Hi, Ariel here with just two short announcements.
First, I decided to start a group chat. Actually, in the live stream on Saturday, one of the listeners, Rasheed, said, ‘Oh, we should have a group chat for the listeners!’ So I thought that was a great idea and I made a chat for everyone to go to talk, to get to know each other, and also I am posting questions every day, I’m posting voice clips, I’m asking you for your opinion on the podcast. I think it’s going to be really fun.
To join the chat, you need to download the program Telegram. Telegram is a free chat program, it’s very fast, and it’s very safe. I was going to do it on WhatsApp, but to honest, Telegram is much safer and people can’t see your phone numbers. So you can go and find the chat at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Chat, or just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click “GROUP CHAT” at the top. There are already 50 people in the chat as I record this—I started it yesterday. So that’s pretty exciting. I think it’s going to be good fun.
The second announcement is just a reminder that there is live stream every week. We had another one on Saturday. It was very fun. You can find out when the next stream is at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Stream.
OK, announcements over!
Oh, actually I do have one more very small announcement! I updated the layout, the design, of the website a bit. So go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and let me know what you think. Can you still easily read all of the text? Does it look nice? Are there any problems? I would really appreciate your help.
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Oh, and if you use that link, I get a bit of money, too, so really, you’re helping me out! I appreciate it.
So that’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/italki. Take your English to the next level today!
OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for advanced learners. The name of the story is The Cello That Spoke. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cello. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cello. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So you might be thinking, “What’s a cello?” Well, a cello is a musical instrument. Basically, it’s like a big violin, and it’s so big that you actually have to sit down to play it. So you hold a violin up and stand up, but with a cello you have to sit down.
Um, it’s a string instrument, which means it has big strings, and to play a string instrument you use a bow. So a bow is like a long stick with strings on it, and you rub the bow against the strings and it makes a sound. String instruments are really difficult to play well. I don’t think I have the patience to play a string instrument, because you have to play it for years and years before you can sound good. My brother actually played the viola, which is like a big violin, and for years it sounded awful and then finally it sounded OK, but really it’s a lot of work!
Actually, I used to play the saxophone, the alto saxophone. So there are four main types of saxophone: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, and I played the alto saxophone. I also once played a baritone saxophone, which is really fun. So soprano is the highest, also is in the middle, tenor is a low sound and baritone is very low, like [saxophone sound]. Very fun to play!
But I haven’t actually touched my saxophone for about nine years, which is really a shame because I played it up to grade 8. So in the UK, for musical instruments you have grades going up to 8. 8 is the highest grade. And they kind of, they’re like exams, and there’s a practical element and also a theoretical element.
So I played saxophone up to grade 8 but I stopped. Um, and there’s various reasons for that. One is, I went to university and I didn’t have much time. Also it’s not really very practical, uh, because it’s a very loud instrument so you have to practise at very specific times so you don’t annoy people, and at university, I mean, most people want to sleep in the morning, so you really have to think about when to practise. It’s kind of heavy, so it’s hard to move around, and also I really like singing, and if I could back in time and choose a different instrument, I would definitely the guitar or the piano, because you can play those instruments and sing at the same time.
Actually, right now I am learning to sing online. I’m following an online course. I’ve wanted to learn to sing for ages and recently I was just like, ‘Come on, Ariel! Just do it. You’re at home. There’s quarantine. You have the time. You have the motivation.’ So I’m doing it! And, um, I’m already finding the course really helpful. The warm-up at the beginning is really helping extend my voice, make my range longer, and it’s also making me a bit more healthy, I think, because it’s really important to protect your voice if you sing or if you do anything like this, like podcasting. So I think this is going to make sure that my voice can stay healthy and that I can keep making podcasts for a long time.
In my family, me, my brother and my sister, we all had to learn to play instruments. It’s kind of funny, my mum, she grew up with seven siblings and her mother only allowed one of them to play an instrument. Um, and my mum was always a bit bitter because she really wanted to learn to play an instrument, so she made all of us learn to play one and she said, ‘Look, when you’re older you can give it up if you want, but it’s really good to learn to play an instrument at a young age, because it’s much harder to do when you’re older. And maybe, if you don’t learn when you’re young, you will regret it.’
