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Compass Magazine, June 2003

Ocarina culture gets a boost from a young musician

By Cheryl Robbins

       The ocarina (陶笛) may be known as a "pottery flute" in Chinese. However, it doesn't look anything like a classical flute. Rather, it is shaped like the body of a small goose. In fact, "ocarina" is Italian for "gosling", a name given to it more than 100 years ago by Italian Giuseppe Donati, who created the ocarina's shape and added tone holes.

       These tone holes are on the front of the instrument. There is also a sound hole on the back. The ocarina is small enough to be held in two hands with the fingers used to cover and uncover the holes, while blowing through a mouthpiece. The lowest tone is generated when all the tones holes are covered and the sound hole is uncovered. The tone becomes higher as the tone holes are uncovered one by one.

       Altough the origins of the ocarina are somewhat unclear, it appears to be related to a number of similarly-shaped instruments that developed separately in most of the world's great civilizations. For example, in China an egg-shaped instrument has six tone holes and dates back some 7,000 years.

      Taiwan itself has not had an ocarina culture—until now. Twenty-seven-year-old musician You Xue-zhi (游學志 orㄚ志) has taken it upon himself to build one. Before he became acquainted with the ocarina, You played the erhu. About four years ago, while interested in learning to play more Chinese traditional instruments, he went to Kaohsiung to study under Kuo Ching-jung (郭慶榮), a respected traditional instruments instructor. It was from Kuo that You received his first ocarina.

       He was immediately fascinated by its small size and beautiful tones. As he began researching the ocarina, he found that in Taiwan it is mostly thought of as a toy. Local ocarina makers focus on creating attractive shapes and colors not accurate tones.

       In search of ocarinas with accurate sound, You went to Japan and other countries and collected many types of ocarinas and ocarina albums.
In 2000, he began promoting the ocarina as a musical instrument in Taiwan, teaching ocarina-playing techniques at elementary and junior high schools in Taipei County. He then invited 23 of his best students to join him in recording Taiwan's first-ever ocarina album, which was released earlier this year.

       This album, titled "Ocarina in Wonderland" (陶笛奇遇記), is distributed by Wind Records (風潮) and contains 10 selections played on the ocarina and accompanied by other more conventional instruments such as the violin, guitar and clarinet. Two of the songs on this album were composed by You. The CD comes with a booklet that includes step-by-step instructions on how to play the ocarina.

       He also worked with technicians in Taiwan to design ocarinas with accurate pitch. These designs are sold in two "Ocarina Yulinglong" stores that he helped to found in Yingge and Jioufen, respectively.
You has been traveling around Taiwan, giving performances on different types of ocarinas. These performances include a wide repertoire, from bird calls to Christmas carols. In between songs, he teaches the audience how to play the ocarina.

       You's mission is to help people connect with the ocarina and his vision is for all people to play music. He stands out in a crowd because he always has an ocarina with him, which he plays whenever he has a free moment, even when stopped at a red light. Noting that this instrument has had a profound affect on his life, You invites everyone to take up the ocarina to begin their own life-changing journey.

Ocarina Yulinglong (陶笛玉玲瓏)
65, ChongChing Street, Yingge Town, Taipei County (台北縣鶯歌鎮重慶街65號)
Manager: Tsui Hua (翠華老師) Cell: (0928) 234416
38, JihShan Street, Jiufen, Taipei County (台北縣九份基山街38號)
Manager: Ah Jeng (阿正老師) Cell: (0921) 100-925



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