'Practice Makes Progress' | Circle Round 67

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This episode is the second in a special three-part pop-up series performed live with musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, in front of a very excited audience of children and grown-ups.

Think about a time you worked hard to learn something new, like tying your shoes or reading all by yourself.

Picking up and mastering a new skill takes a lot of practice. And as we’re about to hear, it also can take you on an adventure!

Our story is called “Practice Makes Progress.” Versions of this folktale originally come from the Antilles: a chain of islands in the West Indies.

Joining us on Tanglewood stage was a trio of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra — second bassoonist Suzanne Nelsen, flutist Cindy Meyers, and second horn Rachel Childers — plus a quartet of all-star actors: Lauren Ambrose, Jane Kaczmarek, Thomas Sadoski and Campbell Scott.

Grown-ups, you might recognize Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under; in 2018 she nabbed a Tony nomination for My Fair Lady. Jane Kaczmarek received seven Emmy Award nominations for playing Lois in Malcolm in the Middle. Stage and screen star Thomas Sadoski is another Tony Award nominee; he’s starring in "Grand Horizons" at Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. And Campbell Scott is an award-winning actor and director, who’s starred in everything from Singles to House of Cards.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis. Laney Ruckstuhl adapted this story for web.

ADULTS!  PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram 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

Find a grown-up, and ask them about something they learned to do after a whole lot of practice.

Ask them how they practiced, and when and where. Then think about something you’d like to learn, and see how you can fit some practice into your everyday routine.

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: Not long ago, on a small, rocky island in a clear, blue sea, there was a young man named Sebastian.

Sebastian and his mother lived near the craggy cliffs overlooking the shore. The two of them shared a cozy little cottage with a dog, a cat and a brood of chickens in the yard.

Sebastian’s mother was a seamstress who spent her days sewing and repairing all sorts of clothing. One morning, she sent Sebastian to the marketplace to buy some fabric and thread. When he got there, he heard something that stopped him in his tracks.

[flute plays]

In the middle of the marketplace, a woman was playing the flute. Immediately, Sebastian was swept away by the sounds flowing from the slender silver instrument.

[flute plays low notes]

SEBASTIAN: (to audience) Mmm! Do you hear those low notes? So soft and rich, like caramel drizzled on ice cream!

[flute plays middle notes]

SEBASTIAN: And those middle notes! So light and airy, like the breeze blowing through the palm trees!

[flute plays high notes]

SEBASTIAN: But those high notes — wow! Have you ever heard anything so brilliant and bright? It’s like gazing at the stars on a warm, cloudless night!

NARRATOR: After listening to the woman play, Sebastian decided right then and there...

[flute stops]

SEBASTIAN: I must have a flute of my own!

NARRATOR: After months of saving up his pocket money, Sebastian finally earned enough to buy his flute. When he brought it home from the music shop, he waited until after dinner, then ran up to his room and closed the door.

His hands trembled with excitement as he lifted the flute to his lips and began to blow.

[flute plays awkwardly, etc.]

NARRATOR: But, when he did, it didn’t sound anything like ‘drizzled caramel’ or ‘blowing breezes’ or ‘bright, brilliant stars!’

[flute plays awkwardly, etc.]

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Sebastian’s mother came bursting into his bedroom. Her eyes were scrunched up and her hands were clamped over her ears.

MOTHER: Sebastian? Sebastian! What is going on here?

[flute stops]

SEBASTIAN: I’m playing my new instrument, mother! I finally saved up enough money to get my own flute!

MOTHER: I can see that, son. I can hear it, too!

NARRATOR: Sebastian’s mother put her hand on her son’s shoulder.

MOTHER: Listen, son. I’ll never forget what my mother said when I got my first needle and thread. She said: 'Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress.' So every single day, I practiced with that needle and thread. And all these years later, here I am, a professional seamstress!

SEBASTIAN: The most talented one I know!

MOTHER: Thank you. But do you know how much concentration it takes to mend a shirt, sew a jacket, or shorten a dress? A top-notch seamstress requires peace and quiet. And with the racket you’re making, I can’t sew a stitch!

You need some serious practice, son. But you’ll have to practice someplace else.

NARRATOR: Then she kissed Sebastian on the cheek and went back to her sewing room.

SEBASTIAN: (sigh) Mother’s right. I do need practice. After all, ‘practice makes progress!’

I know! I’ll practice out in the yard! It’s getting dark, all our neighbors are inside. There’s no way I’ll disturb anyone out there!

NARRATOR: So Sebastian took his flute and went outside. But when he lifted the instrument to his lips and began to blow...

[flute plays awkwardly, etc.]

NARRATOR: ...the dog began howling...

[Dog howls from audience]

NARRATOR: …the cat started yowling…

[Cat yowls from audience]

NARRATOR: ...and the chickens set to crowing and clucking in their coop!

[Chicken noises from audience]

SEBASTIAN: Woah. Okay. So, clearly, the yard isn’t going to work.

