Ceramics major prospers as street musician


Kayla Henry plays the ocarina flute on the Esplanade outside of Bowman Hall on Tuesday Oct. 20, 2015.

Olivia Minnier

Amongst the variety of construction projects and general sense of urgency that can be felt along the Esplanade during a sunny weekday, something different might stand out to students traveling to class; a fiery-haired flute player. 

What started as an out-of-the-box class project transformed into a side business for Kayla Henry. The sophomore crafts major decided to take her musical talent out onto the Esplanade, after realizing she could make money doing what she loves.

“I was trying to figure out how to make an art piece out of things that weren’t really considered a visual art, so I did a social experiment where I bused around town just to see if people would be willing to give a musician money that way and realized that it gets fairly decent money,” Henry said. 

With a keen interest in music from a young age, Henry started her journey playing the piano and has since progressed to the cello, trombone, bass guitar and ukulele. She started playing the ocarina – her favorite of the group – six years ago after purchasing her first one for only $25.

 “My first interaction with it was through the “Legend of Zelda” game, but as a musician that has been playing since I was five, once I found out it was a real instrument, I had to get my hands on it, even for just the experience, ” Henry said.

She now owns six ocarinas ranging in worth from $20 to $400. The red and orange-colored model she can be seen sporting around campus is in the $65-range, Henry said. 

“A rule that my dad taught me, that he does with his guitars, is that you always need x plus one,” she said.”You always need one more.”

In a normal day, Henry can walk away with anywhere from $15 to $20 in the hat she places beside her on the Esplanade. Her twice a week, 30 minute set usually includes tunes such as a Zelda Medley, a few Irish jigs and traditional Eastern songs, all of which she has memorized.

“If it’s a fairly easy song I can memorize (it) in about three days,” she said. “The shortest time I ever memorized a song was 24 hours and I no longer remember it.”

According to stlocarina.com, an ocarina is an ancient flute that first appeared around 12,000 years ago. The Incas, Mayans and Aztecs used and developed the instrument to look like various birds and animals. Servicemen during World War II also used them as a morale booster. The round instrument has gained popularity in the past decade with its appearance in the “Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time” video game released in 1998.  

“Out of all of the instruments that I play, it is the only one that has dozens upon dozens of configurations. People (usually) don’t know what it is, so it’s kind of a conversation starter,” Henry said.

Her interests are not only limited to the music and creation of artwork, but also the ability to collaborate on video projects and written works as well.

“I’ve known Kayla since elementary school and we’ve always been close, but what makes us such great friends is that she is a great writer and insanely talented,” said Owen Rinear, a close family friend.

As a freelance videographer, Henry often helps him with scripts and other things he does for his clients, adding many creative ideas to the mix. Additionally, Rinear produces videos for Henry’s Youtube channel where they create ocarina videos together.

She was not expecting all of the attention she has gotten, such as students stopping to film and record her songs. 

“That was pretty unexpected, the first time that happened. (It) kind of threw me for a loop but for the most part people are pretty accepting and tell me to keep going at it and that they enjoy hearing it,” she said.  

Her friends have been very supportive of the musical endeavor that she started last semester. From her best friend’s perspective, it is just another way she can show off her talents. 

“She told me that playing the ocarina on campus really helps her with being comfortable playing in public and she tells me all the time how surprised she is by the support,” said Rinear.

Her family is equally supportive of her musical endeavors, as a large part of Kayla’s upbringing revolved around music. All of her immediate family members have played musical instruments at one point or do currently, she said.

“My dad gigs professionally on nights and weekend and has been a big inspiration for me to actually to get out there and playing,” said Henry.

Along with being a musician and completing various art projects for her degree, Henry has an Etsy store where she sells crocheted clothing and accessories, a passion she learned from her grandmother. In the future, she wants to pursue further education in orchestral instrument repair after she completes her fine arts degree from Kent State, with a focus on ceramics.

 In addition to being filmed occasionally, getting questioned about her ocarina and the frequent glances from the occasional passerby, she recalls one particular instance where she received a note from a stranger.

“It just said, ‘Thank you for making the world a little more beautiful.’ That’s really why I play,” Henry said. “I don’t really do it for the money, I do it for the fact that I can bring people happiness.”

Olivia Minnier is an enterprise reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].