Budrio Ocarina Festival 2019

Side Note

Most of the pictures used in this post where sourced from the following people on Facebook: Felix Lampe, David Eric Ramos, and Tatiana Starkova. Most were posted in the 'The Ocarina Network' group. I have adjusted the white balance and levels on many of these pictures.

Robert Hickman and friends at Budrio ocarina festival

I think the best way of describing the 2019 ocarina festival is 'interesting', as it was quite different from usual. The market was dominated by European makers for the first time I've seen, there were many interesting ocarinas on show, and the main theatre which usually hosts the concerts was closed.

But despite these factors the festival was a blast. My friend Gabrielle put it well: "So, even this year the Budrio Ocarina Festival has shown me what a powerful connection between people can be created by this simple instrument. It's amazing how this small town becomes a world on its own for a few days, where nations, age or languages don't matter (maybe the language a bit, but we're working on it), as music and friendship are what really matters".

Note that this post is long and covers many different topics. Feel free to scroll over it to see the headings.

The market and ocarina innovations

Budrio ocarina festival always includes displays from numerous ocarina makers. As noted in the introduction, it was striking that there where almost no Asian makers, who usually have a substantial presence. I think that there was only one, and even then they weren't there for most of the festival. Consequently, the festival was dominated by European makers, with one American maker.

Myself (Pure Ocarinas)

The main thing that I had to show at the festival was my new book Serious Ocarina Player, a compilation of the tutorials section of this website. I had produced a limited number to gauge interest, and sold them all within a few hours on the first day. I expect this is going to be quite popular once it sees general release.

Part of Pure Ocarinas display at Budrio ocarina festival

I didn't have that much new to show with regards to ocarinas, as writing and preparing the book was taking all of my time for the past two years. So, I had my usual product line available: bass D, single/double alto G, single/double alto D, and Soprano G.

Also on display was a prototype double alto C. It isn't far off being production ready, but the chamber balance isn't quite where I want it to be. The high end of the first chamber is a little more airy than I'd like. Even if it had been ready, I didn't have enough time to make any for the festival.

Pure Ocarinas on display at Budrio ocarina Festival

Here are a few people playing my ocarinas, though do keep in mind that they were unrehearsed performances.

Zhang Zongpei Fabio Galliani triple

Zhang Zongpei collaborated with Fabio Galliani of the Gruppo Ocarinistico Budriese (GOB), producing a small number of triple ocarinas with numerous innovations. These were allocated to well known players and one went to David Ramos, who let me try it out.

A triple ocarina made to a design by ocarina player Fabio Galiani

The ocarina is unusual in several regards, it doesn't use either of the Asian (Vicinelli) or Pacchioni system, but borrows ideas from both of them:

It has a good tone through the whole range and the chambers are quite balanced in timbre. The ocarina has relatively high breath requirement, higher than my ocarinas, but lower than Ross' old 12 hole design. This ocarina is very loud, and is best suited for playing in a large performance space. However, it has a lot of good ideas which could easily be adapted to ocarinas with a lower breath requirement. I intend to experiment with this tuning system as and when I have time to.

Innovations by Kurt Posch

Kurt Posch makes 10 and 11 hole ocarinas in a range of different keys and is often experimenting with new ideas. I think the most obvious change this year is his construction method. Kurt used to use a traditional method whereby clay is wrapped around an internal form, the end being covered with a cap. Kurt is transitioning towards the most common method used today, where the chamber made in two halves and joined.

He had put this to good use with an innovative multichamber ocarina designed to extend the range downwards, instead of upwards as usual. Kurt had previously demonstrated this idea at the ocarina festival in 2013. The design takes a standard 10 hole ocarina and adds a larger chamber that provides the lower notes. It's an intriguing concept as the lower notes can be attained without the compromises involved with subholes, or completely changing the fingering, as happens when playing a multichamber in a different key.

With this design, only the fingerings of the added low chamber are different. It would take some time to get used to this design, however I don't think this would be especially difficult to do. Unfortunately, I neglected to get a picture of the ocarina, but a video of a scale being played is available below. A diagram showing the hole layout is also provided. Chamber 2 fingers identically to a standard double. When all holes of chamber 1 are open, the same note sounds as the lowest of the second, and closing holes from left to right goes down the scale.

