'The Piper And The Pooka' | Circle Round 29

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever performed in front of people?

Maybe you’ve been in a concert, or a play. Perhaps you’ve sung a song or recited a poem for your family.

For some people, performing is the most natural thing in the world. For others, it can be a nerve-racking experience.

In this week's story, "The Piper and the Pooka," we’ll meet a musician who knows all about those butterflies… until he finds himself performing for a very special — and magical — audience. A “Pooka” is a magical creature said to exist in Ireland: the country where our tale comes from.

Special thanks to our actors this week: Maizy Scarpa, Hana Kenny, Jacob Yeh, James Konicek, Jenny Bacon and Damian McGinty. Grown-ups, you might recognize Damian from the Fox series, “Glee,” and the Irish music group, “Celtic Thunder.” Damian is currently on tour, promoting his first EP of original songs: “No More Time.” You can find it on Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, streaming services, and everywhere else!

“The Piper and the Pooka” was adapted by Eric Shimelonis and Rebecca Sheir. Our editor and executive producer is Jessica Alpert. Eric Shimelonis also does our original music and sound design.

ADULTS! Print THIS OUT so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening
Pretend you’re… the Pooka. If you met a Piper who got butterflies in his stomach every time he had to play a new song, how would you help him out?

Find someone you have fun with — a family member or friend — and pretend he or she is the Piper. As the Pooka, what can you do… or say… to help the Piper believe in himself?

Be as creative as you like. And next time you or someone you know gets stage fright, you’ll have a whole new way to chase those butterflies away!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: There once was a fellow… who loved to play... the bagpipes. His grandfather played the bagpipes almost every day of his life. So music… was in the Piper’s blood.

Day after day, the Piper would blow into the ‘blowstick’; that’s the pipe that fills the bag with air. Then he’d squeeze the bag so the pipes would let out that long, deep bagpipe drone.

[Sound of the bagpipe drones]

NARRATOR: Then, the Piper’s fingers would dance across the holes of the “chanter,” as it’s called… to play the melody.

[Chanter picks up the tune of “The Wild Rover”]

NARRATOR: The Piper played his bagpipes with his entire heart and soul.

There was just one... problem.

TOWNSPERSON 1: Hey Piper, let’s hear some “Danny Boy!”

[Piper stops]

PIPER: (with hesitation in his voice) Uh, okay. Sure.

[Piper starts to play “Danny Boy”]

NARRATOR: You see, try as the Piper might...

[The song quickly falls apart.]

PIPER: Sorry, I, uh, I forgot that one.

NARRATOR: ...he could only play... one song. It was called “The Wild Rover.” And if that’s the song you wanted to hear... well, the Piper would give you as solid a rendition as any!

But request any other song…

[Piper stops, tries to play something else, but it quickly falls apart.]

NARRATOR: … and he would completely clam up.

PIPER: Oh, sorry, I, uh, I forgot that one.

NARRATOR: Now, many people in the bagpiper’s town made fun of him:

TOWNSPERSON 2: (mockingly) Hey, Piper! Play us the “Wee Weaver”...?

TOWNSPERSON 3: (also mockingly) Or how about “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy”...?

TOWNSPERSON 2: Forget it, he only knows the one song!

[Piper starts “The Wild Rover”]

TOWNSPERSON 1: Ach! “The Wild Rover”?!?

TOWNSPERSON 3: Again?!?!

NARRATOR: And the more the townspeople mocked the Piper, the more self-conscious he became.

PIPER: (to himself) I don’t know how my grandfather did it. He could play any song, for any audience! But I can just play this one song - and people laugh at me. (beat) That settles it. I love music... it’s in my blood... but I’m never going to play in front of anyone else ever again. Ever.

NARRATOR: So the Piper began playing his bagpipes only at night, and only out in the dark, marshy, mossy bogs... where few people dared to go.

One especially cold November evening... the Piper was about to leave the bogs and go back home, when he caught sight… of the moon.

PIPER: What a glorious full moon there is tonight! Why, it’s almost golden! I can’t go home and miss this sight. I’ll play just a little bit more, then head back to my mother’s house.

NARRATOR: The Piper placed the bag under his arm, filled it with breath, and squeezed.

[Piper starts “The Wild Rover”]

NARRATOR: As his pipes echoed across the soggy lands, the Piper noticed a dark shape flitting and flickering through the air around him. He immediately stopped playing.

[music stops]

As the dark shape grew closer, the piper could make out a pair of wings, and a large body. He jumped as whatever it was landed on the grass in front of him.

PIPER: What in the…???!?

NARRATOR: The creature was unlike anything the Piper had ever seen. Its body was large as a horse, but sleek as a cat... with wings like an eagle, and bright, luminescent eyes. And it had these giant paws — or were they the talons of a large bird? The Piper couldn’t quite tell. Yet when the creature spoke, its voice sounded oddly... human.

POOKA: Hello there, Piper!

PIPER: (surprised) Wait — you can talk?!?!

POOKA: Well, if you can understand the words I’m speaking, then I’m going to go ahead and say… yes!

PIPER: Are you going to…. (eat me) What do you… (want with me?) Might I ask… what are you…?!

