'Ariana's Music' | Circle Round 117

Download Audio
("Ariana's Music" by Sabina Hahn)
("Ariana's Music" by Sabina Hahn)

Do you have a favorite musical instrument?

Maybe you enjoy the thumping sound of the drums, or the sweet strains of the violin.

In today’s story, we’ll hear about an instrument that captivates everyone who hears it — whether they have skin or scales, hair or hides, feathers or fins!

Our story is called “Ariana’s Music.” Versions of this tale go back to ancient Greece.

Voices in this episode include Elle Borders, Kevin Corbett, Jefferson A. Russell, Nick Sholley, Ryan Shrime, and Mireille Enos. Grown-ups, you can see Golden Globe nominee Mireille Enos in The Killing on AMC, Hanna and Good Omens on Amazon Prime, as well as the epic zombie film, World War Z.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("Ariana's Music" by Sabina Hahn)
("Ariana's Music" by Sabina Hahn)

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

Think about everything you’re thankful for. Then gather up some magazines, some newspapers, anything you’re allowed to cut up, and create a collage showing what you’re grateful for. You can even print out images or photos from a computer, if you’d like.

Assemble your pictures and paste them onto a big piece of paper or posterboard. Then hang your collage somewhere in your home, and — if you’d like — snap a photo of it and share it with us on Instagram! Grown-ups, you can use the tag @circleroundpodcast.

Musical spotlight: The Kithara

Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the kithara. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the kithara. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

If you’ve seen ancient Greek art at a museum, you may have seen an image of the kithara. Ancient Greek pottery and sculpture often depict the Greek god Apollo playing this stringed musical instrument; the kithara was also engraved on coins during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. To play this Greek harp, you pluck the strings with both your hands, usually with a plectrum (pick) made of wood, ivory or metal. The word kithara helped give birth to the names of other stringed instruments, including the cittern, zither, and — you guessed it — the guitar!


NARRATOR: In the ancient Greek city of Corinth, there lived a musician named Ariana. Ariana played a handheld stringed instrument called the “kithara.”

But when Ariana made music, she didn’t just pluck the strings on the kithara’s wooden body; she plucked the heartstrings of anyone who was listening!

Children dropped their toys and danced... Men and women quit their work and swayed. Even the animals took notice: the nightingales ceased their singing… the squirrels halted their scampering… and the fish in the sea stopped their splashing the moment Ariana began to play!

[kithara music post, then out]

NARRATOR: Ariana’s kithara-playing eventually caught the attention of the king. One bright sunny morning, the great ruler summoned her to his palace.

KING: Ariana, a great music competition is coming up. It will be held across the sea, on the island of Sicily, and will last three whole days and nights. (beat) Your kithara-playing has become legendary across the land, Ariana. Will you bring honor and glory to Corinth, and represent my royal court in the contest?


NARRATOR: Ariana wasn’t just a gifted musician, she was a humble one. So the king’s request made her blush.

ARIANA: I am flattered to be asked, Your Majesty! I would be honored to sail to Sicily and compete. Thank you.

NARRATOR: A few days later, Ariana boarded a merchant ship and crossed the sea to Sicily. As the ship pulled into port, Ariana strapped her kithara over her shoulder and gave the captain a friendly wave.

ARIANA: I appreciate the lift from Corinth, sir! I’ll see you and your crew for the return trip in just three days!

CAPTAIN: We’ll be waiting!

NARRATOR: When Ariana reached the island’s central square, she could hardly believe her eyes. The big stone plaza was festooned with flags and streamers, and packed with thousands of spectators eager to hear the most dazzling musicians in the world perform.

Just as the king said, the festival lasted three whole days and nights… and Ariana was the last musician on the list. So by the time she and her kithara took the stage, the audience had grown restless and rowdy.

But the moment she began plucking the strings...

[kithara music in]

NARRATOR: ...a hush fell over the crowd.

As Ariana’s music rose and fell, dipped and swirled, eyes brimmed with tears... jaws dropped... hearts swelled.

But nobody moved a muscle.

The dogs stopped chasing the cats… and the cats stopped chasing the mice. Even the whales, dolphins and turtles in the sea stayed stock-still!

Every living soul within earshot just held their breath and froze, transfixed, until Ariana’s final note died out.

[kithara music out]

NARRATOR: There was a moment of silence.

And then… all at once…  the entire island erupted with noise as the audience in the square jumped to their feet and showered Ariana with cheers and applause!