A design for a double ocarina created by Kurt Posch that extends the range down instead of up. Chamber 2 is inside chamber 1, and fingers mostly like normal. The second chamber plays lower notes

Another idea that he introduced is rather subtle, and I only noticed as he pointed it out. Was to add a small circular cut out next to the right thumb hole. This can be uncovered or covered by rotating the finger, providing a controllable way of partially venting the hole. Covering or uncovering this hole changes the pitch, and it is quite easy to vary ones blowing pressure to compensate, allowing the player to vary their volume. This can be achieved without this feature, although it is much more difficult to do reliably. The initial slight venting of a hole creates a very large change in pitch.

A design by Kurt Posch which modifies the right thumb hole with a small notch. The notch allows the player to partly vent the hole, which can be used to vary the instruments volume a little

Kurt also has a fingering system for single chambered ocarinas whereby the left pinky hole is omitted, and replaced with a subhole that is normally open. The design arose from melodic patterns that occur commonly in the music he plays. It has advantages over a standard subhole, as it is easy to play the note very quickly and even trill it. He has also been experimenting with different voicings, including one which is a cross between a rectangular and teardrop shape. It creates a slightly more textured sound, and reduces the volume of the high notes a bit.

Ross and Aerica (Oberon Ocarinas)

Ocarinas made by Ross Dubois

Ross has made a lot of changes to his work since the festival in 2017. He has revised his 12 hole greatly, and has both reduced the size of the voicing and chamber volume. It has a similar timbre to the previous model with a substantially lower pressure requirement. I think the ocarina is also quieter on average, although it is hard to judge in the noisy environment of the festival, and without doing a side by side comparison with the prior revision.

Voicing experiments seem to have been a common theme this time as Ross was also doing them. He had a range of 10 and 11 hole ocarinas with a very large range of voicing designs, including a 'recorder-like' design similar to myself and Giorgio Pacchioni, rectangular voicings, and more common round, teardrop and oval shapes. They were in c, g and f and had a very diverse tones and playing characteristics from very low, almost constant pressure, to raising over the range. Very pure to notably breathy.

Ross offers a large range of finishes. The one he has been doing for longest is a simple saggar firing, a technique where the ocarina is decorated using various oxides and salts, then fired in a reducing environment (without oxygen). It results in a finish with essentially random colour variations. The glazed finishes are done by his girlfriend Aerica, who also sculpts some of the ocarinas. I assume that she also plays the instrument, as the visual designs have negligible impact to playability.

Pendant ocarinas made by Ross Dubois

Ross also offers a large range of pendants which are finished by Aerica, and may also be made by her. They are colourful, available in many designs, and well tuned given the limitations of this fingering system. They have a textured timbre and are pretty quiet.

Jade Everett

A display of ocarinas at Budrio ocarina festival, by Jade Everett

Jade was back at the festival and had some interesting things to show. Since I last saw her work, she has developed a double alto C with the crisp sound characteristic of her ocarinas, balanced well between the chambers. Jade also had a number of alto and soprano C ocarinas on display. She has developed a new range of finishes she calls 'bubble', in addition to the line-scribed dragons and single-colour finishes. The pressure requirement is pretty close to Ross' revised 12 hole with a breath curve somewhere between this and mine.

I must say that I like Jades soprano C greatly. It's timbre is balanced over the range and, while relatively loud, it's volume is far more even over its range than typical of soprano c ocarinas, which often have a very quiet low end, with the high notes vastly louder. I listened to David Ramos play many pieces on this instrument over a backing track, and, due to the balanced volume, the low notes were always clearly audible. With less balanced soprano ocarinas they easily get lost in the mix.

Ocarina made by Jade Everett

Some people believe that ocarinas which are louder on the high end are more expressive, but I don't think such a statement can be made generally. Volume affects emphasis and weather it is desirable to emphasise the high end depends on the music. If you need a loud low note, you just do. Emphasis can easily be created on a balanced instrument by changing the duration of the notes, shorter notes with larger gaps giving a feeling of lower volume.

