This episode is the second in a three-part series recorded live with musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra plus an all-star cast at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts.
"My word is my bond.” When someone says that, what they mean is, “you can trust me. I'll never break a promise.”
We’re about to meet a character who makes a promise with the best of intentions. He’s just a bit flighty when it comes to following through!
Our story is called “Fair-Feathered Friends.” Versions of this folktale come from the Burmese people of Southeast Asia.
Joining us on stage at Tanglewood was a quartet of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra — Richel Childers on horn, Clint Foreman on flute, Ben Levy on double bass, and Suzanne Nelson on bassoon — plus a quintet of all-star actors: William Christian, Josh Gondelman, Hrishikesh Hirway, Tina Packer, and Faith Salie.
About the actors:
William Christian is a Washington, D.C. born actor known for his roles in All My Children, Days of Our Lives, The January Man, and Prison Break.
Faith Salie recently starred in her own Off-Broadway solo show, Approval Junkie. She's a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, a storyteller for The Moth, and a regular panelist on the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
Josh Gondelman is also a Wait, Wait regular. The Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian has written for such shows as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Desus & Mero. His debut standup special People Pleaser is available for streaming now.
Tina Packer was born in England, where she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and played in television series for the BBC. In 1978, she co-founded the world-famous Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she’s worked ever since. She has directed every single one of Shakespeare’s plays, and taught the entire canon at over thirty colleges.
Hrishikesh Hirway is a singer-songwriter who hosts the podcast and Netflix show Song Exploder. He’s also creator and co-host of the podcast Home Cooking, with chef Samin Nosrat; and the West Wing Weekly, with actor Josh Malina.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Supervising Producer Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn. Sound-recording and engineering at Tanglewood provided by Emily Jankowski and David Corsello.
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
If you were a bird, what would you look like?
Would you be big? Small? And what color would you be? Yellow as the shining sun? Black as the night sky? Perhaps, like Thrush originally was, you’d be every color of the rainbow!
Find a piece of paper and draw a picture of you as a bird. And then, if you’d like, share your picture with us! Grown-ups, you can email a photo of your kiddo and their artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NARRATOR: Have you ever heard the song of the bird known as the thrush?
[Piccolo plays thrush song]
NARRATOR: The song of the thrush has been called one of the most beautiful bird songs there is – soaring and spiraling up and down!
Thing is, while the thrush’s song may be beautiful, its feathers… are rather plain. Drab. They’re a dull, dusky gray. The color of smoke… or ashes.
But according to legend… it wasn’t always that way.
[Piccolo again, then score]
NARRATOR: You see… long, long ago… the thrush’s feathers sparkled and shimmered with every shade and hue of the rainbow. Thrush was the most colorful bird in the forest, and his very best friend… was Owl.
Thrush was – and is – diurnal, meaning he’s awake during the day and he sleeps at night.
Owl, on the other hand, was – and is – the opposite of diurnal. Does anyone know what that’s called? When an animal sleeps all day and comes out at night?
[Audience calls out]
NARRATOR: That’s right! Nocturnal!
So every evening, right at sunset – before Thrush went to sleep and Owl went off to hunt for mice, frogs, and snakes – the two birds would meet.
OWL: Good evening, Thrush! Are you ready for our evening flight together?
THRUSH: You bet I am, Owl! I’ve been looking forward to it all day!
NARRATOR: Thrush was a teeny-tiny bird and Owl was much larger, but the feathered friends managed to stick together as they swooped through the forest, with Thrush singing his beautiful song…
[SOT: piccolo plays thrush song]
NARRATOR: …and Owl hooting away.
[SOT: bassoon plays owl hoot]
NARRATOR: Every evening the birds chose a different path through the trees. And one night, as they sang and hooted and winged their way around the forest, they came upon a clearing bathed in glowing light.
THRUSH: Wow! Look at this clearing, Owl! It’s so bright!
OWL: Yet there’s no moon out tonight, and the sky is perfectly dark!
THRUSH: Where’s all this light coming from?
NARRATOR: The birds looked this way and that, until they spied a big rocky cave at the clearing’s edge. Spilling out from the cave’s narrow entrance was a wash of light. But the light wasn’t flickering or flashing like a fire. This light was constant and strong.
OWL: Shall we go inside, do you think? And see what’s creating that beautiful glow?
THRUSH: Sure! Let’s do it!
NARRATOR: The birds flapped their wings and glided toward the cave. Once they made their way through the narrow opening…
OWL: / THRUSH: (Gasp)
NARRATOR: …they could hardly believe their eyes!
THRUSH: Owl! Look! This entire cave is filled with treasure!
OWL: Yes! Precious gemstones twinkling so brightly, you’d think it was daytime!
THRUSH: I see red rubies!
OWL: Green emeralds!
