Do you have a calling?
Something you feel you were destined to do or become?
We’re about to meet a woman who feels called to play music… even after she gives up music altogether!
Our story is called “The Sweetest Sounds.” Versions of this tale come from the Roma people of modern-day Hungary, in central Europe.
Performers in this episode include two voices you public-radio fans know and love: Rachel Martin and Ayesha Rascoe. Rachel Martin has hosted Weekend Edition Sunday, Morning Edition, Up First, and the new NPR podcast, Enlighten Me. Ayesha Rascoe currently hosts Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First.
Our featured instrumentalist was Christian Hebel, who's played his violin on multi-Platinum, Gold, Emmy Award-, Academy Award-, Tony Award- and Grammy Award-winning recordings – as well as numerous episodes of Circle Round!
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Sofie Kodner. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is 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 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.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Music can be truly powerful – especially when you make your own!
Pick some music you enjoy, or write some music of your own, then record yourself singing it or playing it on an instrument. A grown-up can help you with the recording. You can use an audio program on a computer, or the voice-memo app on a smartphone!
When you’re done, share the recording with someone you have fun with. And, if you’d like, send it to us! Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Musical Spotlight: Violin
Since its invention in Italy in the 16th century, the violin has been a significant player in many styles of music.
The violin is the smallest member of the string family (or “chordophones”), which also includes the viola, cello and bass. All members of the string family are played either by drawing a bow over the strings, or by plucking the strings with your fingers, in a technique called pizzicato.
The violin’s body is usually made from different types of wood. The strings are most often made from gut (a type of cord prepared from the natural fiber found in animal intestines!), nylon or steel. An individual who builds or repairs violins is called a luthier (from the French word for "lute") or violinmaker. A person who makes or repairs bows is called an archetier (from the French word for “bow”) or bowmaker.
And special thanks to violinist Christian Hebel for accompanying this week’s story! You also can hear Christian’s violin-playing in our episodes “The Magpie With Salt On Her Tail,” “The Beggar and the Baker’s Daughter,” and “Donkey Business.”
NARRATOR: Lilien the traveling musician made her way through life – and the world – playing the one thing she treasured above all else:
NARRATOR: In her worn-out shoes and faded coat, she journeyed from city to city, village to village, playing her violin in town squares and taverns, carnivals and cafes, festivals and fairs. And each time Lilien put her bow to the strings, people would gather round, close their eyes, and begin to dance and sway.
Then… when the music stopped…
NARRATOR: … they would toss some coins into Lilien’s upturned hat…
LILIEN: Thank you! Thank you so much!
NARRATOR: …and hurry back to their business.
LILIEN: (calling out as they hurry away) Glad you enjoyed the music!
NARRATOR: Despite the power of Lilien’s violin… she didn’t make a lot of cash. Some days all she could afford to eat was a hunk of bread and a cup of tea. And some nights she had no choice but to sleep under the sky, with the twinkling stars above her head, and a soft clump of moss beneath it.
So after many years of roughing it, Lilien began to wonder…
LILIEN: …Maybe I should just give up my music, and settle down! I could find a nice, conventional job and buy my own place, with my own land. Maybe I could even raise some chickens…? And a cow or two…?
NARRATOR: But then she would remember her calling to play music, and she’d let the daydream go.
NARRATOR: One day in early spring, Lilien found her way to a country fair. Thousands of fairgoers crowded the village green to watch jugglers and musicians, play sports and games, and gobble up sweets and treats sold by the many rows of peddlers and vendors.
Standing off to one side, Lilien took her violin out of its well-worn case. She tucked her beloved instrument beneath her chin. And the moment she touched the bow to the strings…
NARRATOR: …everyone around seemed to freeze. As if in a trance, the people dropped what they were doing and crowded around Lilien, their eyes shut tight as they began to sway and dance.
Standing up front was a mysterious woman wearing a red velvet dress and cape. Unlike everyone else, her piercing gray eyes remained wide open, unblinking, as she stared at Lilien and her violin.