So I’m, I’m glad, I’m glad my mum made us all play the instrument!
Generally, I’ve just been feeling very artistic recently. I’ve been not just doing the writing for the podcast, I’ve been doing the singing, I’ve been thinking actually of buying a graphics tablet. So a graphics tablet is a little tool that you can use to do digital art. So you connect it to your computer and it’s like a little drawing pad. Um, I’ve been thinking of getting one because I’m probably going to do the illustrations for the Easy Stories in English book that’s coming out soon.
Oh, by the way, I’m working on a book. It’s just a collection—well not ‘just’—it is a collection of 10 stories from the podcast, but I’m going to release four versions, so one version for each level, and it’s going to have a really good introduction. It’s going to have some illustrations, some pictures. I think you’re really gonna like it.
So as you can probably guess from the title of the story, this story has a talking cello in it. And this cello has a Cockney accent.
Cockney is C-O-C-K-N-E-Y. It’s a traditional accent and dialect from London. It is a very working class dialect. It’s often associated with strong, kind of, traditional working class culture. Cockneys have like a traditional called Pearly Kings and Queens, which is people who make these elaborate outfits, these complicated outfits, with little pearl buttons on them, and they were a way of making beautiful clothes but also making it quite cheap. I will put a picture of a Pearly King and/or Queen at the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cello.
A really distinctive feature of Cockney dialect is rhyming slang. So when two words rhyme, they end with the same sound. So ‘sad’ and ‘bad’ rhyme, ‘pot’ and ‘cot’ rhyme, and so on. Cockney rhyming slang is a very complicated system of slang where, for many words, many common words, they use a rhyme. So instead of saying ‘book’ [actually it’s for ‘look’, not ‘book’!], you say ‘butcher’s hook’ because that rhymes with ‘book’. Instead of saying ‘stairs’ you say ‘apples and pears’ because that rhymes with ‘stairs’, and so on. And it can get even more complicated where they shorten it. So instead of saying ‘butcher’s hook’ for ‘book’, they just say ‘a butcher’s’. And instead of saying ‘apples and pears’ for ‘stairs’, they just say ‘pears’, or ‘apples’, maybe. I don’t know. I’m not good at rhyming slang. But don’t worry, there’s no rhyming slang in this story, there’s just the accent.
Cockney accents appear a lot in British TV shows and films. Maybe you have seen the classic film Mary Poppins. Dick Van Dyke plays a character in Mary Poppins with a Cockney accent, and he is maybe the most famous Cockney character in a show or film, but actually, Dick Van Dyke is an American actor, so it’s not so authentic.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Cockney accents because one of my favourite films, if not my favourite film, is CATS—the 1998 version of CATS, not the 2019 version of CATS! There are two films, but the good on is the one from 1998. So it’s a musical about cats and there’s a song from two cats called Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, and in the song they sing with very, very thick Cockney accents. We go through the house like an hurricane… It’s amazing. I’ll put a link in the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cello.
I love the musical CATS. I know a lot of people, uh, think it’s weird but I’m obsessed with it. I love it so much. Anyway, if you find the accent hard to understand, because it is a very thick, it’s a very particular accent, just go and read the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cello. I think it’s good to do a range of accents on here so you can kind of hear lots of types of British English, because we have a lot of different accents and dialects here. And also I apologise if my Cockney accent is not super accurate. I am not an expert, but I tried my best!
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A note is a single sound in music. For example, [sings one note]. Notes can be long or short. They can be high or low. In the UK, the seven main notes are called CDEFGAB. When it comes to the names for different lengths of notes, it gets a bit more complicated. In American English, they use a very simple system: whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note etc. But in the UK, we like to suffer, so we call them: semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver, demisemiquaver and hemidemisemiquaver. Anyway, when I found out that the much simpler American system existed I was quite angry!