THRUSH: Blue sapphires!
OWL: Purple amethysts!
THRUSH: These jewels are nearly as colorful as my feathers!
OWL: Why, I dare say they’re even more colorful than your – (gets interrupted)
OGRE 1: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Who goes there???
OGRE 2: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Who dares enter our cave???
OGRE 3: (Calling out to unseen intruders)…without being invited???
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush exchanged a nervous glance, then pressed their bodies into a nook in the cave’s wall, hoping not to be seen.
OGRE 1: (Calling out to unseen intruders) We heard your voices!
OGRE 2: (Calling out to unseen intruders) We know you’re in here!
OGRE 3: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Best to come out and show yourselves!
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush peeked out from their nook, and what they saw sent a shiver through their bodies. Lumbering out from the back of the cave were three enormous ogres!
The creatures had white fangs, and claw-like fingernails, with red eyes that glowed like fire as they scanned their cave for intruders.
OGRE 1: (Calling out to unseen intruders) We heard you talking about our jewels, you know!
OGRE 2: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Our red rubies!
OGRE 3: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Our green emeralds!
OGRE 1: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Our blue sapphires!
OGRE 2: (Calling out to unseen intruders) Our purple amethysts!
OGRE 3: (Calling out to unseen intruders) You weren’t trying to steal them from us…
OGRE 1: (Calling out to unseen intruders)…were you?
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush knew it was just a matter of time before the ogres’ fiery eyes caught sight of them. So what else could the birds do but take a deep breath, then emerge from their hiding place.
OWL: Uhhh, greetings, friends! I am Owl…
THRUSH: …and I am Thrush.
OWL: And we are so sorry to intrude on your home!
THRUSH: It wasn’t our intention at all!
OWL: For what it’s worth, we were not trying to steal your jewels!
THRUSH: We were just admiring them!
NARRATOR: The ogres stared at the birds with their fanged mouths wide open.
Owl and Thrush began to tremble and shake. Were the two friends about to be eaten?
By three angry ogres?
[Theme music in]
NARRATOR: Oh! You know what that music means!
We’ll find out what happens to Owl and Thrush in the ogres’ cave, after a quick break.
[Theme music out]
[Theme music in]
NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir, and welcome back to Circle Round, live at Tanglewood! Today our story is called “Fair-Feathered Friends.”
[Theme music out]
[Score music in]
NARRATOR: Before the break, Owl and Thrush discovered a cave filled with jewels more colorful than Thrush’s rainbow-hued feathers! Turns out the cave was home to three ogres – three ogres who were not fond of intruders.
But when Owl and Thrush introduced themselves… the ogres’ big fanged faces… broke into big wide grins!
OGRE 1: So you… are Owl!?
OGRE 2: And you… are Thrush!?
OGRE 3: We are your biggest fans!
OGRE 1: Seriously! We listen to you every evening!
OGRE 2: Before we go to bed!
OGRE 3: The way your hoot echoes through the forest, Owl?
OGRE 1: And the way your song rings through the trees, Thrush?
OGRE 2: Together, they’re like a wonderful lullaby!
OGRE 3: We couldn’t fall asleep without you!
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush were floored. Was this really happening? Were these giant ogres really fawning all over them?
OGRE 1: Listen. We don’t mean to be total fanboys…
OGRE 2: Or fangirls!
OGRE 1: But we’d like to thank you for all the music you’ve made.
OGRE 2: So, please!
OGRE 3: Take home some of our jewels!
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush exchanged a look.
OWL: Take home some of your jewels?
OGRE 1: Of course!
OGRE 2: You can use them to decorate your nests!
OGRE 3: Or just admire their magnificent beauty!
OGRE 1: They truly are spectacular!
OGRE 2: So we want you to come back every evening…
OGRE 3: …and take some jewels home with you!
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush could hardly believe what they were hearing! Take some of these glittering, gleaming jewels home? Every evening? The two birds flashed the ogres a grateful smile.
OWL: Thank you very much, friends!
THRUSH: We’d be honored to take home some jewels!
OGRE 1: You are welcome!
OGRE 2: But before you start gathering your treasure…
OGRE 3: …we ask that you follow one rule.
OGRE 1: You must never try to take more than your own weight in jewels!
OGRE 2: If you try taking more than your own weight, you will be punished.
OGRE 3: Do you understand?
NARRATOR: Owl and Thrush nodded their feathery heads.
OWL: Of course we understand!
THRUSH: You have our word!
NARRATOR: And with that, the two birds collected their respective body weights in jewels, then flew off – with rubies and emeralds, sapphires and amethysts clutched tightly in their beaks and feet.
After that, when Owl and Thrush met up for their evening flights, they sang, hooted, and winged their way across the forest and over to the light-filled clearing. They slipped through the entrance to the ogres’ cave, then flitted and fluttered about picking up priceless gems, always making sure to take no more than their own body weight.