I would also have liked very much to have been able to hear the ocarinas of the other sellers, played by a skilled player in a relatively quiet environment. A downside of the market is that there is so much background noise it is impossible to evaluate the finer points of an instrument's timbre. Ocarinas can also sound quite different to a listener than they do to a player.

Oliver had his usual range of ocarinas including transverse singles in a wide range of keys, and Pacchioni tuned doubles and triples. He also had his double chamber harmony ocarinas, and birds, all of the prior in the usual colourful finishes.

Gosselink ocarinas on display at Budrio ocarina festival

Oliver also seems to be experimenting with voicing designs. Unfortunately, I only became aware of this at the end of the last day, thus wasn't able to talk to him about it. He usually uses a rectangular voicing and his ocarinas have a richly textured sound. He seems to be experimenting with round voicing as well, pointed out by someone who bought one with this design. As I could not do a side by side comparison I'm unable to comment on what difference this makes.

Together, I think that Oliver, Aerica, Jade, (previous headings), and Patrizia (next section) do a great job of offering visually attractive designs, which are also great instruments.

Gosselink ocarinas on display at Budrio ocarina festival

Other makers and other things

The market featured the usual complement of Italian makers including Menaglio, Fecchio, Maurizio Moretti, Giorgio Pacchioni, Claudio Colombo and many makers of pendants and sculptural whistles, birds and water whistle bird calls.

Ocarinas on display at Budrio ocarina festival
A display of ocarinas at Budrio ocarina festival
A display of ocarinas at Budrio ocarina festival

Colombo ocarinas decorated by Patrizia Piodella.

A display of ocarinas at Budrio ocarina festival

As usual, other instruments were also featured such as ceramic flutes, ceramic and metal tongue drums and someone selling instruments made from recycled materials. One of the sellers was even playing a rubber glove bagpipe at one point.

Instruments made out of scrap materials on display at budrio ocarina festival
Some ceramic whistles on display at Budrio ocarina festival

New at the festival was someone selling ceramic and metal tongue drums. While I have seen these in metal and wood, I'd never considered making such an instrument from ceramic. They work remarkably well and have a good sound, although I do wander how durable they would be.

A metal instrument on display at budrio ocarina festival
A woman standing next to a ceramic drum at budrio ocarina festival


Due to the need to watch my table in the market I was unable to see most of the concerts, but I did see a some of the evening ones. They felt kind of strange as the main theatre which usually hosts the concerts was closed for renovations. It also felt to me like there were fewer performers at the festival, the only ones I can think of who travelled in where the ocarina seven form Japan, and an group of (I think) Taiwanese children, who did an ocarina performance crossed with a stageplay in the square during the market.

I only saw a small part of this as I had to watch my table, but what I did see was impressive both technically, musically, and in terms of acting (although I didn't film that). Playing a large number of ocarinas in unison like this, with flawless intonation that they achieve is technically very difficult to do. That they were doing so while dancing was even more impressive. I moved my table on following days to be able to see the performances going on in the square.

As I've been to the festival 4 times before, the performances which most caught my attention where those doing something a bit different. I especially enjoyed Nancy Rumble's performance on several instruments including a wooden harmony double and oboe. Accompanied with guitar. This double makes use of two 4 hole systems, and the quality of the performance was very surprising to me, as the 4 hole system does have tuning limitations. I'm not sure if she is compensating for these by avoiding certain intervals. I did talk to her afterwards, and she did mention sometimes partially venting holes. This performance did rather change my opinion of the 4 hole system, showing that it can be played quite competently by a good player.

Another performance that I liked a lot was a group playing some traditional dance music from the local area (bologna), with I think two ocarina players, a mandolin and guitar. Many of these tunes I'd heard played before by ocarina ensembles at the festival, but this group added their own twists. Having the range of different instruments to add depth to the sound, generally upbeat style, and the animated, sometimes comic, performance of the lead player made them very amusing to watch.

The GOB orchestra a wide range of things with an orchestra. Culminating with an arrangement and variations of twinkle twinkle little star with audience participation. I think that getting people involved in performances in this way is great as it shows people that they don't have to be a fantastic player to perform. I'd only say that they should have made it more obvious that sheet music was available.

