The ocarina's ecosystem

Imagine that you've heard an instrument that captivates you, it's so pure and unusual. You find out that this instrument is called an 'ocarina' and want to learn it, so you buy one. But without realising it you bought an instrument that is unplayable, you struggle for some time, but regardless of what you do, you cannot make it sound like the music that inspired you. Or perhaps you cannot find the guidance you need to learn, or cannot find music that interests you. Sooner or later, you quit.

I think scenarios like this are all too common in the ocarina community. In promoting the ocarina, it's important that we recognise that musical instruments require an ecosystem to thrive. Me and my partner created the following diagram to show the main aspects of the ocarina's ecosystem:

To promote the ocarina, it is essential that we work on building this entire ecosystem, as people currently seem to be too focused on just putting the ocarina in front of people and attracting new players. But that alone won't go anywhere. You can bring people in, but without ready access to instruments, teaching materials, human teachers, and music, only the most determined will progress.

To me, there are some clear aspects of the ocarina's ecosystem that are severely underdeveloped in relation to others, which are:

  • A lack of access to teaching materials. While good teaching resources for the ocarina exist, many are not available through mainstream channels like music stores or amazon, meaning that most people who want to learn will probably never know that they exist.
  • A lack of access to human teachers. There are things that a human teacher can communicate through watching and guiding, which could take months for a player to notice alone. Intonation is an easy example as it's impossible to hear without prior experience, but there are many others. At this time, teachers of the ocarina are very rare, and there is no culture to guide players to look for teachers. This hurts the ecosystem as a whole.
  • A lack of arranged music. The ocarina being a limited instrument can make it difficult to find music that fits in the range, most players adapt music for themselves, but this is difficult and requires knowledge of music theory. There is also a lack of music written for the ocarina, thus most of the music that does exist, does not take advantage of the unique features of the instrument.

None of these problems are difficult to solve, we just need to be aware of them, and to encourage people to solve them. Rather than only trying to attract players, we also need to attract people to be makers, teachers, authors, and composers. They are all different skills, and all are important. A lot can be done to make this easier, for example:

  • Create teaching materials for teachers, what are the unique challenges that are faced when teaching the ocarina, and how can teachers best address them? How can teachers learn to see and correct common mistakes in their students? These are details that are not addressed in method books for players. Teachers need to share their skills, teach other teachers so that the system can grow.
  • Create guidance on composing and arranging music for the ocarina, and create a culture around doing this. Make it easy for new people to start to enter this role, so that the corpus of music for the instrument grows over time. For example, create a tutorial for composers detailing the range of the ocarina, its strengths and weaknesses, and how to arrange for ocarina ensembles.
  • Encourage the creators of teaching resources to make them available in mainstream outlets, so that people can more easily find them.

Making real progress on any of these points will require persistence. It requires a change in social habits, and one person creating one article or video is unlikely to have a noticeable effect. We need multiple people putting things out persistently. But, with awareness of the needs of the whole ecosystem, the ocarina community will be able to grow.