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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 intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Musical Forest. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Forest. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Forest. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story was one that I wrote with people in a live stream. So, up until very recently, I was doing live streams every Saturday on YouTube. Many of you came along, had a lot of fun. You can watch them at the YouTube channel, of course.
But, um, I stopped! Uh, if you are part of my email newsletter, or if you are in the group chat, you will know that I have stopped doing the live streams. I actually started them originally just as a coronavirus thing because it was lockdown. I noticed a lot of places were doing live streams. It’s a nice place to get together and socialise while social distancing. But, at a certain point, I think because lockdown is slowing down or ending in many places, it feels less relevant, but also I just needed more time to myself.
Because I record and edit the episodes usually on Sunday, and I was doing the stream on Saturday, I kind of ended up not having weekends? And I love what I do, and I enjoy it, but I need time off, and I realised that I really wasn’t taking enough care of my health, I wasn’t relaxing as much as I needed to. So I decided to stop doing the stream, but this is one of the stories that we actually wrote together during the stream, and which I decided to adapt into a full episode.
Don’t worry, by the way, I am still releasing a YouTube video every Thursday, and I am still doing Elevenses with Ariel every weekday, so it really isn’t the end of everything. I’ve just decided to take a chance to kind of reevaluate a lot of aspects of Easy Stories in English and take out the things that I think are the least important, or the things that I think are maybe the least essential. Right? That I can take out without, you know, ruining the content and without disappointing too many of you, and while remaining confident in the quality of the podcast.
And it’s really nice to have more time to relax, I have to say. Yesterday, I had a good proper clean of the house, and I hadn’t done that for a long time, and I think, because I was so busy with the podcast and the stream and everything, I kind of didn’t take time out to do those very basic important things. So I’ve been feeling a lot more healthy and happy recently, and I recommend to all of you, um…
Well, actually I don’t recommend to most people to relax more cause it seems like everyone else is much better at this than I am! I think, for me, ‘relax’ is a very complicated word because there’s a lot of things I do in my free time, quote unquote “for fun”, that wouldn’t be considered traditionally relaxing, right? Like, I used to make videoblogs in Esperanto, and for a lot of people making a video is kind of like, it’s not relaxing, but recently I’ve just felt a real surge of interest in that again, so I made a few new videos in Esperanto for that, and that was really exciting and fun. And so although it’s taking up energy, it’s giving me energy at the same time. [One of the new videos in Esperanto]:
Of course, I also do actually relaxing things like going for walks and reading books, and I’ve been finding I’ve been reading much better recently. I kind of had a few months, maybe a year, where I was just really struggling to read books in general, and I actually came off some anti-depressants I was on, and I realised that they were making me really tired in the evening which was making it impossible to actually stay awake and focus on a book.
Anyway, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about it here, because it’s kind of a bit personal, but if you wanna hear more about my mental health, the reason I was taking anti-depressants and why I came off them. I do talk about it in a lot of detail on Elevenses with Ariel, which you can get access to for just $5 a month on Patreon.
On that note, I have decided to remove two of the tiers from Patreon, the $15 level and the $40 level. So the $15 level, I was offering classes every month, and on the $40 level I was offering coaching as well. Nobody took up the $40 level and the classes, I mentioned them on here before, I really enjoy doing them and I think they were fantastic, but it was really hard to coordinate between the people and finding a time that worked for people, and instead of being group classes they just kind of ended up being one-on-one classes most of the time, and I decided that I’m not sure if I’m going to do classes…
This is the thing, is sometimes I think I should do online Zoom classes, like group classes, with people who listen to the podcast, but I’ve kind of floated the idea, I’ve suggested the idea, a few times, maybe on the group chat, and people haven’t seemed very interested? So I’m gonna mention it again here. If you are interested in doing group classes on Zoom, and, and this would be maybe, you know, once or twice a week, and you would pay for, kind of, a term of classes and then you would get all the class recordings. There would be lots of materials. I would tell stories. We would write together. It would kind of be similar to the live streams but with more material and more contact.
If that sounds interesting to you and you would be interested in paying for that, please do leave a comment on the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Forest.
I’ll be honest, I really like the idea of doing group classes because you get a great atmosphere working with a group of people rather than just one-on-one, and also financially it means that the classes can be pretty cheap. If I have 20 people in a class and everyone pays like $5 then I still make a pretty good amount off that, but you don’t have to pay loads of money. So it’s a great idea for me and I love doing group classes when I teach in person. It’s a bit different online, but I’ve found ways of adapting and I’m confident that I can make it a really fun and useful experience. Of course, the tricky thing is finding a time zone that works for a variety of people.
Anyway, leave a comment at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Forest and tell me if you are interested in group classes or if it just does nothing for you. I would love to know.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A horn is a sharp bone that some animals have on their heads. For example, bulls, goats and rhinoceroses all have horns. Usually, horns are used to fight.
A stag is a male deer. A deer is an animal that lives in the forest. Male deer, stags, have complicated horns, and they use the horns to fight each other. The most famous film about deer is the Disney film Bambi.
