About Ocarinas, vessel flutes, sweet potato pipes and ocarina history

About Ocarinas – where do they come from?

Round shaped flutes have been made for thousands of years from stone, wood, coconut and clay. Lavishly decorated, and with a beautiful sound, these vessel flutes were used in ancient cultures to charm the birds, please the gods, and lift people into a higher state of consciousness. Such flutes are now known as ocarinas.

The name ocarina, meaning ‘little goose’, was first given to a musical instrument by Italian teenager, Guiseppe Donati, when he invented a submarine-shaped clay flute in 1853. He showed it to his friends and, together, they perfected an instrument that has been carried to all corners of the world. Also known as a sweet potato flute, an ocarina even features in the popular Zelda Ocarina of Time computer game.

About Ocarinas - Sweet Potato - Ocarina WorkshopNowadays, the English Ocarina is just as popular as the Italian original. Since John Taylor made his first four-hole pendant ocarina in London, 1963, the intricacies of the English four-hole fingering system have inspired makers around the world. Simple to play, but with delightfully complex musical possibilities, the English Ocarina has also inspired musicians, teachers, parents and children. The 2014 report ‘Ocarinas in the Primary School’ explains how and why the English 4-hole Oc® has become established worldwide.

Each ocarina has its own story to tell, whether made from porcelain, metal, plastic or clay. David has written definitive ocarina entries for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001), The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (2014) and for Oxford Music Online and the Liggins’ Ocarina collection is showcased in The Ocarina: a Pictorial History.

What does a 2,000 year old Ocarina sound like? Find out here: