Princeton Weekly Bulletin December 14, 1998
A sound "much like a baroque flute"
Graduate student in Atmospheric, Oceanic Sciences is also a professional ocarina player
By Caroline Moseley
Giulio Boccaletti, first year graduate student in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, plays the ocarina professionally. He performs both as a soloist and as a member of the Gruppo Ocarinistico Budriese, which is based in his native Budrio, Italy.
Giulio Boccaletti with a medium-size ocarina (photo Denise Applewhite)
The ocarina is a flute-like instrument made of clay and shaped some- thing like a sweet potato. There are seven sizes, ranging from six inches to one and a half feet in length, so that ocarinas comprise "a complete family of instruments," says Boccaletti. Together, they "cover the central five octaves of a piano. A given instrument can reach just over an octave." Boccaletti himself plays the smallest and highest pitched ocarina, producing a sound "much like a Baroque flute."
Invented in 1850s
The instrument was invented in Budrio, near Bologna, in the 1850s, Boccaletti says. "It began as a divertissement for classical musicians; it was a serious instrument." Budrio has since become "the world center of ocarina studies." Boccaletti learned to play the instrument at the Scuola di Ocarina in Budrio; more recently, he has taught there.
"Many people outside Budrio have not heard of the ocarina," he says, "but in Budrio it is well known. It enjoyed a 'Golden Age' in Europe and even in the United States, from the 1890s to the 1930s."
How difficult an instrument is the ocarina?
"If you want to play a Telemann sonata, it is difficult," Boccaletti responds, very reasonably. "If you want to play 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,' it's not so difficult.
Gruppo Ocarinistico Budriese (Boccaletti is at right)
"The main problem, apart from fingering, is in tuning the instrument. Each ocarina is made so it oscillates around a certain pitch; they're made in C and G, but by blowing more or less hard, you can vary the basic pitch."
Ocarinas produce a pure soundone with no overtonesand even a slight difference in tuning will result in dissonance, Boccaletti explains. Therefore, "the musicians must be able to adjust to each other -- more than with other ensembles of 'classical' instruments -- in order to avoid any disharmony." But anyone familiar with wind instruments, he says, "shouldn't have any problem."
While you can play anything on an ocarina"I could do a Frank Sinatra tune, whatever you wish" -- the repertoire consists largely of transcriptions of Baroque music and opera, augmented, says Boccaletti, by "Italian dances and music of our region."
Five CDs, Japanese fan club
Boccaletti has been a member of the Gruppo for 15 years. With this seven-person ensemble, he has performed all over Europe and toured in South America and Australia. The Gruppo has recorded five CDs, including two that have been very successful in Japan. Boccaletti says a "sort of Japanese fan club called 'the Friends of the Ocarina' came to visit us in Budrio."
In the United States, the Gruppo participated in the 1994 Columbus Day parade in Manhattan and performed at the Italian consulate and the Italian Institute of Culture. This past October, Boccaletti played a Vivaldi concerto for flute and strings in the Chapel with University Organist Joan Lippincott; he expects to participate in an April 17 graduate student concert to be held in Procter Hall.
He misses the other members of the Gruppo, "who are good friends, in addition to partners in music." Until a scheduled reunion in Budrio over Christmas, "we keep in touch by e-mail."
To those who wonder about the connection between Boccaletti's academic and musical interests, he says simply, "There is no connection."