NARRATOR: The creature’s luminescent eyes grew even brighter.

POOKA: Well, clearly you didn’t listen to your grandfather’s tales! (beat) They call me… the Pooka.

PIPER: The… “Pooka”?

POOKA: Yes! The Pooka!

PIPER: And where... Pooka… where do you come from?

NARRATOR: The Pooka smiled, showing off a set of perfectly white, perfectly sharp teeth.

POOKA: I come from the hills and mounds in the countryside, my boy! I live amongst the fairy women!

NARRATOR: The piper’s eyes grew even wider than they already were.

PIPER: Wait - you live with the fairies? But nobody ever sees them!

POOKA: Huh. Not so, my boy. I see them all the time! In fact, tonight, they are having a magnificent feast. And you, Piper... you are to be their entertainment!

NARRATOR: The Piper could hardly believe his ears. Mythical fairies wanted him to play at their feast?

PIPER: Wait - me?!? They want me?!? Look, Pooka… I’m flattered that you… but I don’t think I’m quite… (beat) (babbling a bit, out of nervousness) You know, I really need to get home to my mother. She’s been waiting for me for hours and I’m pretty sure she’s getting worried about where I’m -

POOKA: (interrupting) Piper! Piper! Listen to yourself! Are you forgetting who you are? You’re the one who plays with your entire body and soul! Think about your grandfather. Music is in your blood! Duty calls, my friend. Climb onto my back, and let’s go!

PIPER: Um, you know, I really don’t think -

NARRATOR: But before the Piper could say another word, the Pooka lunged forward. As he did, his head sprouted the horns of a goat! Before the Piper knew it, the horns grabbed on to his body…

PIPER: Aaaaahhhh!

NARRATOR: ...flipped him up in the air…

PIPER: Ohhhhhhh!

NARRATOR: …until he landed with a thump…

PIPER: (landing) Oooph!

NARRATOR: ...right on the Pooka’s back. Then the Pooka spread his majestic wings, and he and the Piper soared high up into the air.

POOKA: Alright, Piper. Hold on tight!  We have music to make!

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen when the Piper arrives at the fairies’ feast? What would you do if you were the Piper!

We’ll find out what comes next… after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Our story today is called: "The Piper and the Pooka.”

When we left off, a bagpiper had met a mysterious, shape-shifting creature known as the Pooka. The Piper only knew how to play one song on his bagpipes, so he was very confused when the Pooka chose him to perform at the fairies’ feast.

Before the Piper could protest, the Pooka tossed the Piper onto his back, and they were flying high in the air. The Piper clutched his bagpipes with one hand, and the Pooka’s neck with the other, as the Pooka picked up speed.

PIPER: (as they fly) Pooka: listen. There’s something you should know. I can’t perform for the fairy women because, well... I only know one song!

NARRATOR: The Piper half expected the Pooka to drop down to earth and send the Piper home to his mother. But instead… the Pooka smiled!

POOKA: (as they fly) Don’t you worry, Piper. You love the music you make, and the fairies will feel that love when you play. (beat) Trust me: you’ll be rewarded handsomely for your troubles.

NARRATOR: The Piper gazed down as the Pooka flew somewhere no human ever dared to go: past the boglands, and over the hills and mounds in the countryside. The Piper held on tight as the Pooka swooped down to the side of a rocky hill.

When they landed, the Piper watched in wonder as the Pooka’s feet transformed into the hooves of a horse. He stomped his hooves three times, and the great rocks rumbled apart, uncovering a secret door.

POOKA: Here we are!

NARRATOR: With the Piper on his back, the Pooka moved through a maze of craggy passageways, until they entered a great, shining hall. As the Piper looked around, he saw hundreds of fairies… all with long, white hair, pale skin, and shimmering silver dresses. One of the fairies came over and addressed the Pooka with a smile.

FAIRY: One-hundred-thousand greetings to you, Pooka!

NARRATOR: She glanced at the Piper with twinkling eyes.

FAIRY: Who is this lad you brought with you?

POOKA: Who is this lad, you ask? Why, only the finest Piper in all the land!

NARRATOR: The Piper leaned down and whispered into the Pooka’s ear.

PIPER: (whispering to the Pooka) “The finest Piper in the land”?!?

FAIRY: Oh my goodness! It isn’t everyday we’re graced with the presence of the finest Piper in the land! Please, Piper, come down and play for us!

NARRATOR: As the Piper slid off the Pooka’s back, hundreds of fairies came over to get a closer look. The Piper felt sweat beads form on his forehead. His heart was beating like a drum.

PIPER: (muttering to the Pooka) You’re really going to make me do this?

POOKA: (muttering back) I told you: you love your music. It’s in your blood. That’s all that matters.

NARRATOR: The Piper steadied his trembling hands. Then he held up his bagpipes, and took a deep breath to fill them with air. He squeezed the bag, as he had a thousand times before…

[Sound of the bagpipe drones]

NARRATOR: …and he reached for the chanter... to play… you guessed it... "The Wild Rover”...

