The side-blown flute, in its simple, keyless form can be found in most parts of the world. Gradually, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, keys were added to the holes, culminating in Theobald Böhm’s design, which had a key for every hole and some more besides. Originally made of wood, the flute is now normally metal, sometimes silver, gold or even platinum for flute players richer than I. I play one of each because I am famously indecisive and don’t know which I prefer.
Everyone knows, most people have played and many people hate the recorder. They come in a huge range of sizes from tiny to absolutely enormous. In the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe they were often played together with other woodwind instruments, including the crumhorn, which looks like an umbrella without the useful waterproof bit and produces a strange, buzzing tone. It died out not a moment too soon, only to be revived about 40 years ago by enthusiasts who, unlike me, thought that it was a serious instrument.
Much nicer is the ocarina, which must be one of the world’s most ancient instruments. In its spherical form it was played thousands of years ago in India, China and South America; this design is nowadays known as the English ocarina. The better-known Italian style of ocarina, which is so popular in Japan, was invented in Budrio near Bologna exactly 150 years ago. Ocarinas are made in the strangest shapes and sizes – you’ll have to come to a Classic Buskers concert to see what I mean.
Extract from an essay by Michael Copley.