When driving into Rutland, England’s smallest county, you are greeted by the sign “Multum in Parvo”. The phrase means “a lot in a little” or “a great deal in a small space” and if you know Rutland, you’ll know that this is an apt description. The county may be the smallest, but it’s a little gem and not to be missed.
However, it’s very easy to overlook the smallest and apparently least significant, whether it be counties or musical instruments. This became apparent to me a few years ago on bumping into three 10 year old girls at a conference.
These three girls had just come off stage after playing in a primary school band. Their audience of music education leaders were pleased to witness this “example of musical excellence”. The conductor, a keen proponent of orchestral instruments in schools, had written articles on the unsuitability of non-orchestral instruments, and particularly Ocarinas, for primary children – a common misconception amongst highly-trained musicians.
I watched the girls playing their three or four notes in ensemble – the sum of the notes they had learned to play in their first year of lessons. They performed in a workmanlike way and were pleased to be on show in that place at that time. However, as they left the hall and spotted us playing Ocarinas, they stopped dead; and watched, in jaw-dropping amazement.
“How do you get so many notes out of something so small, so effortlessly?” Their expression said it all as we played two 4-hole Oc® in harmony, whizzing up and down the notes with skill and dexterity – the sort of skill and dexterity that any well-taught 10 year old can also achieve, rapidly, with an Oc®.
At that point, I realised that after a whole year of lessons on Clarinet, Saxophone and Flute, these girls would willingly have traded-in their hundreds-of-pounds-worth of shiny instruments for a simple Ocarina! They could see how much more would be possible with an Ocarina at their age and stage of life.
Multum in Parvo describes the Ocarina well – a lot in a little: a lot of music in a little easy-to-handle instrument, a lot of musical progression, a lot of notes, a lot of fun.
And this is the opposite of the girls’ experience – playing a very little with a lot: a few notes and a little progression with a lot of investment, a lot of practice and a lot of storing, carrying, putting together and tuning.
We personally value all work done with children on all instruments. Our own daughters benefitted from a rich mix of musical experience outside the home. However, on the purely educational grounds of what children learn, achieve, and demonstrate, Ocarinas perform amazingly well. And when one orchestral instrument costs more than a class set of Ocarinas, I know which I prefer as first ‘ensemble’ instrument.
So welcome to the world where “small is beautiful” and where a lot of music is played on a little Oc®.
And when you are next in the area, do visit Rutland – it’s between Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and our own Northamptonshire – the centre of the Universe!
And like the Oc®, Rutland is small but perfectly formed!