[plays “The Wild Rover”]

NARRATOR: When he was finished, the fairies showered him with applause. The Piper couldn’t help but smile, until...

FAIRY: More! More! We want to hear some more!

NARRATOR: The Piper’s palms began to sweat. His heart raced even faster.

PIPER: Really, don’t you think you’ve heard enough? I mean, you know what they say about too much of a good thing --

FAIRY: No, no, no! The night is young, and we want to dance!

NARRATOR: The Piper knew he had no choice but to keep playing — even if it was the exact same song. But when he blew into his pipes... you won’t believe what happened!

Chanter picks up the tune of “The Wild Rover” but in a very different style

NARRATOR: He played “The Wild Rover”... but he played it as he never had before!

[“The Wild Rover” continues…]

NARRATOR: Immediately, the fairies began to dance. Watching them whirl, twirl and sway, the Piper was inspired to play faster… and faster… and faster! The fairies’ silver dresses swirled around them as they kept time with the music.

[“The Wild Rover” continues…]

NARRATOR: Soon, it looked as though some of the fairies might collapse from exhaustion! So the Piper ended the song... to thunderous applause.

[“The Wild Rover” comes to an end. Sounds of applause.]

The Piper gave a deep bow. And then… before he knew what he was doing... he brought the blowstick back to his lips and filled the bag with air. He squeezed, and suddenly, he wasn’t playing “The Wild Rover.” Instead, he was playing a song he’d heard his grandfather play - many years ago.

[The Piper plays a beautiful, sad lament.]

NARRATOR: It was a sad song called a “lament.” And as the fairies listened, tears slid down their snow-white cheeks. Even the Pooka’s luminescent eyes began to well up.

[The Piper finishes his song; Sounds of more applause than ever]

POOKA: (to the Piper) You’ve done it, my boy! Finer piping I have not heard in this world... or in any other world for that matter! Come on now, fairies. It’s time to pay the Piper!

NARRATOR: The Piper was so shocked at what just happened that he stood stock still as, one by one, the fairies came up to him and placed a solid gold coin on the floor. Soon, the pile of gold reached up to his knees.

PIPER: My goodness! I’m as rich as a king!

POOKA: And now it’s time to go, Piper. Climb on.

NARRATOR: The Piper shoveled the gold into his bag, gathered up his bagpipes, and hoisted himself onto the Pooka’s back. They soared back to the Piper’s town, and landed in front of his mother’s house.

POOKA: Well, Piper, you’ve come back a far richer man.

PIPER: I certainly have! I now have a king’s ransom in gold!

NARRATOR: Much to the Piper’s surprise, the Pooka began… to roar.

POOKA:  Gold?!? Is that all you can think of?!? You’ve been given two treasures tonight, Piper. And the most valuable treasure definitely is not gold! (beat) Now sleep on that!

NARRATOR: The Pooka pursed his lips and blew into the Piper’s face. Immediately, the Piper fell into a deep sleep - right there on the grass!

When he awoke the next morning, he dusted himself off, grabbed his bagpipes, and ran inside to tell his mother about his adventures. As he finished his story, he noticed her eyes had a faraway look.

PIPER: Well, mother? Don’t you want to see my treasure?

MOTHER:  If there is a treasure to be seen, my son, then yes, please: show me!

NARRATOR: The Piper opened his bag.

PIPER: Here it is, Mother! See how rich I am? Look at all my gold!

NARRATOR: But as he dumped the contents of the bag onto the kitchen table, he let out a cry.


NARRATOR: Because instead of gold coins, all that came pouring out of the bag... were dry leaves.

PIPER: But I could have sworn - I’m telling you, Mother. I came home rich last night! Rich!

NARRATOR: His mother smiled, and gently laid her hand on his shoulder.

MOTHER: Perhaps you’re still rich, my son - just in some other way. (beat) I must tell you… your grandfather told us a similar story when I was a young girl. You may not know this, but your grandfather, he always had such stage fright. The finest piper in all the land, but if people were around? Forget about it. He couldn’t play a note.

NARRATOR: The Piper gasped.

PIPER: But, he was such a star! He had stage fright?!?

MOTHER: Well, he did, until he came home one morning and told us he’d grown rich overnight. Said he had piles of gold. (beat) But it turns out the gold wasn’t the real treasure at all.

PIPER: I, I don’t understand.

MOTHER: Pick up your bagpipes, my son. Play me a song. And not “[Piper's usual song tbd].” Play me… something else.

PIPER: But, but I -

MOTHER: Music’s in your blood, my boy. You love your music. (beat) Now show me some of that love.

NARRATOR: Slowly, the Piper took a deep breath, and filled the bag with air. Then he squeezed it, held the chanter, and began… to play.

Piper plays a new tune that we’ve not yet heard.

NARRATOR: And the song he played… it was a new one… a beautiful song he never knew he had inside. And as the sound of his music drifted out the windows, the townspeople rushed over to the Piper’s house so they could listen in.

And they didn’t mock. And they didn’t laugh. But none of that mattered to the Piper now. Because he realized that when you love music… when you play it with your entire heart and soul... it doesn’t matter who’s listening.

All that matters… is that you play.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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