any specific ocarina is easy or difficult to find. This leaves us with a difficult question- Should certain types of ocarinas be recommended over others? Should certain makers be recommended over others? Or perhaps instead of recommending we can have a black list, the types of ocarinas you should not use unless you want to have a bad time.

It is safe to say that many composers are demanding, and the majority of instruments that someone can compose for have a larger pitch range it can play, a larger dynamic range, and that have much less restrictions than the ocarina. We should be making recommendations for composers to put the best form of the ocarina forward so that they can have the easiest time composing as possible.

Standardizing Written Sheet Music for the Ocarina

Currently there is not enough standardization for what ocarina sheet music should look like.

Where do we define the position of the tonic? C Below the staff or C in the staff? Should we consider the ocarina to be a transposing instrument? Should ocarina parts just have notes on the page and the player decides which ocarina to use? What are the drawbacks to it being read at pitch vs transposed? Should bass ocarina parts be written in bass clef?

These are all questions that a composer may ask when writing for the ocarina and I think these questions make it clear that we need to provide recommendations for what ocarina sheet music should look like. The vocabulary, pitch range, tuning, and style of ocarinas is quickly evolving. We have an instrument family that can play over 6 octaves with instruments ranging from the size of a marble to the size of a watermelon. We are also increasingly seeing instruments in more exotic keys than the familiar C, F, and G, with ocarinas in D, Eb, Ab, Bb and beyond becoming common. We need a sheet music standard that can encompass all of these instruments.

Setting Digital Standards

If you open Musescore, Sibelius, or any other digital composition software you may notice that the ocarina, if listed at all under woodwinds, is wonky. The sound profile is rarely accurate sounding to the instrument, they may list the alto as a soprano, and the software will think the instrument's range is far from what we see in reality. Once compositional, range and naming standards are set we should actively seek out corrections on notation software. This would be a huge improvement for the future of composing for the ocarina, because the software would do a huge amount of the work for composers and will allow the ocarina to be a far more intuitive instrument to compose for. If we are able to answer questions composers may have about the ocarina through the interfaces that they encounter it will make the instrument feel more intuitive and feel more resolved and valid to compose for.

Create and Release Good Digital Samples

We should make a sample library for the ocarina that does justice to the instrument. We can make various formats to use different VST technologies. This will allow the ocarina to sound correctly in composition software. If we do a good job at making one of these then we can promote composition software companies to use these sample libraries to better allow composers to work digitally with the ocarina in that software. Again, just like setting the standards for how the sheet music should work, having a good sounding ocarina in this software will do a lot to enable composers to work with the ocarina, and could do a lot of good will in making writing for the ocarina a pleasant experience.

Markings Used for Extended Technique

The ocarina is capable of an incredible diversity of extended techniques from seamless portamento, flutter-tonguing, to subvocalization, double and harmony ocarinas can play combination tones and we have even discovered ways to extend the range with techniques such as the Ogawa tones. None of these techniques have well defined ways of presenting them in the sheet music. There is a vast ocean of unique sounds and ornamentations we can take advantage of and there is currently little way to communicate it on paper. We should create a vocabulary of these techniques and recommend ways that they should be notated on the sheet music. This will help promote writing more than the most basic music for the ocarina, a kind of vocabulary that is well needed to diversify music written for the ocarina.

Set Standards for Ocarina Education

There is no one more equipped to present recommendations on how to play the ocarina than from ocarina players themselves. There have been several examples of ocarina players releasing books on how to play the ocarina, but all of these have been the recommendation of a single individual. There is great potential to forge much more comprehensive standards if we work together to create them. These standards can be far more universal and have a huge effect on the kinds of ocarinas that are promoted, bought, and played by beginners. These standards can be applied to individual study but there should also be standards set for educational environments. The ocarina has grown in popularity as an educational instrument, and is increasingly one used in educational settings. We have a choice to recommend against this and have no further effect on these educational systems that are already in motion or to make the decision to make recommendations on it. Why should we continue to allow the ocarina to be used in education with little to no input from a well developed ocarina community? There is a large divide between the way ocarina is used in education and the knowledge base of skilled performers and we have the ability to reconcile these differences.

This situation is very similar to the development of the recorder as an educational instrument. The recorder has had a benefit that we have lacked, in that recorder societies have set standards for how to learn the recorder and benchmarks for the progression of that education. These standards were written by the experts of the recorder community and adopted by the education systems that used the recorder. They have also long been the publishers of recorder books and were able to set up a canon of written works that young players can be juried on to show their musical progression. These are all elements that the ocarina community should also seek out.