I’ve got it! I’ll climb down the rocks to the beach! The moon is up already, so the fishermen and sunbathers will all be gone. I’ll have the entire shore to myself!

NARRATOR: Sebastian scrambled down the rocks and picked a spot on the cool sand. As he turned his eyes toward the shimmering, moonlit sea, he lifted his flute to his lips and began to blow.

[flute plays awkwardly]

SEBASTIAN: Gosh. Playing the flute is harder than I thought! That woman at the marketplace made it look so easy! But 'practice makes progress!'

[flute practices some more, awkwardly]

NARRATOR: Now, little did Sebastian know, but down the shore from where he was practicing, hidden in the cliffs, was a deep, dark cave. Inside that deep, dark cave lived a giant and his wife.

The giant’s legs were thick as tree trunks, his arms long as climbing ropes. His stomach was big as a car, and to satisfy his ferocious appetite, the giant emerged from his den each night to snatch up and gobble down whatever — or whomever — he could find.

And this evening, as he set out on his hunt across the beach, his mouth watered when he peered out into the distance and spotted Sebastian.

GIANT: Well, would you look at that! A human! You don’t often see one of those at this hour!

NARRATOR: He squinted to get a better look.

GIANT: Actually, this human’s a bit on the scrawny side, isn’t he? But my wife can fatten him up; she’s a genius in the kitchen! Plus, I can catch some fish and crabs. They’ll make for a nice side dish.

NARRATOR: The giant began lumbering toward Sebastian. At first, the giant didn’t see — or hear — the flute, but once he got closer…

[flute gets louder]

NARRATOR: ...he scrunched up his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears!

GIANT: (sound of distress) Oy! What a racket that human is making! He’ll scare off my seafood!

NARRATOR: Sebastian was concentrating so hard, he didn’t notice a gigantic creature with tree-trunk legs barreling his way. Until…

GIANT: Hey! You! You’re freaking out the fish!

[flute stops]

NARRATOR: Sebastian put down his flute. Then he lifted his head and craned his neck up, up, up, until he saw the giant’s enormous face.

SEBASTIAN: (nervous) Uhh, hello there, sir! Um, beautiful night, isn’t it?

GIANT: (sarcastic) Gorgeous! But enough small talk. Look — I’ll be frank with you. What’s your name?

SEBASTIAN: (nervous) Sebastian…

GIANT: I’ll be frank with you, Sebastian. I’m not a music guy. My wife? She adores it! Total music buff! But I never listen to the stuff.

Still, I don’t have to be Mozart van Beethoven to know that you — you need some serious practice!

NARRATOR: Sebastian felt his cheeks burn.

SEBASTIAN: (still nervous, but sincere) I know, I know! I only started playing this flute today! That’s why I came down here to the beach: to practice!

GIANT: Well, your practicing is making all the fish and crabs swim away! Fish and crabs that were supposed to be part of my dinner! You’ll have to practice someplace else.

NARRATOR: The giant’s lips curled into a smile.

GIANT: And I happen to know just the place.

NARRATOR: What place do you think the giant is talking about?

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


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to Circle Round, live with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Our story is called “Practice Makes Progress.”

When we left off, an aspiring flute player named Sebastian was searching for a place to practice. His mother didn’t want him to practice at home. His cat, dog and chickens didn’t want him to practice in the yard. So Sebastian climbed down to the beach, where he encountered an enormous giant who made a very interesting offer.

And now, back to our live show at Tanglewood!

Sebastian was nervous, but intrigued.

SEBASTIAN: You know a place where I can practice?

GIANT: You bet. See, I may not care much for music, but like I said, my wife, she loves it. All kinds, too! And I’ll bet she’d love to hear you practice!

SEBASTIAN: (surprised) You think so?

GIANT: Sure! If she can listen to that crazy Thelonious Coltrane stuff, she can listen to you. Hop aboard.

NARRATOR: The giant crouched down and laid his hand on the ground; his palm was as big as a life raft. Sebastian climbed on, then held tight as the giant strode back to the deep, dark cave.

Inside the hidden den, the giant’s wife was stirring a bubbling cauldron and humming a tune.

GIANT’S WIFE: (humming)

GIANT: Honey! I’m home!

GIANT’S WIFE: (stops humming) Hello, dear! Oooooh! You brought dinner!

NARRATOR: Sebastian’s muscles tensed.

SEBASTIAN: (confused, trembling) What?!? I thought you said you were bringing me here to practice my --

GIANT: Hold your horses, kid. I’ll get to that.

NARRATOR: The giant turned to his wife.

GIANT: My love, what I bring you tonight is music!

GIANT’S WIFE: (confused) Music?! But you don’t even like music!

GIANT: Oh, but this isn’t about me, darling! This is about you! You love music. Which is why I’ve brought you a real, human musician!

