by Howard Fosdick © FolkFluteWorld.com.
This is a review of Focalink's Alto C ceramic ocarina sold under the name "Pastoral" by Songbird Ocarina. It is also available at Amazon.
Here's the "Pastoral" I bought from Songbird:
Image courtesy of Songbird Ocarina
Searching for the Perfect Alto C
I've been playing ocarinas since the turn of the century. Along the way, I've acquired a dozen. My oc's range from transverse, pendant, to inline, and from ceramic to plastic. The collection includes several from major manufacturers, as well as a handmade ceramic tenor by Richard Hamlett.
Somehow, I never got around to acquiring what many people buy as their very first oc: a ceramic Alto C. Being an experienced player, I didn't want to buy just any ceramic Alto C. I wanted to wait until I could find the perfect one... or at least the one that seems perfect to me, given that we all have our own individual preferences. This one fulfills all my requirements and expectations.
Opening the Box
The ocarina is shipped in a tightly-wrapped cardbox box with bubblewrap and styrofoam peanuts. I would imagine that the chance of breakage during shipping is as low as it possibly could be.
It's easy to track your order once you've placed it. Songbird has a new online order tracking system you can use. Or you can use the USPS tracking number if you opted for shipping by the US Post Office.
Look and Feel
Physically, this is a beautifully rendered instrument. The edelweiss flowers that adorn it are raised very slightly. The three colors you can choose from -- green, red, and blue -- all make for an attractive showpiece.
Images courtesy of Songbird Ocarina
I was surprised by how heavy the oc is. It feels a bit heavier than other clay Alto C's I've tried. The finger holes are slightly dimpled, giving the instrument a comfortable feel in your hands. There's a hole for a lanyard or necklace if you care to put one in (none is included), but obviously this oc is too heavy to wear around your neck. I think a necklace might be handy to ensure that if you drop it, it doesn't end up in pieces on the floor.
Sound & Playability
I would characterize this as a soft- or medium- breath ocarina. It's considerably quieter, for example, than my plastic Night-by-Noble Alto C. I picked this oc in part for its soft voice, and it doesn't disappoint. (My Night-by-Noble is wonderful outdoors or for public performance, but it's just too much for the ears for extended indoor practice.)
The breath curve seems fairly consistent throughout, rising but not too hard on the high notes, but definitely softer on the lowest. The oc has a truly beautiful, mellow sound. The highest notes are not airy. (Since I'm after optimal sound, that's really important to me.) The lowest notes sound clearly, but of course you have to hit those little sub-holes accurately (as on any 12-hole oc) to voice them authoritatively. I really haven't felt the need for acute bend with this oc as long as I use proper breath pressure.
I couldn't find any sound samples for this oc, either from the vendor or on Youtube. (Probably because it hasn't been on the market for long.) So here's a short improvisation I recorded on a little handheld recording device in my stairwell. I used the Audacity audio editor to remove the white noise made by the cheap recording device -- but made no other alterations:
Where this oc excels is in the accuracy of its highest and lowest notes. Buy a $25 ocarina and you may well get the same sound as this one across most of the range. Until you try the couple highest or lowest notes. On a cheaper oc they often sound airy or strained... maybe even a bit off pitch.
This instrument voices those notes with the same beauty as the rest of its range. That's the difference between an $80 professional instrument like the Pastoral, and the typical nice $25 or $30 oc you can find on Amazon.
I was looking for an exceptional-sounding, attractive Alto C that is soft-spoken. My goal, above all, was a ceramic that projects a sweet, soft tone. The Pastoral fits my needs, so if your goals match mine, I definitely recommend it.
- Style: 12-hole ocarina, transverse or "sweet potato" shape
- Maker: Focalink
- Available from: Songbird Ocarina, Amazon.
- Tuning: C Major (Alto C)
- Range: A4 - F6 (13 whole notes, plus all sharps and flats)
- Material: Ceramic
- Cost: with shipping to a US address included, about $80
- Dimensions: 17.5cm x 9.5cm x 4.6cm (6.89" x 3.74" x 1.81")
- Weight: apx 289 grams (10.19 ounces)
- Colors Available: Green, Blue, or Red
- Accessories: Cardbox box with nylon carrying case and fingering chart