Interview with Giorgio Pacchioni

Giorgio Pacchioni is an Italian ocarina maker and skilled player who I've been in dialogue with recently. He has raised some interesting points, and I wanted to bring them to a wider audience with an interview. Note that Giorgio's responses were translated from Italian. The original answers are also available .

Q: You're quite a well known maker today, but I don't think that many are aware of your history. When did you start playing music? Did the ocarina play a part in this? And, who or what inspired you to start making ocarinas?

A: I started playing the ocarina at the age of 10-12 years, playing by ear and without instruction together with my older brother who accompanied me to the drums. This informal experience has nevertheless decided my professional life as a musician dedicated to classical music through the Clarinet (trained at the G.B. Martin Conservatory in Bologna) and the self-study of the Recorder, the rules of Figurative Singing Polyphony and Renaissance Counterpoint.

I was a teacher of these subjects at the same Conservatory from the 80s to 2016, performing many concerts. I also wrote about twenty musicological and compositional publications and many instrumental and vocal compositions of Renaissance and Baroque techniques. In 1984 I started to seriously consider the concert use of the Ocarina. Subsequently I considered also the idea of its construction, according to the technical and musical criteria of the tradition of Budrio, And to promote a band who played music from the Emilia area giving concerts and making various recordings in Italy and abroad. In the 1990s I founded the Ensemble Novecento (a septet that played my ocarinas) with which I performed many concerts and recordings.

Giorgio's CV.

Q: You make ocarinas by forming the clay around an internal form, then capping the end and forming the mouthpiece separately. What do you see as the advantages of this approach, vs the more common method of press molding in two halves?

A: I approached learning to make ocarinas starting from careful study and measurements of the manual construction tools of the first Budrio builders, before they started using the presses for fast construction of the ocarinas. Since I wanted to reproduce historical ocarinas, I built my production equipment in this way, to create a few pieces with pre-industrial approaches.

As far as I know, the Italian tradition has never used plaster casting molds, but only wooden or metal cones and (later, presses). After all, I never felt the need to build ocarinas on an industrial level, to be included in the low-cost commercial market (as Budrio souvenirs). The greatest advantage of working without casting molds is that of unlimited constructive versatility, I myself have in production, with extreme ease, an enormous quantity of different items and in different keys (almost any), on traditional musical scales, contemporary, ethnic, ancient, single-chamber, multi-chamber, harmony, and simulations of other instruments (natural horns, Italian zampogna) etc. Etc.

Q: What are the main things that you focus on in the design of your ocarinas? They have an interesting timbre, and I like their ergonomic design, especially that your multichambers will balance on the right thumb. Simplifying fingering also appears to be an interest of yours, with your 'Pacchioni' fingering system, where the chambers are tuned with an overlap.

A: I started from the principle that the ocarina's sound production method is similar to the more ancient and noble instruments in music, in particular to the pipe organ and to the Recorder. I think that the ocarina should be derived from the organological criteria that guide the construction of these important instruments, which have been examined by many generations of ingenious builders, only in the field of the recorder, its closest relative, we can remember (Hotteterre, Fornari, Terton, Bressan, Steenbergen) who built extraordinary flutes, used by the major Baroque composers to write their compositions. Of course, the globular shape and the material used for the ocarina, lead to variations of the solutions designed to make them work at their best, but the qualitative reference point is fixed in history.

Starting from these historical premises and comparisons, I developed my qualitative logics which state that there is no low breath or high breath, but an ideal breath, and when is it ideal? When the sound that comes out of it is stable, dynamic, expressive, without timbral defects, such as nasal resonances or sound mixed with breath… In short, everything that is required even for Baroque or Renaissance recorders (not including plastic ones). The Italian Ocarina is an instrument for open spaces, and for this reason it was (in the past) equipped with a voicing that is perhaps too large with a bright and powerful sound, but not very suitable to be used for chamber music. I try to create instruments that are versatile and I give great importance to the diameter of the window, in order to obtain a sound sufficiently powerful, but not invasive. It must also be considered that the Italian wide window actually gets a sound rich in harmonics and with a colour or timbre full of personality.

Probably the creation I'm most proud of is the Pacchioni system multichamber, that I hope will become a quality standard as, thanks to its characteristics of ease and versatility, makes the Ocarina an instrument that can keep up with the other classic wind instruments, such as the Flute, the Oboe, the Bassoon, having in any case an extra feature that makes it a special instrument: its polyphonic prerogative that allows to play a wide range of perfectly tuned notes that makes it appear similar to certain peculiar aspects of the most noble of instruments: the Violin.

Q: The ergonomic considerations of the ocarina are complex. Everyone’s hands are different, and there is also little standardisation in how people hold the instrument. I believe that makers usually design their ocarinas around how they personally hold the ocarina, and there is a lot of variation in ergonomics between makers. I think that this variation may be a challenge for new players. What are your opinions on this topic?

A: The design must be ergonomic, but it cannot be a slave to the commercial concept that poisons quality and wants to sell to anyone any type and size of ocarina. Doing so by adding limitations, to what is already a limited instrument. People with small hands cannot play large instruments that require large and strong fingers, just as people with giant hands cannot play very small ocarinas... But if to obtain universality of use, the physical and peculiar characteristics of every ocarina are tampered and disfigured, it only leads to a stupid act that puts the marketability of a product before its optimal peculiarities.

I am of a generation (1947) that has known the Ocarina through the European tradition and not through video games and anime/cartoons, it is for this reason that my musical and constructive preferences go in other directions in respect to the new generations of makers... It is a fact, a different imprinting... But that is why the world is beautiful, for its infinite range of variations and flows, which then inevitably end up merging and enriching each other.

I, as a builder, have drawn almost everything from European culture, but also, in part, from the logic of East Asian builders, and I know for sure that some of them have drawn much from what are also my sources and even some my personal achievements... That's how the world goes.

Q: What do you think about how the ocarina is viewed around the world? They are widely known in Asia, but elsewhere not many people are aware of them. Where it is known, learning the instrument is often approached haphazardly. You also lived in Brazil for a number of years. Is there much awareness of the ocarina in that country?

A: The ocarina had an exceptional development over the last few years, many talented builders produce excellent instruments. What remains undeveloped is the musical culture of the ocarinists, who almost never have a cultural and technical orientation that allows them to develop their qualities at best, remaining at the mercy of the market that wants to spread the products to the maximum without bothering to create quality targets to aspire to. I believe that many play the ocarina without even knowing the music, or using numerical expedients to indicate what fingers to lift from the holes to get something that sounds like a known song.

The culture linked to the European ocarina of the past was much more advanced than what we see today. The fact that the widespread use of the ocarina does not lead to a parallel diffusion of musical culture is a universal problem. In Brazil, an immense country of almost 200 million inhabitants, I learned of only one person who was really interested in the ocarina, my efforts to introduce it into musical environments were turned down by a disarming indifference.

Q: You have mentioned to me that you feel that Italian ocarina makers are getting little attention from the English speaking community. What do you think about this, and do you have any ideas how to counter it?

A: Language barriers still exist, in spite of the "saint" Google translate, the cultural mistrust is still alive among different populations... But these are problems that can be reduced to a single and not collective phenomena. Your interest in my experience and my obvious willingness to dialogue or even to convey my experience, speak for themselves on the subject. Thanks for the interview and for the smart questions you asked.

Giorgio Pacchioni. (