If audience participation performances become a regular thing at the festival I can see it being a highlight of the event.

A group performance at Budrio ocarina festival

Future of the ocarina forum

An ongoing problem is to raise awareness of the ocarina as a serious instrument within the general public, and the festival included an open forum to discover what people think holds it back. A mixture of players and makers where in attendance.

The 'future of the ocarina' forum discussion

Fabio Galliani and Gabriele Monachesi lead the discussion, beginning with mentioning places where the instrument is well known. For example he said that in Japan, the ocarina is mostly played by older people. In china and Korea it is widely used in schools, and suggested doing the same thing. At this point, I contributed the point that I made in my post "Avoiding a recorder disaster in the ocarina community". Basically stating that if most peoples exposure to an instrument is children playing badly, people will not take it seriously. Fabio responded by saying that exposure to skilled performances is very important, a point I have also made.

I was also going to add that, while ocarinas look simple, there are a lot of hidden complexities. Varying blowing pressure changes pitch instead of volume, thus the most intuitive way of creating emphasis is bad technique. The fingerings of accidentals depend on chamber acoustics, and thus vary between ocarinas, especially ones in different octaves. Playing an instrument musically also requires a great deal more than knowing a fingering system.

Robert Hickman in the 'future of the ocarina' forum discussion

If the ocarina is going to be used for teaching music to children, I think that it is absolutely critical that good methods are developed for teaching these issues. Immediately before the forum, I watched a performance in the square with different groups of children. The performance was full of technical mistakes: almost none of them where tonguing notes, and many where letting cheeks puff out. It's frustrating for me to watch, as these things are easy to correct and would have hugely improved the quality of the performance.

Another point raised relates to an experience that my friend Gabriele had with a group of young players in Budrio. They would play the music that they where told to, and were very skilled. However, when asked if they played anything for themselves, they all said no. They didn't know that they could play other music, and one was shocked when Gabriele started playing a movie theme. You can play that! Was their reaction. It's important to encourage learners to learn music that they personally like.

Nancy Rumbel in the 'future of the ocarina' forum discussion

I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but something discussed around this time was the pros/cons of tabs. Ocarina tabs have a lot of problems which I have discussed here, and I think Fabio said that he thinks they are always a bad idea. Another point raised was including tabs in sheet music which I said could be a trap, as it's too easy to fall back. Someone said that she does make use of tabs in sheet music, but makes them too small to read easily, which may be a solution.

Other points included naming issues, and the importance of the availability of good instruments. The term 'ocarina' can be confusing as it is used to refer to a wide range of things, including serious instruments and novelty items. This can make it difficult for people to find ocarinas that are actually good quality musical instruments. Many are designed with visuals first, and David added that he runs into many children attempting to play badly made Chinese Zelda 'ocarinas'. They wander what they are doing wrong, when the instrument is the problem.

Oliver Gosselink in the 'future of the ocarina' forum discussion

More generally, it was mentioned that the ocarina is a young instrument, and as musicians and composers become more accustomed to its abilities, they may start writing for it. The ocarina offers an unusual timbre which isn't often heard, and it does stand out in a crowd. However, I think before this can happen, there needs to be a critical mass of skilled players.

I enjoyed the discussion and some good points where raised. My only complaint is that a lot more time should have been allocated to it. It could easily have gone on for hours.

David in future of the ocarina forum discussion

Closing, and ideas for future festivals

Robert Hickman and friends on the bus, returning from a concert at Budrio ocarina festival

I enjoyed the festival and seeing what new things makers have developed since the last one. I also really enjoyed the social environment of the festival, It's lovely having so many people coming together over a love of this instrument.

A collection of pendant ocarinas made by Ross Dubois

I really enjoyed the forum discussion, and would love if the festival included more things of this nature. For one, at the festival in 2013 there was a makers presentation, where makers could present things they had been working on. I think this is a good idea as they are often subtle and may not be noticed in the market, Kurt Posch's thumb hole modification for example. If such an event was included now I'd have some worthwhile things to add to it, unlike in 2013.

I'll close with this picture of me playing David's uke, much to the supprise of those around me.

Robert Hickman playing ukulele at Budrio ocarina festival