When the music came to an end…
NARRATOR: …and the fairgoers tossed their coins into Lilien’s hat…
LILIEN: Thank you! Thanks!
NARRATOR: …then returned to their revelries…
LILIEN: (calling out as they go) Glad you liked the song!
NARRATOR: …the mysterious woman stayed behind.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: That was wonderful, my dear! Truly wonderful! I must commend you on making such glorious music!
NARRATOR: Lilien flashed the woman a smile.
LILIEN: I thank you for the praise, ma’am! Music is my passion. Always has been.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Well, it’s a very powerful passion. The sweet sounds of your violin seem to take people over! Enchant them! The moment they hear you play, it’s like you have total control!
LILIEN: Maybe… (good-natured, joking-ish) If only I could control how much money they toss into my hat when I stop playing!
NARRATOR: The woman tilted her head.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Sooooo… are you saying your passion isn’t the most profitable thing in the world…?
LILIEN: Sadly, I am! Last night I camped out by the river, and this morning all I had for breakfast were some berries I foraged from the forest! (beat) But hey – that’s the life of a traveling musician, right?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: So you say… But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be that way?
LILIEN: What do you mean?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Wellllll…What if I could promise that you didn’t have to struggle another day in your life? (quoting what Lilien said before) What if I could promise that you could have your own place, with your own land? Maybe even raise some chickens? And a cow or two…?
NARRATOR: Lilien’s eyes grew wide.
LILIEN: (gasp!) Would you believe I sometimes dream of doing that very thing???
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: (playing dumb) Do you now…? What a coincidence! Because I know exactly how you can do it. (beat) All you have to do… is give me your violin.
NARRATOR: The woman’s mouth curled into a smile. Lilien’s mouth dropped into a frown.
LILIEN: Give you my violin?!? But I can’t give you my violin! It’s the only instrument I’ve ever had, and I need it to – (gets interrupted)
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: (interrupting; finishing her sentence) …To do what?!? To starve every day of your life? To sleep on yet another rock by the river? (beat) Give me your violin and I will give you gold! Heaps of gold! All the gold you can carry!
NARRATOR: Lilien fell silent. After playing her violin for all these years, she couldn’t imagine life without music. But she could imagine life without an empty belly. And it was awfully appealing…
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: So, Lilien…? What will it be??? A life of scraping by? Or a life of luxury? (beat) The choice… is yours!!!
[theme music in]
NARRATOR: What choice will Lilien make?
What would you choose if you were in the musician’s worn-out shoes?
We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.
[theme music out]
[theme music in]
NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Sweetest Sounds.”
[theme music out]
NARRATOR: Before the break, a mysterious woman offered a struggling musician named Lilien a trade: her beloved violin… for gold.
LILIEN: Listen, ma’am. I will consider giving you my violin. But I must see the gold first. Can you show it to me?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: I’d be delighted!
NARRATOR: The woman waved her arms, and all at once, she and Lilien were enveloped in a cloud of red smoke.
NARRATOR: When the smoke cleared, they were standing at the foot of a foaming, churning waterfall, beside a shallow pool lined with pebbles made of pure gold.
LILIEN: (stupefied) Is that – is that the gold you were talking about?!??? And how did you bring us here?!???
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Well… to answer your questions… Yes. That is the gold I was talking about. And I… am a wizardess.
LILIEN: A wizardess?!?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Indeed! And as such, I have the power to do all sorts of things. But I don’t have the power to do what your violin does! To entrance people! To enchant them! So in exchange for your instrument, I will give you all the gold in this pool.
NARRATOR: Lilien took a long look at her violin. Then she took a long look at the gold pebbles. With riches like these, she’d never have to forage for berries or sleep by the river again! She could buy a house, some land, some animals. She could settle down and live easy…
LILIEN: Alright. I will trade you my violin for your gold. (beat) After I play one last song.
NARRATOR: She took her violin from its case and tucked it beneath her chin. And then…
NARRATOR: …she began to play.
The song that came forth from Lilien’s violin would stir any soul, melt any heart, and jerk any tear. Her own eyes misted over as she moved her bow back and forth. Tears fell, hot against her cheeks, before sliding off her chin and landing on her violin with a plop.
