Making Music

On Tuesday, my friend Sonya invited me to an Ocarina making workshop at the Gardiner Museum. The session was led by a group from Indonesia called the Jatiwangi art Factory (JaF). They make all kinds of instruments out of ceramics but for this workshop focussed on the ocarina, a flute-like device with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece.

We started out with a potato-shaped lump of clay. Next we sliced the bottom (about 5mm) off with a wire. Then we scooped out the top section like an avocado, leaving a 5mm wall. This hollowed out space serves as the resonator. Using a popsicle stick and the top part of the bottom slab, we made a little hole for the mouthpiece.

On the bottom part of the slab, we carved out a little ramp to let the air escape (you’ve seen this type of passage on whistles. The ocarina is an ancient wind instrument and the technology is elegantly simple. But making one isn’t easy. The walls of my first attempt were too thin, and I was impatient putting it together. I was able to coax one note out of it before it collapsed whilst trying to decorate. I had to start all over.

One thing one of the people leading the class impressed upon us was how important it was to have good energy when making instruments because each object is imbued with the spirit of its creator. We had a really good group of people, including three Francophone women who were a hoot, a mother and daughter duo, two musicians and if course my multi-talented friend Sonya.

I made mine imto a froggy (I saw a frog emerging from the clay but I didn’t want to over decorate in case the thing deflated again). Sonya’s ocarina is much more accomplished, both in tone and aesthetics. The most Sonia Rykiel-like of the Francophones declared that her floral design looked like Ukrainian folk art. She was kind of right.

We have to wait a few weeks until our ocarinas are fired. I will follow up with the finished result.