A bow is a long stick with hairs on it that you use to play string instruments. Violins and celloes use bows. You rub the bow against the strings to produce sound.
When someone is humble, it means that they do not boast a lot, they do not talk about how great they are. Even if someone is very clever, very strong or very skilled, if they are humble they will not talk about these things unless someone asks them about it.
A recital is a musical performance. A recital is when a soloist, a single musician, or a small group plays. It is used more often to refer to classical music. For modern music, we usually call it a concert or a performance.
“For all intents and purposes” means “virtually” or “more or less”. Basically, it’s a phrase you say when you are making a statement that you think is true, but there may be a tiny bit that is not true or slightly inaccurate. So if you say, ‘For all intents and purposes, it is impossible to escape from this prison,’ you’re saying that this is almost completely true, but there may be some situations when it is not.
If you have a gruelling practice session, it means you are working very hard and it is quite painful. Army training might be gruelling, or preparing to give a speech might be gruelling. You might be practising for hours every day, and it’s hard to keep your confidence up.
Ecstasy is a state of complete happiness. When you experience ecstasy, it is a happiness that is almost impossible to describe. Be careful, though, because this is also the name of a drug.
If you go to a concert and the performers are so good, you might give a standing ovation. Normally, at the end of a concert people just clap, but if the performance is truly spectacular, they will stand up while they clap. This is a standing ovation.
If your house smells bad, you might spray air freshener to make it smell nicer. Febreze is the most popular brand of air freshener in the UK. You can get lots of different smells: ocean, forest, flowers and so on. Air freshener is particularly useful if you have pets.
A tree stump is what you get after a tree is cut down. It is just the bottom part of the tree, the roots, above which the tree was cut. Tree stumps are usually flat so you can sit on them.
An echo is when a sound repeats many times. You get echoes in big rooms or caves. It’s fun to stand in an echoey place and say, ‘Hello! Hello. Hello…’
A bird’s nest is a bird’s home. Birds can make nests out of sticks, leaves, hair and so on. Birds lay eggs in nests and sit on them until they hatch, until the eggs break open. A bird’s nest is also a way to refer to someone with very messy hair that looks like a bird’s nest.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Cello That Spoke
Once upon a time, there was a talented cello player. She loved her cello like a son, and practised on it for hours every day. Sometimes, she concentrated so hard that she could practically see the notes floating in the air around her.
But one day, as she sat down to practise before breakfast, she was met with a rude surprise: as she put the bow to the strings, the cello spoke.
‘Hey! I was still asleep, you know! What time do you call this?’
The woman gasped. ‘You can talk!’
‘And you have ears. Now, why don’t you go eat your breakfast so I can get in ten more minutes?’
She dropped the bow, stepping away from the cello and rubbing her eyes.
‘I know, I know,’ said the cello. ‘I’m a real beauty, aren’t I?’
‘How is this possible?!’
‘Magic, I expect.’
‘You say that as if it’s the most normal thing in the world!’
‘Well, I’m the cello. It’s normal for me.’
‘How long have you…?’
Suddenly, she thought about how she practised in the room. It was her own little world, where she went around singing with her awful voice, making terrible jokes and swearing whenever she played a wrong note. Not exactly appropriate behaviour for a professional cellist. If her cello had seen all that…
‘I don’t know. It happened some time last night, I expect.’
Good. So he hadn’t seen her behaviour. She thought back to last night. She had been practising before bed, and she was really in the spirit of it, hitting Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 with everything she had.
‘And what, you just came to life?’
‘Like I said, magic.’
‘Because I played so well?’ she said, smiling.
‘My, my, you must be the most humble cellist in the world. I’m not sure why I came to life. I’m just a cello, after all.’
The woman thought about it for a moment. Sure, it was strange, but wasn’t this perfect? She had always wished for a music partner, and who better than her very own instrument?
‘Well, if you’re going to live under this roof, then you’re going to have to get used to me practising day and night. That’s just how I live.’
‘And what if I say no?’
