I started off in my “studioette” making a head with a nice chunk of white clay, but it was too wet – both the day and the clay. The rain was pouring and the room is unheated so I set the partly formed head aside to dry someday. While looking for better clay I was distracted by an unfinished but abandoned whistle in the “junk” pile. I have a special place in my heart for whistles because of a sweet story about my daughter taking a small handmade whistle to camp when she was very young.
A couple of years ago I was intrigued by the process of making whistles and made a bunch of them. I used several different methods, but whistles take a lot of fiddling to make them sound good. Really it took me a long time to get any sound at all. After a while, I started to understand what angles and elements are essential for sound and then sometimes I got it right. Here are a couple that I kept.
I tried putting more than 1 hole in some of them to be able to change the sound which inevitably led me to ocarinas. I ordered Clay Whistles, by Janet Moniot . The instructions are clear and simple. She starts with a pinch pot – pinching out a mouthpiece first and squeezing up and then closing the pot. I often start pinching and then coil till I get the shape I want and then play with the “balloon”. Here is a California Quail ocarina.
This morning I made a couple of hollow birds, and now I have to wait till the clay is drier before I can cut in the mouthpiece and holes. It is still raining so they came inside with me so there is some hope of them drying before next week.
When I returned this evening they were just right for slicing in the mouthpiece and pushing in the holes. The first one whistled as soon as I cut in the sound hole and I was feeling pretty competent, but the next one had more clay on top and I needed to carve off some clay and reshape the split angle before the sound was clear.
The tricky part to ocarinas is tuning them, which might be easier if I had a better ear, but I use drill bits to size the holes, and they seem to play a pretty accurate scale. I’ve read that even if you tune them just right they can still get a little sharp after firing. It’s all beyond me. Twinkle twinkle Little Star sounds good on them.
I’m not sure whether I like the holes on the top or the side so I tried one style on each bird. I was surprised to hear that the one with all the holes on the top, which has a slightly bigger interior space, had a higher pitch than the smaller one. Usually, the bigger the cavity, the deeper the sound. My guess is that having the holes on the top gives the air inside a shorter distance to travel after it splits, rather than moving around inside the cavity. But now that I’ve tried to explain it, I realize I’m really just makin’ stuff up – I have no idea . . .