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 Post subject: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2012, 16:57 

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What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?

Is it a key? No! A tonic? No! It is... transposition!


a short article by Krešimir Cindrić


For an introduction to the concept of transposing instruments, please refer to my article on Transposing Instruments.


I have noticed that there is a lot of confusion regarding the expression "ocarina in X" where X is some note letter. Thus, here is my attempt, as a music theorist, to explain the problem to the best of my abilities. Often it is possible to notice people saying "ocarina in the key of X", or "ocarina in X major". Even ocarina sellers like STL (which are, by the way, a music school and should certainly know better) use that expression.


However, it is incorrect to say so. Why?


The ocarina is a chromatic instrument. That means it can be used to play 12 different notes in one octave. Starting from the note C (but we can start from any note), these notes are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# and B (natural). Of course, notes which are enharmonically the same are not counted twice (Db = C#, Bb = A#, E# = F, etc...). With these 12 notes, it is possible to build any key (a key is a major or a minor tonality). For example, A major is built from the following notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#, and F major is built from F, G, A, Bb, C, D and E (notice, in F major there is Bb not A#, there is a good reason for that, but beyond the scope of this article).


That means that the ocarina can be played in any key (at least in theory - in practice, melodies in some keys are significantly more difficult to play than in some other keys). However, if we say that the ocarina is in a key, or that there is "the key" which belongs to the ocarina, we strongly imply that only one key is playable on the ocarina. The fact is that all keys are playable on the ocarina, the same way as they are on a piano.


There are instruments which are not like that. These instruments are called diatonic and can be played in only one or a very few closely related keys. Examples of diatonic instruments are some types of peasant flutes, some types of bagpipes, some accordions, some autoharps... The ocarina is typically not such an instrument - it is chromatic.


The same reasoning is extended to the inappropriate use of the word "tonic". If the ocarina is in X, it is sometimes (fortunately, rarely) possible to hear that X is the tonic of the ocarina. This is nonsense. The tonic is the first scale degree of a key, i.e. a major or a minor tonality. In C major, the note C is the tonic. However, I have already made the argument that the ocarina is not in a specific key, so there is no specific tonic. Any note on the ocarina can be a tonic.


A music piece is written in a certain key, and a key has its tonic. However, ocarinas are not music pieces, but musical instruments (and chromatic at that) - they do not have a specific key nor a specific tonic.


Therefore, instead of saying "ocarina in the key of X" or "ocarina in X major", we should simply say "ocarina in X".


But what does that mean? And why do we have ocarinas in C, in G, in F, in Bb, in Eb...?


The answer is to the first question is transposition and to the second range and convenience. Here is the explanation:


In western music theory, the centre of the 12-tone tonal system is the tone C. This is a convention, based on history and tradition. Any tone could have been used for that purpose (and, in fact, was at different times and in different places), but somehow, people agreed that it would be the tone C.


Thus, by definition, the instrument in C is the one on which, when the note X is played, the note X is heard. Therefore, on an instrument in C, when the note C is played, the note C will be heard, when D is played, D will be heard, and so on... What is heard is called the concert pitch, and what the player thinks of and plays is called the instrument's pitch.


Now, let's take, for an example, an ocarina in Eb. When the note C is played on it, we will not hear the note C, but Eb. When D is played, F will be heard, when G# is played, B will be heard... The concert pitch of an instrument in Eb is a minor third higher than the instrument's pitch (plus or minus one or more octaves). By convention, this instrument is called "in Eb" because Eb is a minor third above C, the conventional centre of the tonal system.


An ocarina in G will sound a perfect fifth above an ocarina in C (plus or minus one or more octaves: it can actually be, for example, a perfect twelfth above, or a fourth below...). When the note C is played on an ocarina in G, the note G will be heard. When D is played, A will be heard, and when, for example, F is played, C will be heard, etc... Because G is a perfect fifth above C, this ocarina is called "in G".


Why is that useful?


This can be thought of the same way as regarding soprano, alto and bass ocarinas, which are one octave apart from each other. Take, for example, a bass C ocarina. The lowest note that can be played on it is C4, or the middle C (if it has two sub-holes, the lowest note is A3). An alto C ocarina is played exactly the same way as a bass C ocarina, but sounds one octave higher. Therefore, when the low note C is fingered, it will be C4 on a bass C, but C5 on an alto C.


Bass C and alto C are both ocarinas in C because the concert pitch is the same as the note that is played (or one or more octaves above or below).


Ocarinas typically have limited range, usually less than two octaves. Therefore, it is often useful to have ocarinas whose range is less than an octave apart, especially in ocarina ensembles.


In addition, limited range of the ocarina makes playing some pieces impossible on an ocarina in C, without changing the key of the piece, because some notes are beyond its range. At other times, it is simply easier and more convenient to use a differently pitched ocarina.