But as time passed, Thrush found himself growing troubled.
THRUSH: I can’t help but notice that every time Owl and I collect jewels from the ogres’ cave, her load of treasure is always larger than mine! I mean obviously, that great big bird of prey weighs more than I do, so she's allowed to take more. But it isn’t fair! The ogres love my song every bit as much as they love her hooting! Why should she have an advantage?
NARRATOR: Thrush tried to ignore his envy, to shake it off. But his feeling of jealousy grew and grew… until at last, the little bird made a decision.
THRUSH: That’s it! I’m taking matters into my own hands – (joke, ha ha!) or wings! Tomorrow I will return to the cave during the day, when Owl and the ogres are asleep. Then I will collect as many jewels as I please! The ogres will never know!
NARRATOR: So the next day, while the sun shone high above and Owl snoozed away in her nest, Thrush made his way across the forest. When he reached the ogres’ cave, he glided through the entrance, then began loading up his beak and feet with jewel after jewel.
Once he had all the treasure he could carry – and then some – he tried flying back to the cave’s entrance. But his load was too heavy! He was so weighted down with jewels, he couldn’t take flight!
Still, Thrush refused to give up. He flapped his wings…
THRUSH: (Ad-lib flapping – but with closed mouth, since beak is full of jewels!)
NARRATOR: …and flapped them some more…
THRUSH: (Ad-lib flapping – but with closed mouth, since beak is full of jewels!)
OGRE 1: Thrush!!!!
OGRE 2: Is that you?!??
OGRE 3: What in the world do you think you’re doing????!?
NARRATOR: At the sound of the ogres’ enraged voices, Thrush dropped his jewels, spun around, and flashed the ogres a nervous grin.
THRUSH: (Nervous but trying not to show it) Oh! Uh, hi, folks! I thought you were sleeping! But listen – I can tell you exactly what I’m doing! I’m just, uh, ya know, uh… (gets interrupted)
OGRE 1: (Interrupting somewhere after “just”) Just trying to sneak off…?
OGRE 2: With more than your body weight in jewels…?
OGRE 3: Is that right?!?
NARRATOR: Thrush felt his tiny bird heart leap into his tiny bird throat.
THRUSH: Oh, you have it all wrong! I was actually trying to… to…
OGRE 1: (Finishing sentence) …To break your promise?!??
THRUSH: (Ad-lib not knowing what to say) Well… uh… I…
OGRE 2: (Finishing sentence) …To go back on your word?!??
THRUSH: (Ad-lib still not knowing what to say) Um… I… uh…
OGRE 3: (Finishing sentence) …To break the one condition we’d put on our generosity?
THRUSH: (Ad-lib still not knowing what to say) Ahhh… ummm…
NARRATOR: As Thrush searched frantically for an excuse, he noticed that the ogres’ red eyes were glowing with anger. Like, literally glowing! They were getting brighter and brighter… and redder and redder… until…
[Music flourish, followed by very dramatic music]
NARRATOR: …they began shooting out sparks!
Thrush flapped his wings and tried flying away. But he wasn’t fast enough. The ogres’ sparks had ignited a blaze!
The ogres let out a laugh…
OGRE 1: / OGRE 2: / OGRE 3: (Laughter.)
NARRATOR: …then they turned on their massive heels and rushed away, disappearing through an opening in the back of the cave.
Thrush, however, was stuck! Surrounded by a flurry of flames, the little song bird darted this way and that, until… all of a sudden… a bright orange spark licked his tail – and his brilliant, multi-colored feathers began to smoke!
THRUSH: Oh no!
NARRATOR: Thrush dove to the cave’s floor and began rolling around in the dirt, hoping to smother the flames.
THRUSH: (Ad-lib reaction) Yahhhhhh!
NARRATOR: But it was too late. Each and every one of his feathers had already been singed. And by the time the fire was out and the smoke had cleared, Thrush’s brilliant, rainbow-hued body had become a dull, dusky gray. The color of smoke – or, yes…
THRUSH: (Despondent) …Ashes!!!!
NARRATOR: And it's been that way ever since.
NARRATOR: Thanks to Thrush’s broken promise, the angry ogres shut off the entrance to their cave, and neither Thrush nor Owl could ever return again.
Owl never forgave Thrush for what he did. And I’m sorry to say that the two birds were never again friends. In fact, to this very day, when owls go out hunting at night, they don’t just search for mice, frogs, and snakes. They also chase after thrushes!
So come evening time, if you’re out in the wild and you hear the thrush start his splendid song…
NARRATOR: …and then you hear the thrush suddenly stop his splendid song... it might be because Owl is close by, determined to get revenge on the drab bird with the beautiful voice who broke her trust.