‘You’re a cello. What are you going to do?’
And with that, she sat down and started playing. But the cello, clearly eager to show her just what he was capable of, starting producing horrible, scratchy notes. It was as if the strings were working against her, fighting with the bow to produce the worst sounds possible.
‘Unacceptable!’ she screamed, standing up. ‘I have a recital soon. You must behave!’
‘Can’t you play another cello?’
She gripped the bow so tightly in her hand she thought it might break in two. She had never played another cello, not since she’d found this one. But desperate times called for desperate measures.
She went into the kitchen and ate a furious breakfast of muesli, spilling half of it on the floor, before running to her car and pounding the pedals to the nearest music store. She made sure to find exactly the same model of cello—a Cecilio CCO-500—paid for it with her card, and dragged it home.
She deliberately sat opposite her old cello to play the new one. The talking instrument didn’t say a single word as she played, just watching silently as she worked through some Bach.
But, although the notes come out at the correct tones, there was no sweetness to them. They were empty, an amateurish shadow of the beautiful work she had done just the night before.
Finally, the talking cello could not resist speaking.
‘What are you doing? My music sounds far better than that.’
‘Oh, you want to play now? I thought you were napping.’
‘I’m just saying, if I were to play music, it would be fantastic.’
‘So you’re jealous? If you wanted to play together, you could’ve just said.’ She smiled as she spoke. It was like chatting with an old friend.
The cello gave a woody sigh. ‘I suppose I can’t let you go and make a fool of yourself in that recital. You can play me, but under one condition.’
‘For someone who’s been alive less than 24 hours, you sure are demanding.’
‘It’s my brand, dear. I’m a professional cello. Now, as I was saying before you so rudely interrupted me, there is just one condition: this will be the last time you play me.’
‘What?!’ said the woman, letting her newly-purchased cello fall to the floor.
‘After you do, you will take me to the forest and leave me there.’
‘The forest? Why would you want to go there?’
‘I’m made out of wood, aren’t I? I want to return to where I was born.’
‘Oh, I wish you had never come to life! I must be the unluckiest musician in the world.’
‘Talent comes with a price, sweetheart.’
The woman pressed her lips together. She had loved her cello, poured her heart and soul into it… and apparently, that was a mistake. Things would never be the same again.
She looked down at the second Cecilio on the floor. For all intents and purposes, it was exactly the same as her old one, although much cleaner and newer. Could she learn to love a new instrument as she had her old one?
‘Fine then. I agree to your plan.’
But secretly, she decided that this wouldn’t be the last time. There was no way she could give up on this cello, which she had formed such a tight bond with. Her music would suffer if she did!
No, instead she would show him why he had come to life. She would play so spectacularly that he would fall in love with the music as much as she did. There was no way he could produce sour notes forever.
So the two began preparing for the recital. Every day, they played together for many long hours. Thankfully, the cello cooperated and produced beautiful music, although he had to politely remind his player to go to the toilet, eat, and even shower, or she’d spend all day sat down with a bow in hand.
‘I don’t understand you!’ said the instrument. ‘Don’t you feel hunger? Don’t you smell yourself when you haven’t showered for two days?’
‘When I start playing… I forget everything else.’
After many gruelling days of practice, the recital finally came. The cellist put on her finest clothes, carefully packed up her instrument, and drove to the music hall.
‘How are you feeling?’ she asked the cello as she drove. She had put the case on the seat next to her, like a real person.
‘Oh?’ She felt a bit relieved. She thought he would be making fun of her.
‘I’m thinking about what it will be like in the forest. Will the trees accept me? I look so different to them.’
The cellist’s heart sank. He was thinking of that now?
‘Anyway, let’s get this over and done with,’ said the cello.
The musician forced a smile. ‘We’re going to knock them dead!’
Despite the conflict between them, the performance went fantastically. The hours of practice had paid off, and the cellist managed to recreate the ecstasy she’d experienced that night, when she’d brought her instrument to life. Normally, her nerves prevented her from bringing through the joy she felt in practice, but this time she shone as bright as a star.