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 melody is several notes put together, for example, [sings Happy Birthday to You]. In a song, the melody is the main part, the part that the singer sings.
A puppet is a small toy of a person or animal. With some puppets, you can put your hand inside them and move their mouth. With other puppets, you pull strings to move their arms and legs. Pinocchio is a famous story about a puppet who wants to become a real boy.
Make a racket means to make lots of noise. If you hear a lot of noise somewhere and you want to know what’s happening, you might ask, ‘What’s all this racket about?’
A wizard is a man who does magic. Some famous wizards are Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Merlin from English legends. Wizards usually wear long purple clothes with stars on them, they have big white beards and pointy hats, and they are very old.
When you frown, you push your eyebrows together. When you are confused or angry, you frown. You shouldn’t frown too much, though, because then you’ll get wrinkles, lines on your forehead.
A harp is a big wooden instrument with long strings. You sit down and run your fingers over the strings. It sounds like this: [sound of harp playing].
Cast a spell means to use magic. You wave your hand, or a magic wand, and say magic words like ‘Abracadabra!’ or ‘Expecto patronum!’. Wizards and witches cast spells.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Musical Forest
Once upon a time, there was a forest far away from the rest of humankind. In this forest, there lived mice, birds, rabbits and so on, but this was no ordinary forest.
The King of the Forest was a stag, who had wandered there after being thrown out from his family. Growing up, he was a weak, sad child, and when his horns emerged they were bent and broken. His family rejected him, sending him away from their home to find his own way in life. So he found a forest where the animals appreciated him, and soon he was so popular that they made him king.
The King was truly happy there, but in the night he heard strange noises. It was music, but not sweet melodies played by loving hands, but the sad, twisted notes of misery. He could not figure out where the music was coming from, so one night he decided to follow it, and came across a trumpet thrown outside in the dirt.
‘Why are you crying?’ said the King, because such a sad melody could only mean tears.
‘My musician abandoned me, after twenty years of playing. He bought a newer model. Now I will be taken away and melted down, or given to some horrible child who won’t play me properly.’
The stag smiled. ‘I know a place where you can live happily.’
And so began the stag’s mission: to rescue the abandoned instruments of humankind. For many decades, he gave them a home in the forest, and they found a family in each other. But something was still missing: people to play them; and the animals of the forest could not do this. So the King of the Forest travelled far and wide, until he found a lonely old man who made wooden puppets. He loved his puppets so much that they came to life. But the old man was sad, because with his death the puppets would have nowhere to go.
‘I know a place for your puppets,’ said the King of the Forest, ‘where they will have a purpose and joy in life.’
And so the old man died happy, and the puppets all came to the forest. They made homes in the trees, and every day they danced around and played music on the instruments. At first, it was a horrible racket of untrained hands and ugly notes, but over time they became skilled in playing them, and eventually they formed a lively orchestra.
The forest became known as the Musical Forest, and its melodies could be heard for miles around. The animals gathered around every evening to hear the orchestra play, and the air was filled with joy and beauty.
But one day, something broke the magic.
On a certain morning, the stag woke up to find a magnificent house beside the forest, where there had been only fields before. None of the animals or puppets knew where it had come from, so the King of the Forest went to find out.
He went and knocked on the door with his horns, and it opened to reveal an angry man with a thick white beard and long green clothes.
‘What do you want?’ snapped the man.
‘I am the King of the Musical Forest. I welcome you in peace. I must say, I did not know humans could build so quickly.’
The man smiled cruelly. ‘I am no ordinary human. I am a wizard. I brought my house here with magic. Was it you making all that racket last night?’
The King of the Forest felt a strong dislike of this wizard. ‘The forest is the home of many musicians. We have an orchestra. But tell me, what are you doing here?’
‘I’m on holiday. Although with all that racket it’s not going to be very relaxing!’
‘You brought your house with you on holiday?’
‘I’m a wizard!’ he snapped. ‘It’s very easy for me. Now, I am very busy relaxing. Good day.’
And the wizard slammed the door in the King’s face.
The King went back to the forest and tried to forget about the wizard, but the strange man stayed in his mind. Throughout the day, huge clouds of smoke came out of the chimney of the wizard’s house, changing from grey to green to blue to purple. When the puppets started practising, loud explosions and sounds came from the house, making it hard to concentrate. But not once did the strange man go outside, not even into the garden.
That night, all the animals in the forest came together for a concert. The puppets played a range of mysterious, romantic music, and for a while, the King managed to forget about the wizard.
But just when the concert was reaching the end, the man in green appeared from the trees. The King tensed up, but the wizard merely leant against a tree and observed the orchestra quietly. Then, without warning, he frowned and waved his hands in the air. Suddenly, the puppets all froze and the music stopped.
All the animals cried out in fear.
‘What do you want?!’ shouted the King.
‘I want…’ But the wizard stopped. He was staring at a particular puppet holding a harp, and he seemed so full of rage that he could not speak.
The King could not allow this man to put the Musical Forest in danger. While the wizard was distracted, he ran at him with his twisted horns. But just before he reached him, the harp jumped out of the puppet’s hands and flew towards the wizard.