When we think about the ocarina in Eb, being the same as the ocarina in C, except sounding a minor third higher, we take advantage of the fact the ocarina is a transposing instrument. This makes it possible to use only one fingering chart for every ocarina, regardless of how it is pitched. When an ocarinist plays the note C on an ocarina in Eb, the fact that concert pitch is actually Eb and not C is irrelevant to them. Of course, if they play with other instruments, the arranger of music has to make sure everyone plays in the same key. Therefore, if the concert pitch is C, the ocarinist from the example will have to play the note A on the ocarina in Eb to get the note C, etc...


That is why the sheet music for transposing instruments is... transposed. For example, if an orchestra plays a Symphony in D major, the parts for clarinets (which are instruments in Bb) are notated in E major. The same thing true is for ocarinas. If, for example, an ocarina ensemble plays a piece in F major, ocarinas in C will be notated in F major, of course, but ocarinas in G will be notated in B flat major.


But what about people who always think in concert pitch?


Some people prefer not to think in these terms. They like to use different fingerings for differently pitched ocarinas and always think in terms of concert pitch. While I generally advise against this practice (in my opinion, it takes too much effort to have the fingerings fully automated - effort which is better spent on learning to transpose music on the fly), there are some rather specific situations where treating the ocarina as a non-transposing instrument is actually preferable. I know, for example, that Jack Campin likes to play Highland bagpipe music on using the ocarina in G, and he thinks of it as a non-transposing instrument.


However, it is interesting to note that, technically, these people only have ocarinas in C. For them, the expression "ocarina in G" is meaningless, because alto G is also an ocarina in C (to them, that is, because when they play the note G, the concert pitch is G - therefore, by definition, this is an instrument in C). Confusing? Yes it is, but do not be bothered by it. Just notice that when thinking in concert pitch, every instrument is "in C" - there are no instruments "in G", "in Eb", etc... - there are just different ranges: the only difference between, for example, alto F and alto C is the range, but they are both "in C". This illustrates the point that the transposition of an instrument is not its physical property, but depends on who plays it and their mindset - and, of course, how the music is notated for it.


Simply remember the definition - if the note played on an instrument and the concert pitch are the same note (or one or more octaves apart), the instrument played is in C. If you decide to think about the concert pitch, every instrument will be in C to you.


This could be practical if, for example, one only plays the ocarina in G (in a transposing sense) and the sheet music from which one plays is not arranged with that in mind. Then one can simply say: "I will treat my ocarina as an instrument in C - this will change the fingering chart altogether, but I will be able to follow these sheets." But if one play the ocarina in G, and an ocarina in F, and an ocarina in D and... it will soon be rather confusing, as every ocarina will have different fingerings and it will be necessary to think about it constantly.


A seemingly more difficult approach, but better in the long run, is to learn to transpose in on the fly. This removes all trouble with the lack of arrangements and differently pitched instruments. And it is not as difficult as it seems.




Copyright © 2012 by Krešimir Cindrić. Please do not repost or use without the permission of the author. Feel free, however, to link to this post.



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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2012, 21:53 

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It's to do with where you get your repertoire.

Transposed music was adopted by the Donati tradition as a way of selling their arrangements for groups of several ocarinas of different pitches - they probably got the idea from the very successful brass band movement. The same idea was adopted by Gretsch for their packaged quartet music for the US military - again, it was a good idea for that market.

And for the Oriental ocarina culture it makes sense since they only have to publish one edition of everything (unlike the jazz scene where everything gets published in three versions for C, Bb and Eb instruments).

But the ocarina repertoire is tiny. Nobody would want to take the instrument up because it has an impressive body of music written for it: you take it up because it has a unique sound. (As Michael Copley says in the title of his CD, "the ocarina is no trombone" - he says flat out that it has no repertoire). If you want to play interesting stuff, you look for it yourself; music for voices or other instruments. Which will either not be transposed at all (like music for voices, strings or recorders) or transposed in ways that are so unhelpful you'll want to use the at-pitch score if you can (like brass band music).

Vocal music is kinda interesting. The amateur choral tradition in the British Isles got going in a big way at about the same time as the ocarina group tradition. Some of it used staff notation, some used Curwen sol-fa. Neither was ever published with transposed parts. And it went much further than the ocarina movement - there are probably more people singing Gaelic folksongs in Victorian-style quartet arrangements (mostly published in sol-fa) every week in Scotland than there are ocarina players playing in groups in the whole world. And it's hardly surprising they didn't use transposition - notated vocal music had done without it for 1000 years. As measured by empirical success, for ordinary amateurs, it doesn't look like transposition makes anything more accessible.


http://www.campin.me.uk


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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2012, 22:30 

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Yes, it is true that the traditional repertoire for the ocarina consists of a relatively poor selection of pieces, mostly of popular music of late 18th and first half of 20th century. These pieces can be divided into three categories: 1) arrangements of classical music, mostly from opera, 2) simple salon music, such as waltzes, mazurcas and polkas, and 3) patriotic music of the World War II (mostly American or fascist Italian), like marches, anthems, songs, etc...


Beyond that, music must be either specifically arranged for the ocarina or played from sheets made for a different instrument. Traditionally, ocarinas are played in the group of seven and in that case the only acceptable solution is to prepare the arrangement specifically for the group. Any ocarina group leader should know how to do that. That is also true for complex soloist music.