The judges hung a laurel wreath around Ariana’s neck, and declared her the first-place winner of the competition. Then they presented her with the grand prize: an enormous chest of treasure.

When Ariana returned to the merchant ship — treasure chest in tow — the captain welcomed her back, then had his crew raise the sails and pull the ship out of the harbor.

It was only after the ship had entered the open sea… and Sicily had vanished over the horizon... that the captain sidled over to Ariana and pointed his thumb toward the chest.

CAPTAIN: So, Ariana... What’s in that big chest you brought on board? You didn’t have it with you when we sailed from Corinth!

NARRATOR: Ariana smiled.

ARIANA: Oh, that?! That’s the treasure I won at the music competition in Sicily! Honestly, I don’t play my kithara for gold or glory, but I guess I’ll be going back home with both!

NARRATOR: The captain arched an eyebrow.

CAPTAIN: That entire chest is filled with treasure, you say? Just for playing a few silly songs?

ARIANA: Well, I wouldn’t call my songs “silly”! I worked really hard to write them! I mean, it isn’t easy to write so many — (gets interrupted)

CAPTAIN: Hey! Folks!

NARRATOR: The captain grinned as he called out to the other sailors.

CAPTAIN: Ariana here won this entire chest of fancy riches just for plucking a couple of harp strings!

NARRATOR: Ariana held up her kithara.

ARIANA: Oh, well, actually — the kithara is a lyre, not a harp! The difference is in the strings! You see, a lyre has its strings go over this little piece called a “bridge,” while a harp has its strings — (gets interrupted)

CAPTAIN: Whatever! My point is, I think we’re in the wrong profession, crew! I mean, how long would we have to sail this ship across the seas before we earned a whole chest full of riches? A hundred years...? Two hundred...?

SAILOR 1: I’d say at least a thousand years, boss!

SAILOR 2: If not two thousand!

SAILOR 3: I’d be a great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother by then!

SAILOR 4: And I’d be a great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather!

CAPTAIN: SAILOR 1: / SAILOR 2: / SAILOR 3: / SAILOR 4: (laughter)

NARRATOR: As the ship’s crew jested and joked, Ariana shuddered down to her shoes. She didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

ARIANA: Honestly, friends. I don’t play my kithara for the riches! I just love to make music! And make people happy! That’s the only reward I need.

CAPTAIN: Well, if that’s ‘the only reward you need’…

NARRATOR: The captain snapped his fingers.

CAPTAIN: … then we’d be happy to take this reward off your hands!

NARRATOR: Just like that, two sailors scurried over, hoisted up the chest and began carrying it away.

ARIANA: Fine. If you want to keep the treasure, so be it. But good luck telling the king where it went. Don’t you think His Majesty will be awfully suspicious when he learns that I won the music competition, but sailed back to Corinth empty-handed...?

CAPTAIN: Actually… no.

NARRATOR: The captain’s eyes gleamed.

CAPTAIN: Because I don’t think you’re ‘sailing home,’ Ariana. (beat, slowly) Nope! If you want to go back to Corinth...

NARRATOR: He gestured toward the wave-capped sea.

CAPTAIN: (slowly, ominously) … you’ll have to swim!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What will Ariana do next?

What would you do if you were Ariana?

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

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “Ariana’s Music.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a kithara player named Ariana won a chest of treasure in a music competition in Sicily.

But as she sailed on a merchant ship back home to Corinth, the captain and crew stole her treasure… and told her they were throwing her overboard!

Ariana knew that Corinth was still hundreds of miles away; there was no way she could swim that far. So she took a deep breath and fixed the captain with a steely stare.

ARIANA: If your cold heart is set on throwing me into the sea and making off with my treasure and telling the king whatever twisted lies you manage to cook up when you return to Corinth… well… there is nothing I can do to stop you. (beat) But please... grant me one final wish. Allow me to play my beloved kithara one last time.

NARRATOR: The captain shrugged his shoulders at his crew. The crew shrugged back.

CAPTAIN: Alright. Fine. You can play one more song. But make it snappy!

NARRATOR: Ariana grasped her kithara’s strap, slung the instrument over her shoulder, then climbed up to the ship’s prow. With a lump in her throat, she stood straight and tall, gazing out at the endless blue sea.

Then she lifted her fingers… and began to play.

[kithara music in]

NARRATOR: In spite of themselves, the sailors stopped scrubbing the ship’s decks and hauling the ship’s ropes and began to sway. The gulls above slowed their swooping, and the fish below ceased their swimming.