The King was shocked, and came to a stop. The wizard hadn’t moved a muscle, so the harp must have moved on her own.
‘No!’ said the wizard, shaking his head. ‘Leave me alone!’
And with that, he ran away into the forest. The puppets and instruments remained frozen, apart from the harp.
‘He was my first owner,’ she said quietly. ‘He was a terrible musician. He dreamed and dreamed about becoming a world-class player and playing in a huge concert hall. He loved music, but he hated making mistakes. Whenever he made one, he got mad at himself. Eventually, it was too much for him, and one day he put me in a cupboard…’
‘I remember,’ said the King. He had come to rescue her, but the harp had never talked about what had happened. ‘Was he so angry back then?’
‘No. But it does not surprise me. He was always much better at magic than music, but magic is dangerous. He controlled the music, but the magic always controlled him. I should think he is a very different person now.’
The King frowned. ‘And now he has cast this spell on all our musicians. Without them, the forest will be quiet and sad.’
‘I have an idea of what we can do.’
The next day, the King went to the wizard’s house. He knocked on the door, and the wizard cried out, ‘Go away!’ His throat was dry, as if he had been crying or drinking.
‘Please come out!’ said the King. ‘I want to show you something.’
So the King hit the door with his horns until it broke open. Then he ran inside and dragged the wizard out by his coat. The man kicked and screamed. He waved his hand at the stag and said twisted words in languages unknown to the King, but they had no effect. His magic had left him.
‘Where are you taking me? I’ll put a spell on you, you horrible creature!’
‘No you won’t,’ said the King, ‘or you’ll never see your harp again.’
The wizard went quiet, but he stood up and started walking. The King took him to a clearing in the forest. There, the harp was waiting.
Suddenly, the wizard’s calm disappeared.
‘Are you just here to criticise me? I know I should have looked after you better, but it was no use! I was the worst musician in the world.’
‘It doesn’t matter if you were the worst musician in the world or the best,’ replied the harp. ‘You played me with love. Don’t you want to play our song again?’
‘No!’ he cried out.
‘Then why are you here?’ said the stag. ‘You could have left last night.’
The wizard went bright red. ‘I’ll burn this whole forest down! I’ll put a spell so deep on this land that NOBODY will play music on it ever again!’
‘No, you won’t,’ said the harp. ‘Now sit down and play me.’
The wizard bit his lip, as if weighing up the two options, and then sat down and picked up the harp. But the moment he put his hands to it, they started to shake.
‘Easy now. You can do it,’ said the harp.
Slowly, the wizard began to play. It was clearly a melody he knew well, so well that he still remembered it even after all these years. But after just a few notes, he made a mistake, and dropped the harp as if it had burned him.
‘I can’t do this!’
The King smiled and said, ‘Every wrong note is an opportunity. Do you think it was easy for the puppets, when they first came here? They don’t have fingers like you do. Do you think it was easy for the instruments, who were so used to being played by humans? We all had to learn, but you have heard how beautiful the result is.’
The wizard didn’t seem convinced by this. He started walking away.
‘Hey!’ said the harp. ‘Every note I make is perfect. Don’t you remember? You used to play all my strings one by one, just to hear the different sounds. You loved all of them equally.’
The wizard stopped. He moved his fingers, and it looked like he was about to cast a spell, but then the stag realised what he was doing: he was remembering playing the strings.
Without a word, the wizard went and sat down again to play. It took him a while to get into it, and with every mistake he almost gave up, but when he finally did, he transformed. His frown turned into the happy smile of a lover. His hands turned from hard old trees to beautiful silk dancers. His eyes shone brighter than all the stars in the night, and indeed, by the time he finished playing it was dark.
The music wasn’t spectacular. How could it be, after so many years out of practice? In fact, it was pretty awful. But it didn’t matter, because the wizard’s heart was in it.
‘Oh!’ he said, looking up at the sky. ‘How long was I playing?’
The King laughed. ‘Just long enough. Now, would you like to come and play with the others?’
‘You would let me? But I can’t play like them…’
‘Time will tell.’
They walked through the forest to where all the puppets were frozen. The wizard went red again, clearly having forgotten about his spell. He clicked his fingers and undid it, and all the puppets started moving again.
‘I’m sorry, everyone,’ said the wizard. ‘I acted in anger last night. No, not anger. Fear. I was afraid of all your beautiful music, because it reminded me of how I abandoned mine. Would it… be OK if I played with you?’
So the wizard sat down with them and they started to play. The next day, the wizard came back to play again, and the next, and the next. At first, he went red every time he made a mistake, and stopped playing, but with the encouragement of the puppets and the instruments, he grew more and more confident. Eventually, they were able to put on a concert together, and the forest had never heard such beautiful music.
At the end of the concert, the King said to him, ‘And how long do you think your holiday will last?’
The wizard laughed and said, ‘Life is a holiday!’
And so the Musical Forest sang once more. And if any monsters, wizards or instrument-sellers came to try and disrupt its harmony, the wizard cast a spell on them and sent them away.
So they lived happily, and musically, ever after.
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, conversational podcasts and exercises. Thank you for listening, and until next week.