For simple music, though, it is often much simpler to just transpose it in your head on the fly. At least that is my opinion. I have muscle memory for every note on the ocarina. If you always play the ocarina in C or G, then you can easily treat them as two different instruments with different fingerings. But if you play many differently tuned ocarinas, C, G, F, Bb, Eb... it becomes very difficult to treat every one of them as a non-transposing instrument, because then fingering is different for each of them.


If the music is simple, I find it much easier to transpose in my head: for example, if I play the ocarina in G and I want the piece to sound in C major, as it is notated, I will transpose it to F major in my head and play it as such. If the music is too complex for me to do that, I will probably have to practise it a lot and I won't be able to play it prima vista, regardless of the key in which it is written. In that case, I may as well rewrite it and make a full ocarina arrangement out of it, as that will only be a small fraction of total time I need to spend on it to play it.



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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2012, 22:54 

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This may not be a very tactful question to ask in many circles, but what was that fascist ocarina music like?

I had a flip through a Hitler Youth songbook a few years ago and some of it wasn't too bad, though the associations still make it unperformable (as a German folkie friend of mine put it, "there is blood on those songs").


http://www.campin.me.uk


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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2012, 23:12 

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Jack Campin wrote:
This may not be a very tactful question to ask in many circles, but what was that fascist ocarina music like?

I think it is a perfectly valid historical question. Of course, I disagree with the ideas of fascism (I consider it to be one of the greatest evils of the last century, and is a complete opposite of secular humanism), but that is not a reason to ignore an important part of history.


Before and in the early time of the World War II, Opera Nazionale del Dopolavoro (a fascist organisation) encouraged ocarina groups in Budrio, since they were a truly Italian tradition, not considered "poisoned" by foreign influence. The music itself consisted mostly of marches, uplifting in character, composed by Alfredo Barattoni (1882-1948), one of the greatest composers and arrangers of ocarina music (better known for his other work, which is still performed today). Here are some titles, from Claudio Cedroni's book "The Ocarina Septet - The history of an Italian tradition":


  • Figli d'Italia - Marcia (Sons of Italy - March)
  • Giovani italiane - Marcia (Italian Youth - March)
  • Marcia Reale (Royal March)
  • Sonatina di Strapaese (Strapaese was a traditionalist movement from the 1920s which supported fascism)
  • Arrenditi - Fox lento (Surrender - Slow Fox)

EDIT: Out of these, I know only of Sonatina di Strapaese - it can be found in the historical manuscripts.


Another interesting fact from those dark times: Emilio Cesari, an ocarina maker from Budrio, made ocarinas shaped like pistols as toys for children. These ocarinas had a fascist sun cross on them.



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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 21 Aug 2012, 04:22 

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With playing fascist music: Some of it sounds pretty cool so I just think in my head: Look at it like classical singing. Its not about the words, Its about the music. xD But also, a question. Is it more practical to just learn to read sheet music in concert pitch for different ocarinas than have to transpose?


Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things. -Steven Tyler
Please don't call me unicorn. My name is Melody. :)


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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 21 Aug 2012, 10:15 

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UnicornWarrior wrote:
But also, a question. Is it more practical to just learn to read sheet music in concert pitch for different ocarinas than have to transpose?

I would say no, but to each their own.


As far as I'm concerned, there are many differently tuned ocarinas that I play: in C, in G, in Bb, in F, in Eb, etc... If I were to read and think in concert pitch, every one of those ocarinas would have a completely different fingering system - the same note C is played with one fingering on one ocarina and the other on another ocarina, etc... That does not help muscle memory at all.


Some people dislike transposing so much, that they are willing to put extra effort needed to play differently tuned ocarinas. I think that effort is better spent practising transposing on the fly, since that skill is beneficial in other situations, too.



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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 22 Aug 2012, 02:07 

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Hmm... I will have to add that to my "practice this" mental list.


Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things. -Steven Tyler
Please don't call me unicorn. My name is Melody. :)


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 Post subject: Re: What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
PostPosted: 25 Aug 2012, 22:24 

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Quote:
if you play many differently tuned ocarinas, C, G, F, Bb, Eb... it becomes very difficult to treat every one of them as a non-transposing instrument

I don't have an Eb but I do have the other four pitches and a D - don't see a problem. I don't use "muscle memory" very much; I used to long ago, but have largely trained myself out of it as I have learned to play more instruments.

One advantage to not transposing is that you can look at a tune of limited enough range to allow it to be played on more than one pitch of ocarina and choose the instrument that makes the fingering most fluid - e.g. tunes in the klezmer "freygish" scale in D often work better on a Bb ocarina than on a C one. Knowing distinct fingering systems for different pitches is essential to making that work. Otherwise you'd have to transpose the piece up a tone, and I don't have time to do that.

Playing with other instrumentalists most of the time, I also have to know the actual pitch I am producing - people who use transposition conventions usually find it a struggle to communicate this.

I normally play diatonic or modal/makam-type music. If I was trying to play something as chromatic as Gesualdo or Schoenberg I might have more use for the transposition idea.


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