[kithara music continues]

NARRATOR: And at last… when Ariana’s song came to a close...

[kithara music stops]

NARRATOR: ...she hugged her kithara to her chest, closed her eyes, and flung herself into the sea.

With her beloved instrument strapped around her shoulder, Ariana sank down deeper and deeper into the darkening water.

And then... to her astonishment… she stopped sinking… and started to rise back up again!

Higher and higher Ariana rose… faster and faster... until her head broke past the surface of the waves and she gasped in a great lungful of air.

ARIANA: (big breath) What’s going on??!??

NARRATOR: Next thing Ariana knew, she was surging forward, her body skimming through the sea as if she were galloping on a swift underwater horse.

But when Ariana glanced down, she saw that it wasn’t a horse at all.

It was... a dolphin!


A whole school of dolphins had gathered round the ship’s hull to hear Ariana’s one last song. And the moment she jumped into the water, they had surrounded her.

One of the dolphins scooped Ariana onto its back and brought her to the surface, and now all of the creatures were swimming in formation, speeding their way back to Corinth!

ARIANA: (as she rides) This is amazing! (Woo-hoo!)

NARRATOR: Ariana squeezed her legs against the dolphin’s smooth gray body. Then she grabbed the strap of her kithara and swung it behind her back so she could grasp onto the dolphin’s slippery fin with two hands.

And in that way Ariana and the dolphins swam all the way back to Corinth. The kind animals dropped Ariana in the shallow water offshore, then leaped and twisted in the air before darting back out to sea.

ARIANA: (calling out) Thank you, friends! Thank you!

NARRATOR: After catching her breath, Ariana scrambled to her feet, untangled a starfish from the strings of her kithara, then sprinted all the way to the king’s palace.

But as it happens, the king was busy… talking to the very captain who had stolen Ariana’s treasure and forced her to jump overboard!

Ariana hid behind a big stone pillar and listened in.

CAPTAIN: (totally lying, laying it on thick) Oh, Your Highness, it was simply awful! We were sailing back from Sicily... praising Ariana for her triumphant victory in the music competition and begging her to play her exquisite instrument for us... when a storm blew in like you’ve never seen! The savage squall came upon us like a ferocious beast, and before we knew what was happening, Ariana was swept overboard! Along with all her treasure! (beat, faux-somber) We tried saving her, Your Majesty, but it was no use. She was gone.

NARRATOR: From Ariana’s hiding place behind the pillar, she saw the king brush away a tear.

KING: (brushing away a tear) Oh, that’s tragic, captain! Simply tragic! I don’t care about losing the chest of treasure... but Ariana…? She was the true treasure! A real gem! The way she plucked and strummed the strings of her kithara was like magic! (beat) Now I’ll never hear her play again.

[kithara music starts] 

KING: (hearing the music) ...And yet… somehow… my memory of Ariana’s kithara is so clear... so vivid... it’s as if I’m listening to her play right now! This very minute!

[kithara music continues] 

NARRATOR: The sound of the kithara made the captain’s blood run cold. Was he being haunted by Ariana’s ghost?

CAPTAIN: (trying not to outwardly freak out) Um, I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but surely your royal ears deceive you! Ariana has taken her final bow! She’s played her swan song! She’s performed her grand finale! She’s — (gets interrupted)

ARIANA: (jumping out and catching him in his lie) Oh, I have, have I…?

NARRATOR: No sooner had Ariana sprung out from behind the pillar, than the captain fainted dead away...

CAPTAIN: (ad-lib fainting dead away sound)

NARRATOR: … and the king leaped up so high, his crowned head hit the ceiling!

KING: Ariana!?!! Could it be?!!?? But the captain told me you were — (gets interrupted)

ARIANA: Oh, I know what the captain told you, Your Highness. But don’t believe a word of it. When we sailed away from Sicily and reached the open water, he and his crew stole my treasure and forced me to jump overboard.

NARRATOR: She gazed out the window toward the sea.

ARIANA: (fondly) Luckily, I was rescued by some very dear friends.

NARRATOR: After Ariana told her story, the king sent his guards to inspect the merchant ship. Sure enough, they found Ariana’s chest of treasure — and a very guilty crew!

After that, Ariana became the king’s court musician, and she played her kithara for the royal sovereign every single day.

But she also found time to play outside the palace walls, down by the shore of the water, where she strummed and plucked her strings for the swift, sleek, graceful dolphins who loved her music… and saved her life.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

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



More from Circle Round

Listen Live