SEBASTIAN: (nervously) Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to call me a “real musician.” I mean, I only started practicing today, and I’m still getting the hang of it, and --

GIANT: Pipe down, kid!

(turns back to wife) Anyway, my dear, this musician plays the flute. But he needs some practice. I thought maybe you could listen! You know, give our little flute player here an appreciative audience.

GIANT’S WIFE: (delighted) But of course! I’d be honored!

GIANT: Excellent! And as we all know, a flute player’s gotta keep his energy up, right? For all that finger-wiggling and air-blowing and whatnot? So, while I go out and catch some fish and crabs, why don’t you feed our flute player here a nice, hearty meal? Maybe a pound or twelve of johnny cake? A gallon of curry stew?

GIANT’S WIFE: Ohhh! Absolutely!

GIANT: Wonderful! See you in the morning!

NARRATOR: As the giant bounded out of the cave, his wife fixed her gaze on Sebastian.

GIANT’S WIFE: Alright, flute player. Let’s hear you practice!

SEBASTIAN: (hesitant, doubtful) Are you sure?

GIANT’S WIFE: I’m sure.

NARRATOR: So yet again, Sebastian lifted his flute to his lips and began to blow.

[flute plays, out of tune, etc.]

NARRATOR: He expected the giant’s wife to do what his mother did, and the giant — even the dog, cat and chickens! He figured she’d scrunch up her eyes and cover her ears and tell him to stop making such a racket. To beg him to practice “someplace else.”

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the giant’s wife let him practice…

[flute continues, then awkwardly stops]

GIANT’S WIFE: Keep going...

[flute starts again, more confident]

NARRATOR: ...and practice…

[flute continues, more confident]

GIANT’S WIFE: Okay, now try that again.

[flute continues]

NARRATOR: ...and practice.

GIANT’S WIFE: Yes! That’s the way!

[flute continues, playing more smoothly/complexly]

NARRATOR: And as Sebastian practiced in the deep, dark cave, something magical happened. With each passing hour of the night, he felt more confident. His fingers felt more nimble, his breath more full and deep.

[flute continues]

NARRATOR: But the moment the rising sun spattered its pink, orange and red streaks across the sky, the giant’s wife motioned for Sebastian to stop.

[flute stops]

SEBASTIAN: (confused) What is it? I really feel like I’m making progress!

GIANT’S WIFE: (with a smile) And you are, Sebastian! Beautiful progress.

(worried) But the sun’s coming up, and my husband will be home any minute. You have to go!

SEBASTIAN: Okay, but what about some of those johnny cakes first? Or some curry stew? You know, they both sound pretty good right now. Your husband was right: you need a lot of energy to play the flute!

GIANT’S WIFE: (worried, urgent) Sebastian, the giant didn’t want me to feed you johnny cakes and curry stew to “keep your energy up.” He wanted me to feed you johnny cakes and curry stew to fatten you up! So we could eat you!

NARRATOR: Sebastian looked at the giant’s wife with fearful eyes. But to his surprise — and relief — she looked back at him with kind ones.

GIANT’S WIFE: (kind, but urgent) Listen, Sebastian. I may be a giant with a stomach the size of an SUV, but you are a human with a gift for music. And you’re just starting out. I wouldn’t dare let a giant appetite interfere with the career of a budding young musician!

NARRATOR: Next thing Sebastian knew, the giant’s wife scooped him up and whisked him out of the cave. She carried him to the top of the cliffs and placed him on the dirt road near his house. Then, she began climbing back down the rocks.

GIANT’S WIFE: Now go, Sebastian! Go and practice!

NARRATOR: Sebastian ran back to his house, as fast as his legs could carry him.

When he reached his yard, he lifted his flute to his lips and began to blow.

[flute plays more smoothly]

And this time, the dog didn’t howl, the cat didn’t yowl and the chickens didn’t crow or cluck.

When Sebastian stepped inside his house, his mother didn’t scrunch up her eyes and cover her ears.

NARRATOR: Instead, she jumped up from her sewing, ran over to her son and threw her arms around him.

MOTHER: Sebastian! You’re home!

NARRATOR: When she finally let go, her eyes were brimming with tears.

MOTHER: I’m so sorry I wouldn’t let you practice, son. I wasn’t listening to my own advice. You can’t make progress without practicing. So from now on, dear boy, you can practice any place you like!

NARRATOR: And he did.

Sebastian practiced his flute every day for years. Sometimes, he gave recitals and concerts. Sometimes, he just played for onlookers in the marketplace.

When he got older, he became a teacher and offered flute lessons to children. Whether they had two years of experience, two months or two minutes, he encouraged all of them to practice, practice, practice, whenever they could.

He also urged them to practice wherever they could, and not worry about what anyone else said or thought. Because, after all:

SEBASTIAN: (slightly older voice) Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress.

NARRATOR: And when you’re a budding young musician, just starting out, those words can be music to your ears.

[flute continues, then ends]

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



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