As soon as she played the final note, a huge round of applause exploded from the crowd. They cheered and clapped for several minutes, giving her a standing ovation. The musician just stared at them, her mouth open, as if she couldn’t believe it was real.
Afterwards, she was rushed by photographers, journalists and fans, all the while gripping the cello and bow in her hands. It was only when she reached her car, several hours later, that she remembered the promise.
‘You still want to go to the forest?’ she said, half-hopeful that he would have changed his mind. She thought it was unlikely, and she didn’t have to heart to keep fighting.
‘Please. And spray some air freshener first. Those reporters were so sweaty!’
She laughed, did as she was told, and drove to the forest. She felt wounded, no doubt, but nothing could take away the ecstasy of the performance she’d just given.
She parked on a small road, pulled out the case and walked through the trees. In a few hours it would be dark, but she wanted to find somewhere hidden away, in case any humans came by.
A while later she found a quiet area with a tree stump and, satisfied with the location, she opened the case and carefully placed the cello in the middle.
He looked strange, lying there in nature. He was made of the same wood that he rested on, and yet everything about him was unnatural: the tight strings, the holes on the sides, the sharp corners of the waist.
She stood back, and a few birds came down to look at him, before flying off to find something more interesting.
‘How does it feel?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know. I feel like they’re judging me.’
‘Hmm. Why don’t I play you? They’ll love you once they hear your beautiful voice.’
‘Fine then. One last song.’
So she picked up the bow and cello, sat down on the stump and started playing.
It was the most beautiful song of her life. Rather than the world disappearing around her, she felt like she became one with it, the notes melting together with the birdsong and the sounds of the leaves. The music echoed out against the trees, shaking their branches. It pounded through the cold earth. It sang in the hearts of all the animals, and became the very wind itself.
When they finished, the cellist shed a tear.
‘I suppose I better leave you now.’
She stood up, carefully returned the cello to the stump, and walked away. She couldn’t bear to look back, or she would break down crying.
‘Wait!’ said the cello.
She turned around. Through the leaves above, a ray of light shone down on the instrument, lighting him up like an angel.
‘I’ve changed my mind. I’ll come home with you. I’ll let you play me.’
‘Really?’ Her heart flew in the air.
‘I mean, a cello in a forest looks pretty stupid, doesn’t it?’
She laughed and the tears started to fall. She struggled to put the cello back in the case, her hands shaking as she did so.
Once they were back in the car, she asked the question she had been thinking about ever since the cello first talked to her.
‘Why didn’t you want to play at first? You do it so beautifully.’
‘We all have our talents, but that doesn’t mean we run towards them.’
It was hard for her to identify with that idea. She had always embraced the music, ever since she discovered it.
‘I’ll admit it. I was a bit worried about you. You were obsessed with music. You still are. But feeling you play me… I don’t think anyone could take the music out of you.’’
She reflected on her life. To her, it was perfect, but she had struggled a lot to get there. To her friends and family, she was a disaster, barely capable of looking after herself. When she entered her music room and played, the hours and days flew by—the dishes piled up, dust covered the floors, and her hair turned into a bird’s nest from lack of care. She barely went out, and the only attempts at romance she’d had ended in her dates running away to avoid hearing her say one more thing about music.
When she was a child, a few years after she started playing, her mother stole the instrument and hid it in the attic, in an attempt to make the girl engage with the outside world and make some friends. Instead, the cellist had broken down, burying herself in her bed and refusing to come out. After several weeks, her mother reluctantly returned the instrument to her, and she immediately went back to her old ways. What else could she do? She was in love with the music, and nothing else mattered to her.
‘Well, we have each other now.’
‘We’ve always had each other,’ said the cello. ‘You’re lucky I don’t have eyes, or I’d be crying and ruining my wood.’
She laughed and started up the car. From that day on, she never practised alone.
If you enjoyed the story, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Go to Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. For just a few dollars a month you can get extra episodes, exercises, and much more. Thank you for listening, and until next week.