It’s one of the oldest wind instruments in history. My grandfather and great grandfather played one. It’s sometimes called a “sweet potato” because of its shape.
The ocarina dates back more than 12,000 years. Its flutey, high-pitched, haunting sound is found particularly in the Chinese, Aztec, and Mayan cultures.
It can be found in other examples of music, too, since it is not too difficult to make or play an ocarina. American folk music often includes the “sweet potato” as an accompaniment to songs and the German gemshorn is a direct descendant of the ocarina.
In a fascinating combination of Twenty First technology meets ancient musical instrument, the video gaming giant Nintendo in 1998 created the hit game The Legend of Zelda, The Ocarina of Time.
My 11 year old grandson is an avid Legend of Zelda player and he introduced me to The Ocarina of Time. Big surprise to him that I knew what an ocarina was! He thought it was a cool new Nintendo thing. Teachable moment: there’s not much new in the world, my boy.
In The Ocarina of Time, the player takes Link, the hero, through the Land of Hyrule on a quest to keep evil King Ganondorf from seizing the Treforce, a sacred relic. He uses the Ocarina of Time to travel through time.
Music plays an important role in the game. To progress, players must learn to play and perform several songs on an ocarina. The game has created renewed interest in the instrument and melded ancient history with the world of video gaming.
I will never figure out the game. It’s very complicated and takes a long time to learn and play. The graphics are amazing, though, and to watch a real player at the controls is impressive.
But the idea of incorporating something as simple as a 12,000 year old wind instrument into something as technical as a video game just makes me think. Maybe the world is not lost entirely to technology. Not when we can take the old and make it new again.