Design Grade Level Coursework

We should create the educational framework for each grade level that a student might learn ocarina at. This way a clear and concise progression can be set out for learning the ocarina. Many of the lessons when learning a new instrument should be set as learning one set of things and then another, and with these standards we can specify the best route of learning general musical lessons as well as for the ocarina specifically.

Create a Canon of Juried Pieces

One of the main ways that students are evaluated is to perform specific works that are graded off of difficulty. Creating a canon of known works for the ocarina that have varying levels of difficulty will allow us to set clear standards of learning at each level and allow more ocarina music to be in the instrumental canon. Etudes and exercises for the ocarina that are in this canon can be some of the most played pieces for the instrument and generally become well known favorites of people who learn the instrument. For instance the Bach cello suites are part of the cello learning canon and represent some of what has become the most beloved music written for the instrument.

Forming an Ocarina Society

Many of the issues discussed above could be solved by forming an ocarina society. Additionally there are some great organizational benefits to this as well. An ocarina society would serve as a centralized place to keep ocarina information as well as a way to send out organized newsletters and updates on serious ocarina topics. We could easily act as a central website of knowledge and news, a newsletter about the ocarina, a hub for ocarina making information, and a journal for critical discussion about the ocarina.

Starting a Newsletter and Journal

Currently there is no location available to publish ocarina related research, book reviews, criticism, announcements of performances and compositions, discussions of praxis, masterclasses on performance, or any other kind of critical ocarina related works. Discussion of the ocarina can of course be posted on facebook, but there is no curatorship or standards to be held in these communities and posts become drowned out in an ocean of posts by less experienced members of the community. We have the opportunity to make a space where this kind of critical discussion can happen and where we can generate respectability for the instrument. The easiest way to do this is with a curated newsletter and journal.

Additionally forming a journal can allow us to publish ocarina compositions, this will allow the ocarina community itself to have control over the publication of our musical works and can aid in the promotion and distribution of new ocarina compositions.

Create a Library of Ocarina Compositions

Many other instrument communities have well defined libraries of compositions on the instrument. One such community is the recorder community with various recorder societies maintaining lists of original compositions for the instrument that can easily be found and searched by players of the instrument. This is to great advantage in the community because it allows for composers to be found by players and more works to be performed. If someone owns an obscure type of recorder, say a garklein recorder, they are easily able to find resources for original compositions and arrangements to play on the instrument. Such societies and libraries should also exist for the ocarina. Having a centralized source of information on ocarina will allow us to know the expanse of what has been done on the instrument, in far better terms than we have now.

Create a Library of Method Books and Playing Guides

To go along with the creation of education standards for the ocarina, we should also form a library of method books for the ocarina. There are already a great number of these available in the public domain and it would be useful to form a more comprehensive library. Arguably we could also decide on a standard text for ocarina education, one published by the ocarina society that has learning lessons that closely match the standards set by us. Having these works made as a community project will also allow for them to remain easy to access and free to those who need it.

Create a Library of Ocarina Making Techniques and Information

There is tons of information online for how to make an ocarina. Unfortunately some of that information is also dated, important details are kept secret, and some of it is outright false. If an ocarina society can act as a journal then we can also have a library that has comprehensive information to allow makers to know all there is to know about ocarina making with no secrets held from them. We can have various methods for making ocarinas discussed as well as disputed, with all of this public. In many ways this is similar to the now mostly defunct TON acted for the community in the past. With the resources of an ocarina society we will be able to dispel myths and present ocarina making with a scientifically backed methodology that will aid in a new generation of better ocarina makers. Create a Place to Keep Ocarina History We are seeing the moment that a US ocarina museum is about to be a reality and one where we are finally making sense of the past of the ocarina. Sadly this is also the same moment in time where historic parts of the community are becoming less accessible and where the majority of discussion on the instrument is being relegated to online spaces that are not owned within the community. We can take this opportunity to keep this history within the ocarina community and build a space where the important parts of our history are kept public and easily accessible. This will ensure that we can maintain a truthful history and continue it into the future.

Create a Campaign to Promote the Ocarina

We as a community should start to promote the ocarina as a serious instrument and work at removing the image that the ocarina is a musical instrument that only plays arrangements and video game music and instead promote it as an instrument that people hear original compositions on, and that can be played in a wide variety of musical settings.

We currently have a big problem with the ocarina considered to be a toy instrument. Almost all music played on the ocarina is an arrangement of existing music. We need to promote the ocarina as a serious instrument and as one that is capable of playing beautiful original compositions. The diversity of ocarinas is currently vastly underappreciated, the tonal color of the instrument is underused and the real capabilities of the instrument are only barely being touched upon. An ocarina society can generate motivation for a better future by incentivising members to make new creative works and to dispel myths that are persistent about the ocarina.


ocarina_commission.txt ยท Last modified: 2024/01/24 01:43 by mete
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