‘Under the Spotlight’ with Ocarina Workshop

How and when did you come to establish Ocarina Workshop?

I discovered a new and original English-invented ocarina in 1980 and started testing it with thirty pupils at a time in class. From 1983, I began supplying these ocarinas to schools. English 4-hole Ocarinas had such great potential that I gave up a promising teaching career to develop methods of making and playing them – an all-consuming, full-time project that continues today. With my wife Christa, Ocarina Workshop has served education for 40 years, providing “Music for Every Child and Every Teacher”.

What inspired you to focus on Ocarinas?

The Troggs lead singer Reg Presley played a jazzy ocarina break in “Wild Thing”; Ennio Morricone scored an ocarina in the main theme to “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”; I was fascinated by this mystery instrument and its pure flute sound. Then I found the English Ocarina. It has fewer holes than its submarine-shaped Italian cousin and is far easier to handle. As a flute player and music teacher, I realised this ocarina could help children achieve more in a shorter time than other instruments. Teaching thirty pupils at a time to make music gives me the biggest buzz, as does helping teachers do the same.

What is the process of making an Ocarina?

The ocarina is a vessel flute that can be made in any three-dimensional shape. Ancient people carved ocarinas out of stone, wood or gourd. In Latin America, Maya and pre-Inca peoples pressed clay into moulds to make sophisticated vessel flutes. Our UK factory in the Midlands uses a similar process for the 21st century, with three-part plastic moulding and sonic welding. The 3D shape is more complex to manufacture than a tube, and the four-hole tuning difficult to perfect, as the size of each hole affects the pitch of several different notes simultaneously. This is why we keep manufacture close to home, just 25 miles away, rather than outsource to the Far East.

Tell us about your relationships with schools and/or local music hubs. Do you get to see the learning outcomes of your work?

Children benefit from playing English ocarinas in schools as far away as Australia, Malaysia, Cost Rica and Brunei. UK schools and music hubs know that dealing with Ocarina Workshop gives them access to the complete package: instruments, music books, teaching resources, specialist knowledge and training. Many teachers have worked with us throughout their teaching careers: videos of some of their classes are on our website. We have helped ocarina groups perform to great acclaim on national television and in festivals. Playing the ocarina has inspired many to go on and master other instruments and become orchestral musicians and music educators. We follow their careers with interest and some satisfaction.

Many people will see the ocarina as a simple instrument with limited repertoire. How do you challenge that perception, and what range of musical styles can be enjoyed?

300 ocarina pieces in twelve “Play your Ocarina” and “Adventurous Music-Making” titles cover many styles and genres. In publishing and recording these pieces, we have put the sound of the “Oc” into Baroque, Rock and Roll and the “Ocestra”. The ocarina has been a mainly “lost” instrument, so there is a completely blank canvas when creating new repertoire. During lockdown, we established a syllabus for the MTB Music Teacher Board so pupils can take ocarina exams up to Grade 5. We believe that, when it comes to children’s creative enjoyment and motivation, complexity kills and simplicity frees.

What are your own musical interests, both as a listener and as a player?

I enjoy all kinds of music from folk to jazz, blues, film and classical. As a busker, I learned to adapt my flute and ocarina playing to any style of music. Christa and I write material for children to play so they can explore an equally diverse range of music, and we enjoy writing lyrics that perfectly fit the tunes. My number one musical interest is in getting future generations to make music, starting with the ocarina.

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