And when at last her song came to a close…
NARRATOR: …she brought the violin to her lips and gave it… a kiss. Then she slipped the instrument and the bow into their case, clasped it shut, and handed it to the wizardess. The wizardess smiled a cold, triumphant smile… then waved her arms and disappeared in a cloud of red smoke.
NARRATOR: Now that Lilien had made good on her promise, she knelt down by the pool and stuffed handfuls of gold pebbles into her satchel. When she found her way to the nearest town, she used the gold to purchase food and clothing… she even bought the perfect house: a trim yellow cottage with vegetable fields out back and a flower garden out front. To the side was a coop full of chickens, and in the barn was a whole herd of cows.
Lilien happily took to her new life. She woke up each day to feed her chickens…
LILIEN: Chow time, ladies!
NARRATOR: …and milk her cows…
LILIEN: Nice work, Bessie! You’re next, Elsie!
NARRATOR: Then she went out to water her vegetable fields…
LILIEN: These cabbages are bigger than my head!
NARRATOR: …and weed her flower garden.
LILIEN: Could these lilies smell any more divine? Mmmmm!
NARRATOR: After a life of hardship, Lilien was thriving – and living her dream!
And yet, after a while, she couldn’t help but feel like something… was missing.
LILIEN: My music! I’m finally living a life of comfort – yet in my heart of hearts I’m anything but comfortable! It just isn’t the same without my violin! (beat) But I made the wizardess a promise, and so I guess I’ll just have to – (interrupted mid-sentence)
LILIEN: Oh! Who could that be? Is someone in trouble?
NARRATOR: Lilien raced to the door and threw it open. And do you know who she found standing outside?
It was the wizardess!
In her trembling hand was Lilien’s violin case. And on her furious face was a scowl.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: (accusing) YOU! You cheated me!!!!
NARRATOR: Lilien’s mouth dropped open.
LILIEN: (confused, innocent) ‘I cheated you’? How can you say that? I gave you my violin, didn’t I?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Yes! You did! (beat) But you didn’t give me… its power!!!
LILIEN: I - I don’t understand…
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Look. You don’t know it, Lilien… but the day we met wasn’t the first day I laid my eyes on you – or my ears!
LILIEN: It wasn’t?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: No! I had been following you for a very long time. I heard you play at town squares and taverns, carnivals and cafes, festivals and fairs. And based on what I witnessed, this violin should have given me power over everyone who heard it! Everyone! (beat) The problem is… it didn’t!
NARRATOR: She opened the case and held up the violin.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Lilien! You played this violin and it made the sweetest sounds! I played this violin, and do you know what it made? Squeaky sounds! Squawky sounds! Screechy sounds so harsh, so shrill, people covered their ears and ran away. I didn’t enchant anyone; I annoyed them. (beat) What happened to the violin’s magic, Lilien? Where did it go?
NARRATOR: The wizardess stared at Lilien. Lilien stared back.
Then… she smiled.
LILIEN: (with a smile) You really want to know what happened to the violin’s magic…? (beat) Well, the truth is… there was no magic. There was just… me.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: What do you mean????
LILIEN: What I mean is… when I play my violin, I give it everything I have. My entire soul. (beat) It’s my soul that inspires the music and makes those “sweet sounds.” I may have traded the violin… but my soul I did not trade. And I never would. Not for all the gold in the world.
NARRATOR: The wizardess fixed her steel-gray eyes on Lilien’s face. She held them there, giving Lilien a most curious look. And then… slowly… she placed the violin in its case… placed the case in Lilien’s hands… and with a strange little smile… she vanished...
NARRATOR: …in a cloud of red smoke.
Lilien stared at the spot where the wizardess had been standing. Then she opened the lid of her case… took out her violin, and her bow. Then she tucked the violin beneath her chin…
NARRATOR: …and began to play.
She played with tears in her eyes… and joy in her heart. But most of all, she played with passion in her soul. And to Lilien, that was more precious than anything.